by Jerry Waxler
In a previous post, I reviewed a life story called “Love in Hyderabad” by Bhaswati Ghosh, about her romance with the city and her budding relationship with her new husband. This lovely story, published in an international literary journal provided many of the rewards of much longer works. To learn more, I interviewed the author about her experience as a writer. This is the first part of a two part interview.
Jerry Waxler: Your story sounds like a short memoir, complete with character arc and excellent character portrayal. I was surprised to see this clean, memoir-like structure. It reminds me of the Japanese art of bonsai, that creates the illusion of forrest in a tiny pot. Or maybe it’s just because I’m so interested in memoirs I see them everywhere. (Laughing) Did you set out to write a brief memoir?
Bhaswati Ghosh: That was the whole idea of this story. I did not intend to write it like a typical travelogue, as in my memory, the city of Hyderabad shall always remain entwined with the first few months of my marriage. This wasn’t just a new city for me; it was the first place I was exploring with my husband. This is where the two of us discovered each other most intimately, while also learning what we individually meant for the other partner. Since B, my husband, had a relatively light work schedule, we spent a lot of time scouting the city steeped in history, nature and a strong cultural ethos.
Jerry Waxler: As the reader learns about the Place in the story, we also learn about your important and complex transition from a single to a married woman. The story contains a clear, compelling character arc, something I would have expected in a much longer work. Could you explain your goals and ideas about character arc in short story, and in particular how you manage to scale character arc down to the shorter form.
Bhaswati Ghosh: In this particular story, I used an outline. The theme was clear in mind from the start–I was going to write about the city where I “found” love. Keeping that in mind, I broadly divided the story into sub-sections, focusing on different aspects of Hyderabad and how they corresponded to or even facilitated to the growth of my relationship with B. These included watching wildlife, relishing the city’s culinary culture, exploring its history, and being amused by its furtive romance.
Jerry Waxler: Fascinating. I can almost visualize you looking out over the landscape of that whole period and scaling down each segment to fit into the form. Nicely done. I notice that the language and sensory experience is especially rich, even luxurious. I wonder if perhaps this attention to language arts is more appropriate to a short story. For one thing, a short story writer has more time to passionately craft every sentence. And similarly a short story reader can perhaps read more slowly, pondering each sentence. When I read a full-length memoir, or a novel for that matter, I want the language to flow lightly from one sentence to the next, so the story can move along. Could you comment on this observation that perhaps richer language arts are more appropriate in short stories than longer ones?
Bhaswati Ghosh: To be honest, this never occurred to me, while writing the story or even after completing it. I just wrote in a language that naturally comes to me, constrained as I am by my limitations of vocabulary and aesthetic expression. I, like you, enjoy writing that flows smoothly, without burdening the reader too much (irrespective of the length of the piece). I sure hope mine achieves that effect!
Jerry Waxler: I love the story because it conveys sentiments in rich, musical language without being stuffy or pretentious. Somehow you have avoided the problem I have found in some stories that are trying so hard to be literary they are not fun to read. Could you say anything about your style that would help me understand your method or intention?
Bhaswati Ghosh: This is linked to my previous response. I have no intention of being “literary”, “stylistic” and so on for the sake of it. All I want is to convey my emotions and ideas with clarity and honesty. Some humor never hurts. That is the kind of writing that I am most drawn to and possibly draw the most from. The honesty factor is crucial–it entails allowing oneself to reveal one’s vulnerability and discomfort along with one’s confidence and joy. This is one of the most powerful ways to connect with readers because at the end of the day, we are dealing with the same emotions and emotional responses.
Jerry Waxler: Around 35 years ago, I met a Pharmacy student from southern India. To share a bit of his culture, he loaned me a book of philosophical essays by Rabindranath Tagore. Each one started out with a description of landscape and nature that was lush with life, and filled me with the joy of living. The reading experience was remarkable for the fact that I’ve remembered it all these years. Your story evoked a similar sensation to those essays I read many years ago. Perhaps it was something about that marsh inside the city, and the birds who could navigate, and bring their beauty and song into your urban experience. This evocation of Tagore may not be a coincidence. I notice you mention him on your website. Does he influence your style?
Bhaswati Ghosh: Rabindranath Tagore is a major influence in my life, of which writing is only a certain part. As a Bengali, I had the privilege of being introduced to him at an early age, and it wasn’t difficult to take a liking to his words because of his ability to appeal to all ages. His works for children are particularly endearing and even empathetic.
Tagore has remained a constant through the many changes in my life, almost taking the place of a close personal friend. I feel deeply impacted by his ideas of convergence and inclusion, cultural appreciation of the other, which comprise the essence of his humanism.
Jerry Waxler: Your story seems to invoke a complex blend of your own joy, love, and admiration intertwined with the scenes around you. Perhaps the scenes in the story were lush because your emotional engagement in the city was so rich. Tell me more about your process to bring authentic emotion to the page, to find the most compelling aspects of your own response and then do your best to pass those sensations along to the reader?
Bhaswati Ghosh: The response to this has already been well articulated by you in the question. Hyderabad was a unique experience for me in more ways than one. This was the first time I had stepped into southern India, having always lived in north India, with occasional visits to the eastern part of the country. The differences between this city and Delhi, my hometown, were more than just surface level. People here were more mild-mannered and easygoing as against the often brusque and rushed mood that prevails in Delhi. Public transport was decent, safe for women, and affordable. I saw a lot more birds than I would in Delhi on a day to day basis. Being alert to these offerings helped me bond with the city without making any effort.
You can read Bhaswati’s story by clicking here. Global Graffiti Magazine, Bhaswati Ghosh, Dispatch: Love in Hyderabad
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.