‘Flights From My Terrace: A Treasure Trove Of Memories and Metaphorical Truths

Filled with vivid, veritable expressions, descriptions connoting the joie de vivre of life in its small, yet discerning moments, Santosh Bakaya’s treasure trove of 58 essays in ‘Flights From My terrace’ comes across as a remarkable odyssey of childhood memories, nostalgia, and a vivid internal journey capturing universal human feelings. The journey of these essays combined together in an unforgettable mosaic, in her own words, is “the outcome of my ruminations on my terrace” of her snug, cozy Jaipur home, a home which pulls her away to the other homes and their assorted images, homes and realms she has inhabited with her memories, opening the doors to her idyllic childhood, replete with delight, loss, wonder, and bewilderment cried to be put into words.


Bakaya, the amazing storyteller, essayist and poet extraordinaire attains catharsis and makes perfect sense of the hubris of her mind and the memory chaos by documenting and depicting a series of diverse complex emotions in the book, starting from the exuberance of flying kites to the reminiscence of the sweet nothings of an idyllic Kashmir of her childhood to being a mother to delving in the other metaphorical truths of her life. Hers is a Bedouwin (nomadic) heart inside which churns the quicksilver flash of memories, and splashes across the zigzag crannies of the terrains she touches now, hungering, wreaking havoc.

In spite of the deeply synesthetic appeal of the flow of her words, never once does her sea of thoughts from Kashmir to Bharatpur feel too exhausting for the readers to handle. She has them always in her stride as she is in complete grip of her narration, whether she is depicting the romancing of sacred whispers, the sweet resonance of birds chirping, the sudden burst of the cacophonous world, or her untiring, persistent interaction with strangers and serendipity. Like a true memoirist and a flawless essayist, she absorbs the readers full on in the immediacy of her subtle life experiences, eclipsing everything else with the earnestness and the lyrical candor of a loving heart.

Yes, undoubtedly memories and their essence form the core and crust of ‘Flights from My Terrace’. The fervor with she describes her journey from Bharatpur to Jaipur in the essay ‘The Persistence of Memory’ as “…a chunk of memory here, a sliver of memory there,” forming “a memory avalanche” is truly remarkable and unforgettable. Also, one cannot help but reminisce the beauty and power Bakaya inscribes to the seemingly inconsequential subjects, like the neem tree of her childhood, the family dog, Nipper, the cat, Lazy, among other things, and all of them are incorporated so endearingly into the narrative that they echo in the minds of the readers like a delightful, richly woven symphony, long after they finish reading the book.

“I did not have to make any conscious effort, these slivers of memory just erupted from the subterranean depths, fitting into the narrative smoothly.” She said in an interview where I had asked her about the effortlessness and ease of her narrative journey in the book. The passages about her scholar father, her loving grandmother and other members of her kith and kin come together as delightful chunks of the unforgettable mosaic of her narration, along with all her other lyrical encounters that form the crux of the book.

The takeaway from ‘Flights of Terrace’ to a discerning lover of literature is the use of language, tender, lyrical yet robust and poignant, the pervasive and spirited voice of Bakaya as the narrator, the crisp, almost meditative beauty of her prose. To all who love powerful stories centered on the meaning and essence of home and one’s memories and nostalgia that spills over, spreads around the idea of home, childhood and the engrossing facets of humanity, this book will remain a cherished, treasured read always.

Book Trailer: Thwarted Escape

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you/You must
travel it by yourself.
It is not far, it is within reach/Perhaps you have been on it since
you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere—on water and land.”
–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Watch out for the journey of my book THWARTED ESCAPE in Youtube as it transforms from a Journey awards winning manuscript to a published book and an Honorable Mention awardee at the LA Book Festival 2017.

#booktrailer, #youtubevideo, #bookpromotion, #Goodreads

Review Of My Book THWARTED ESCAPE in Cafe Dissensus Journal

“Distance and memory are uneasy twins. As one advances, the other gallops in an interminable contest of catch up. This fraught relationship is at the heart of Lopamudra Banerjee’s memoir. The tension begins with the book’s title itself – Thwarted Escape – an oxymoron if you will, yet one that makes sense as the reader starts journeying through its pages.

The book’s four sections – on childhood, womanhood, motherhood, and life and death – reminded me of flower arrangements – of their evanescence, their beauty. Banerjee, the florist, crafts delicate narratives as she pulls them towards a theme bunch. She uses the present tense to a delicious effect, pulling the reader into the immediacy, and hence, the momentariness of her experiences. The beauty results from her love of language – the carefree abandon with which words spill onto the page. Then there’s the fragrance running through the sections – the author’s constant introspection, a memoirist’s greatest tool. And often her biggest risk.”


It is my pleasure to share an overwhelming review of my book ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’ written by the brilliant writer/translator Bhaswati Ghosh, published at Cafe Dissensus journal, New York. Do read the full review here, friends.

Book Review: Lopamudra Banerjee’s ‘Thwarted Escape’

My Mother: An Obituary

For My Mother, Rama Bhattacharya, on her 3rd birthday in heaven

By Lopa Banerjee

 First published in Incredible Women of India, dated February 25, 2016.

“Jokhon porbe na more payer chinho ei baante

Ami baibo na, ami baibo na more kheya toree ei ghaate go…”

(When you won’t be able to trace my footprints, imprinted on the roads, you won’t see me then, in the jetties, I won’t be then to row my boat.)

Rabindranath Tagore, Geetabitan.

Dear Ma,

A picture of you stands unassumingly, along with old and new DVDs and books, in the top-most shelf of one of our old glass showcases that have traveled with us from one home to another. I see you today, as I see you every day, in the blissful sheen of smile with my first born tucked blissfully in your arms, surrounded by your erratic husband, my father, who loved you in his own queer, idiosyncratic ways, surrounded by me, your only child and my husband. “A complete family portrait, I will keep it snugly in my heart always!” You had expressed in unbridled joy that day, almost seven years ago on the New Year’s Eve, while returning with a bunch of family pictures that we had taken together at Portrait Studio, Omaha, Nebraska, where you had come to visit us.

Seven years after, a copy of the same picture lies, along with a stack of other pictures and memorabilia in a damp nook of your Barrackpore home from where they took your lifeless body away, but where the imprints of your being still lurk, crawl at the old, chipped walls, the unkempt furniture, the dusty staircases. A home, its bricks and roof and floors that you had built with your sweat, your diligence and utmost resolve, a home where your words, your silence and your fatigued breath still echoes, calling out my name.


My mother and my firstborn, my elder daughter Mithi

In a different home now, inside the quiet confines of a nondescript apartment building in Irving, Texas, pictures of you, in various phases of your life peep from our laptop screen, which I, your only daughter randomly saved in digital formats from old, tattered, sepia picture albums. They were my last desperate, painstaking attempts to hold on to you with my parched heart; in all the sights, smells, noises and touch and their smooth, velvety feel in which love was formed since the day I was born, till the day I gave birth. The sensations and their impact seized to be physical, yet whenever I touch the framed pictures, printed and gleaming, whenever I run my fingers through the elusive screen that freezes those sepia and coloured moments of you and me, the sensations gush through my veins, real, lingering.

“Ma-r shob jinish shonge kore niye ja, ekhane kichhu fele rakhish na” (Take away all belongings of your mother with you, do not leave anything in this house)…relatives, neighbours had commented on the day of my return to the US, following the rituals of your first death anniversary in our Barrackpore home. They had quite obviously referred to the more valuable worldly stuff that you had left in the house, but do they all know what else you had left inside the rooms, interspersed with moments of love and beauty, with which the mundane glittered, glorious? There, in the eerie silence of the old steel almirah of your bedroom, lay a stack of your saris, starched, folded, nourished with unconditioned love. In the middle rack of the almirah, old, almost archaic bank documents, question papers from the school where you taught, handwritten notes and old, tattered inland letters of your old students, old papers, souvenirs from my father’s office rested inside files piled up against one another. Inside the drawers of our old dressing table in Barrackpore, a gift from your parents for your wedding, my old report cards, the first, raw sketches of my preschooler days cough up the blood and phlegm of my washed out childhood days. You had wrapped them all in the blanketed warmth of the rooms, your old tanpura which you had brought from your parents’ home, your rusty vermilion cases, your combs that still carry thin, curly strands of your hair. You had shielded them from the ever-changing world outside that was unaffected by your sedate, solitary life.

In the kitchen of our new home in Texas, I am chopping bottle-gourd and potatoes in much the same way you had told me to, while sharing your signature recipes that you wanted me to acquire skills in. “Never ever tell me to cook. I am not born to cook. I am only born to read and write poetry”, I would boastfully tell you on your face in my carefree student days. You would laugh it off, convey my immature statements to other women you knew, who all told you it was just a temporary phase, a perspective that would never hold good once I would marry and enter domesticity. I had your genes, after all. The genes that carry poetic veins, the genes that know how the fish and vegetables dance in a geometric swirl and traipse across the aromatic blend, inside the mouths of the oiled, heated pots and pans. Cooking in my later life, came to me in the ether waves of the long-distance phone calls and long, descriptive e-mails from you, wooed me and overtook me as yet another sacred journey solidifying our bond, much in the same way as your poetry, your rhymes and recitations did.

“Lau-te kokhono ada dibi na, panch foron, hould, nun, dudh ar narkel dibi, amrit er moton lagbe khete.” (Never add ginger to bottle-gourd curry, a concoction of the five whole spices, turmeric, coconut and milk will do wonders to the dish, believe me, it will make it taste heavenly)…I smile, my eyes misting over, the tinkle bell of your bangles, the conch shells in your hands still reverberating in the damp, molten kitchen of our Barrackpore home, sprinkling salt and turmeric in the giant fish pieces in smudged utensils.

“Pooja kori more rakhibe urdhe, shey nohee ami/Hela kori morey rakhibe pichhe, shey nohee ami./ Jodi parshe rakho more shonkote sampad-e,/ Sammati dao Jodi kothin brote shohay hote,/ Pabe tobe tumi chinite morey.” (I am not the one you hail in the alter, worshipping, nor am I the one you keep behind you, in negligence. Recognize my essence while you keep me beside you always, in your bounty and amid deep hours of crisis, allowing me to be a true partner in your life’s journey, a true accomplice in your missions)…I can still hear you mumbling the lines of Tagore’s ‘Ami Chitrangada’ (I am Chitrangada) to yourself, in the ethereal twilight of your everyday kitchen songs.

In your young, struggling days, when you and Baba (father) came together in the same music school where the numinous beauty of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs made both of you create your own universe of love, you had held his hand tight, learning to love yourself more with each passing day, for his sake. You had come to his ancestral home as a new, demure bride amid 25 odd, unyielding members who never understood your true worth; you had embraced his handsomeness and youth, his strengths as well as all his quirky ways, his occasional bouts of temper, and took upon yourself the mammoth task of supporting his demanding family, financially, emotionally, even while draining yourself excruciatingly. “What was the purpose of all your sacrifices for them, tell me, when all they did was to exploit whatever resources you had? They made you give up your music, stopped your recitation classes. They didn’t even let you eat properly when you were expecting me, years back. Do you expect them to change and love you unconditionally in return?” I would ask you quite often, when I grew older and wiser, unable to come to terms with what you had faced, while you covered up with a smile when it hurt you the most. I never got a concrete reply, but your silent resolve spoke volumes. You had loved my father till your last blood drop, and his entire realm, both in its pleasantness and its disagreeable mess, was your own. Right from the moment you discovered him as your young husband in your first nuptial night, to the last evening before your fatal stroke many years later, when you were washing his soiled clothes in the bathroom.

My mornings would never be the same, Ma, without your little love-notes inscribed in our Barrackpore home, swaying with the lilting tunes of your Sanskrit chanting at the wake of dawn when with eyes shut and hands folded in a gesture of pranaam, you would utter the divine “Om jabakusuma sankasang kashyapeyang mahadyuting”, invoking the Sun-God. A sliver, a chunk of my childhood and adolescent days, with lines of Rabindranath and Jibanananda Das, and most prominently, the lines of a poem, “Bhoraai”, by your favourite poet Satyendranath Dutta dangles in the rusted, dusty corners of the rooms, the verandah and the terrace of the house, trying to reach me every day, crisscrossing the haywire traffic of the continents. The lines that you had recited with flawless diction and the inimitable prowess of your elocution, the lines and their literary essence that you had taught me with utmost care, lines which had then, unknowingly, laid the foundation of my love for the scribes.


the bliss of a child: me and my parents, many moons back

“Oi meye amader moton-I hobe, angul fule ki ar kola gachh hobe?” (Your daughter will be one of us, nothing greater, who has ever seen a grape growing to be a banana tree?) You had silently listened to one of my elder cousin sisters predicting an inconsequential future for me, while I sat in your lap, reading out my favourite books to you one day. In your silent resolve, you had held me closer to you, whenever the uncertainties in my life spiraled out of control, for you knew, in your heart of hearts, that I will rise and shine, and find my own little firmament in the vast galaxy of voices, visions and expressions.

Today, I dedicate each and every small or big publication to your loving memory, to your simple, yet profound teachings. I cook the recipes that you had taught me across the miles of our distance, I prepare boxed lunches for my daughters and watch them grow with starry eyes every day, much in the same way that you did while I was growing up, knowing that perhaps my own words, thoughts and actions, my own aspirations would find their way in posterity. Perhaps, many moons later, when my bare form will meet yours, suspended in time and space, trying to gauge the vacuum in between, our words and the silences, the pauses in between will resurrect us. Till then, let your clumsy, messy, soppy remembrances tell me your stories, every day.

I will remain your daughter in this life, whichever domain you may have crossed over to.

Happy birthday, Ma.

Yours’, Papai.

A stirring and powerful narrative of love and loss: Book Review of’Thwarted Escape’


“Depending on which chapter you’re reading, you could say Banerjee is a memoirist, a creative writer, an essayist or a journalist. But no matter what label you choose for her writing, you will see Banerjee has major writing talent – the culmination of a passion that was borne at an early age when she considered words her playmates.


“I have been in love with these moments of restlessness and release as these clusters have formed a pattern called words. I watched this written world of prose and verse, as with my hands, my body, I absorbed these nuances of creation,” she writes.

Through the pages, Banerjee transitions from a small town girl in India who makes her way to the United States. She has traveled to many places throughout the US and in one chapter where she derives the book’s title, “Thwarted Escape,” she talks about her departure to Omaha, Nebraska, as in this stirring passage: “I am an ordinary, commonplace refugee in North America, and like many others of my ilk, have embedded myself in a family, far flung from what is called ‘original home.’ Like many others, I am striving to gain the status of the coveted Non-resident Indian, a legitimate work permit to survive in a distant land while my heart continues to ache with the desire to be rocked in the bosom of my mother and to revisit the havens of my childhood.”

With the power of narrative in her life, Banerjee lives with the secret ambition to “get published” and to let the world read her stories. Thankfully, she has fulfilled her dream of compiling such a book and sharing with us her engaging and well-written stories of grief, death in her family, motherhood, and femininity.”

By J O’Reilly

Sharing an endorsement for my book ‘THWARTED ESCAPE: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey” from J O Reilley, an award-winning journalist from the Chanticleer Reviews and Media team, which she also shares in Goodreads and Amazon:







Book excerpt: ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’

An excerpt from the opening chapter of my recently released memoir/autobiographical novel THWARTED ESCAPE: AN IMMIGRANT’S WAYWARD Journey in my own voice.

Publication details:

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Authorspress (2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9352074254
  • ISBN-13: 978-9352074259

Available at Amazon:



Flipkart link (for India only):



Note: An excerpt/chapter from my book-length memoir/narrative nonfiction, ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’. This chapter is my humble tribute to Jamaica Kinkaid and her edgy personal essay ‘Girl’.

“The caged bird sings with fearful trill

Of the things unknown, but longed for still

And his tune is heard on the distant hill

For the caged bird sings of freedom.

…But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

His wings are clipped and his feet are tied

So he opens his throat to sing….”


(Maya Angelou: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings)


Whose are those eyes that pry on me as I hover at the doorway? Whose are those faces that measure my gait, as I grab a seat in crowded vehicles? Whose are those feet that crisscross mine as I walk along the dingy lanes, following the flashlights? I should have felt the warning rattle at the door. I should have heard the noisy presence of heavy feet stomping the old cement floors. I should have braced myself for invaders taking direction, seeping through the damp, concrete walls.  Being born a girl, my mind was quiescent and tame, but I had sunrise, I had hope. I was simmering in my pretty looking prison. I was simmering in arrogance and expectation.

In a sleepy little town that stretches all the way to far-flung railway stations, I sit hunched in a chair that creaks, facing the window, from which I look at the thin sheet of rainwater floating up the grease and mud of the road. I glare at the passers-by, never waiting for them to notice me, as I know since my girlhood that they will, inevitably. “How did it cross your mind to step out in the dark of the Amaavasya (no moon) night, with this wild, unruly hair of yours? And how can you forget you must not run, hop or jump in this condition? It is the 2nd day of your female periods, girl; and mind it, we call it “shoreer kharap”, a special, inexplicable sickness, not without a reason.”

I feign a half-smile, then cringe silently, unsolicited voices whizzing by, guarding me from the edges of their eyes as I partake in a vain unraveling. My naked self is greasy with sweat, messy with heat and the blood that my egg has just released. Ah, yes, I must honor the gift of sanctity between my legs. My footprints are that of a ghost, they must die within a deep pool of silence. I must remember sundown, remember to crawl inside the fence, shutting off the slapping wind. There, my own heartbeats lull me back to your world, through the traffic lights of your commands.

I should have adored the pretty pink frills of my frock and the cup of hot, frothy milk of my childhood when I remained among the stack of fairy tales and pelting rain.   Beneath those locked doors and wordless wallowing, as my lungs held the solid air as a snug encasement, I thought I had embraced  my sanctuary. In this breeding ground of maiden virtues of virginity and sanctity, I never knew I was entwined in rage and loneliness.

“Hey girl, you have a lovely voice. Can you sing more songs for me?”

“Hey, I kept looking at your chiseled face in the photo studio today. A bit more slant to the right, relax your fingers against your chin, make a bigger pout, there you go. Ek chhobi-tei biye (just one photograph, and marriage is fixed)!”

What else can you do? Sew, knit, cook, make hand-embroidered tapestry? Can you show us samples?”

When did I learn how to turn on and turn off the music and let it pour from the damp speakers? When did I learn to explode in the presence of curious, sneaking men, stomping around, grimacing, with my thick braids swishing against their pockmarked faces? Did you all rejoice then, knowing that I was stripping myself into nakedness, bit by bit, my soft, maiden songs sitting tight at the knife-edge of my teeth?

In the pretty-looking prison of my  blossoming womanhood, I saw with wide, gaping eyes the dawn melt into the day. I had opened the window panes, waved at the world offering the vestibules of change. I had walked by the narrow alleys,  as the sun fell over me in a smudge of embrace. Ah yes, the sunlight has over-indulged my tomfoolery, there, it sits tight, over my skin, my face, my arms, preventing me from being the coy woman, the ‘forsha’ (fair) maid.

I should have braced myself for darkness and gloom in all those bright hours when I had soaked myself with rapture and expectation. Were the crisp airs of vanity my own? Was the bluebird chirping in my throat unwomanly, psychotic?

By now, I should have learnt to focus on my own life as an outcast, to thrive in my madness and be pleased to walk alone amid the crowded city streets with impetuous fools. You were probably right when you thought how gloom had plagued me, crawling all the way up to my toes, ankles, knees, thighs, waist and my rib cage, tasting the delicious orchards of my womanliness.

My femaleness each month pushes through the blood and clots and cramping, the clockwork of my body, the awareness of my sexuality. You have taught me right to hide it away, to feel shameful of it when needed, and also, when needed, proclaim boastfully how my body is a temple, a heaven to be worshipped. You have rightly taught me my skillfully carved out path, to be a sexy woman and a shy child, punctuating my whispering, my gasping, my moaning and my sighing. You have taught me right, breast to hip, moist bits that promise a riot, an uproar, a tempest, weathered well.

“Let woman be a plaything, pure and fine, like a gem, irradiated by the virtues of a world that has not yet arrived.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I know now what I have between my legs. All the way from my first uterine cramp to the ultimate trophy of giving birth, I am pinned into your geometric cages, your mountainous pile of definitions and instructions. I do not care to sift through your lessons of how to obtain my femininity. I have known all of my fresh, fertile curves and pumpkin vines. I know it’s not worth dying for, you know, preparing to be peppered and injected, since menstruation to menopause, covering my body in polished jewelry and opals. Being born a girl, I should have known how to place myself in neat, transparent jars—compact, polished, cloaked in my femininity.

Would you again iterate and reiterate our prescribed purpose and potential in this dark, ramshackle attic? I return to the disheveled rubble of my long forgotten childhood. As I stand here today, I have danced all my dances, sprung up like weeds rooted in the old nursery of my existence. I hurl my powder puff and concealer, my body mist, my flirty winks and my bathroom mirror at this awful world of vows, and intrusion.

O Calcutta: Published at Readomania


A rainy Kolkata noon. Image source: Lopa Banerjee

Very happy to share my second publication at Readomania.com, the online publishing platform for short stories, memoir and poetry. An old poem of mine, ‘O Calcutta’ (written around 2007-2008), from which I had developed my nonfiction piece ‘Thwarted Escape’ has just found its home in the literary portal. Do have a look friends, and leave your valued comments.




This, I Believe, I Am


Image source: Morselsandjuices.com









A short creative nonfiction piece of mine, in which I essay my internal journey, the conflicts on the way and how I am happy to break the mold of stereotypes, ‘This, I Believe, I am’, published at ‘Morsels and Juices’, an e-journal, a community showcasing stories, articles and poems by aspiring women writers and published authors.

Sharing an excerpt of the piece here:

“When I was the skinny little dreamy-eyed girl with braids, pleats and an awkward posture, I found myself growing up in a house cluttered with old furniture and the sternness of rituals, with a father always away at work and more away from doting his child, a silent mother cocooned in her daily worries, an aunt making up with her supernatural stories, a school full of classmates stealing lunch from my box and discarding me as ‘vague, imaginative and weird’. Months and years flew past, swallowing me up with devouring loneliness. The sky seemed to loom, gray and dead, above me. Yet, in my mind, a sulfur glow of a different sun gave way to streaks of opaque dark.  I’ve been threatened and insulted by the mediocrity around, but in rare moments of clarity, I saw the world as it should be. I broke the chains of mediocrity, and felt free. I felt free with redeeming, everlasting imagination, with the ever-growing, luscious vines of music which I discovered everywhere around me. In the beauty of my solitude which then, had overpowered me, I began to look for the mystery of colors and brush strokes, with the inspiration and creation of artists I seemed to know from my previous births.”

To read the full essay, do visit:


Writing About the Family: Family History, Secrets and Universal Truths in Creative Nonfiction

In the chapter ‘Writing the Family’ in the book ‘Tell it Slant’, editors Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola closely examine why writing about the family is a crucial aspect of Creative Nonfiction writing and how that originates in the writer’s mind and how he/she gives shape to it in the course of the writing process. Family, they specify in the outset, is the first window of the child to the external world, “our first mirrors, our first definitions of who we are”. While the adult self assimilates into the external world with disparate individuals, cultures and experiences, the immediate family still remains at the core of his/her values/impulses, they still remain “the first objects of love, anger and loyalty”. It is thus, quite natural that writing about the family remains at the heart of memoir/creative nonfiction writing, keeping in mind so much of creative nonfiction works that revolve around the family, the parents, the grandparents, uncles and aunts, and sons/daughters and even grandchildren.

As writers, all of them may have faced the universal duality of their roles within the family, the need to be an integral part of their own clan, and establish themselves as separate entities. Also, being the forbearers of their families’ cultural and personal past, what they do with exposing the personal, private and intimate details of the immediate family while striving to attain a universal perspective is also crucial, as that is the only way their work can be solidified in the realm of literature.

For that matter, all great memoir and nonfiction work begin with the writer’s impulse to tell a true story with honesty, passion and urgency. It may be a story that involves the lives of immediate others who surround him, but the writer is successful after unfolding the story to his audience only if and when the purpose is to bring forward universal truth, to evoke universal emotions where the family is the nucleus. Here, even if the subject matter is apparently centered on the family, it eventually becomes a metaphor to explore some more complex human issues, the larger historical/cultural context. Also, here, the family and its little, specific details serve to link the writer’s personal experiences with the greater world. I will mention four essays here in which the writers successfully/effectively strive the balance between the personal and the universal, while becoming more than a simple exposure of family history and secrets. ‘No Name Woman’ by Maxine Hong Kingston, ‘Notes of a native Son’ by James Baldwin, ‘Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self’ by Alice Walker and ‘Three Pokes of a Thistle’ by Naomi Shihab Nye. All of these essayists accomplish this by the unique use of form/structure and narrative voice.

In ‘No Name Woman’, Maxine Hong Kingston starts out with her mother’s version of a forbidden aunt’s story, which is characterized by unusual silence. Ironically, in the very first section, the readers come across the author’s mother who warns her: “You must not tell anyone . . . what I am about to tell you. In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born.” Apparently, as the story unfolds, the author narrates a detailed account of a young woman in a Chinese village who transgressed the cultural norms and became pregnant, not from her husband whom she very briefly encounters, but from another man whose identity she never reveals. The author narrates graphically, with gory details how the family suffers as a result of this ‘sin’, as the villagers flock to the house and slaughter the livestock. “The Villagers broke in the front and back doors at the same time…their knives dripped with the blood of our animals. They smeared blood on the doors and walls. One woman swung a chicken, whose throat she had slit, splattering blood in red arcs about her….” The descriptions and the details involve the violence and also the ostracizing of the aunt from Kingston’s family, and the poetic, emotionally charged scene of the aunt giving birth to a child in a pigsty. However, as the narrative proceeds, we understand that it is the author herself who uses her imagination to weave in the details. Her mother’s version of the story is only sparse, minimalist, with occasional reminders, “Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us…”. However, the author chooses a peripheral form by weaving a story within that story, she creates a portrait of a woman and attempts to look back at her life, the clothes that she wore, the bun that she tied, the men that she may have encountered in the fields who may have coerced her into a sexual relationship in a world where adultery had been an extravagance. She delves into her past and contemplates the way she had been married off to a young man whom she met and slept with only for one night. “Then he left for America. She had almost forgotten what he looked like.” She also vividly recreates the scene where her dead aunt goes into labor and gives birth, and also nurses the newborn for a few moments, as she desperately wants to protect the child, while also the truth that the child without any descent line “Would not soften her life but only trail after her, ghostlike” keeps plaguing her, until she carries the baby to the well, and they both dive into it. All this while, the author recreates the character of the dead aunt, the scene and the settings, richly detailed and nuanced, and by doing this, creates a story within a story. Her mother’s version of the story is there as a metaphor to explain how family histories are traditionally handed down, travels from one generation to the other, whereas her own version of the dead aunt’s story is the structural device through which she ultimately looks to discover her self-identity. By reanalyzing her aunt’s life, she actually intends to explore how the cultural history of her Chinese village, her family can help her reconcile with her own, emerging sense of self, growing up in a more fluid, cosmopolitan America. Her aunt’s life in the story represents the patriarchal trappings, the urgency to wipe out family secrets, as Kingston uncovers her family history while recreating the old, untold stories, altering and reinterpreting them for herself and also the audience, in her ultimate attempt to connect with her family’s past/history.

In James Baldwin’s essay, ‘Notes of a Native Son’, the relationship between Baldwin and his father, their internal struggles and conflicts are apparently the focus of the narrative, as the author recounts the varied emotional tensions of the relationship on the day of his father’s funeral. However, as the narrative progresses, the readers understand that the familial relationship between the father and the son serves to uncover greater existential truths in Baldwin’s life, including racial discrimination rampant in the 1950’s America and also the question of American identity. While in the opening scene, Baldwin lays out the settings of the essay, the day of his father’s death, July 1943, the day when his last child was also born, the distressing period in the city of Detroit, marked with “one of the bloodiest race riots of the century.” The day of his father’s funeral, also the day of his nineteenth birthday, as well as a day he comes to terms with his epiphanies, and his father’s vision of the apocalypse.

While from the very beginning, he provides rich details into his family life and also narrates how he had always got along very badly with his father, the fact that they both shared, in his own words, “the vices of stubborn pride” unfolds as the narrative progresses, and through the course of the essay, he articulates how this ‘stubborn pride’ in his blackness, a legacy, evolves and shapes his own persona as an African American. Structurally, he builds the essay around a definite/finite time frame, the day of his father’s funeral, and this context helps him situate the essay, while also letting the author explore the many complex, difficult issues that arise in his family and also in the world around him. In the narrative, Baldwin tries to situate the early memories of his father and how he grows up under his intimidating presence, the pride of his father in his own blackness, “his outrageously demanding and protective way he loved his children”, and his groping personality, his “proudly pursed lips and rigid carriage”. He provides a rich, layered account of his young life under his influence, stifling and wanting to escape his tyranny, and also his father’s gradual surrendering to illness provoked by his “intolerable bitterness of spirit.” Also, in the narrative, Baldwin’s father’s failures in life, his afflictions and his gradual surrendering to death is coupled with his own episodes of struggle and animosity as he starts living in New Jersey, separately from the family. In the vignettes of this independent young adult life of Baldwin, including his experiences in bars, diners and public places, his fights and violent self-resistance, the first epiphanies of his life happen when he realizes that he actually, unknowingly carries the burden of his father’s existential crisis, his father’s smoldering anger and bitterness in the white-dominated America.

In the scene of his father’s funeral sermon, Baldwin employs the use of memories most effectively, while he remembers the characteristic grin in his father’s face, his father teasing his mother, the comfort his father offered when he as a child, scraped his knee on a barber’s chair. With these little details, he transforms his father’s image into an enduring, memorable one, interspersed with flaws and humanity. Also, with his exposition of the scene of the race riot in Harlem, he simultaneously brings out the images of violence and racial hatred, as his own emotions now start to reflect in the world outside. Thus, by placing the story of his father and his personal memories in context of the larger American history, he successfully transcends the personal terrain to move towards a more universal experience.

Alice Walker, in her essay ‘Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self’, poignantly tells the story of an old scar in her eye caused by her elder brothers, which affects her vision of physical beauty and also later acts as an epiphany to understand the true value and significance of it. In the essay, Alice Walker steps forward to give a very personalized account of how her brothers hit her with the pellet of a gun that resulted in a permanent scar tissue in one of her eyes, and how she has suffered the onslaught of that childhood event by slipping into a kind of stigma, and a low sense of her beauty and self-esteem.

The essay starts with Walker’s childhood recollections of an Easter Sunday in 1950, her mother braiding her hair with ribbons, the Easter speeches that she listens to in the church, and people admiring her prettiness, her dress and her appearance. The narrative gradually progresses to a detailed, harrowing account of how her life had been severely affected by that childhood accident when she was “eight years old and a tomboy”, surrounded a group of brothers who “shoot and shoot everything with their new guns”. The scene, the settings of that event and its exposition is carried out in vivid, visual details. “I feel an incredible blow in my right eye….my eye stings and I cover it with my hand.” The brothers, notorious and bullying in nature, make her hatch a lie, and later, fever-struck, when she visits a doctor, he says, “Eyes are sympathetic…If one is blind, the other will likely become blind too.” The author confronts this moment of terror and insecurity of her child self and continues it as an ongoing journey well into her mid-life crisis, when she asks her mother and sister whether she has changed in any way after the incident. She presents the memories of a school where she had been terrified by the ‘electric chair’, and also by friends who questioned her about her scarred eye and called her “one-eyed bitch”. Through the vignettes of her early childhood and adulthood, she actually shows us windows to her mental world, snapshots of how her life is affected by powerful forces that are not within her own control, including race, social class, family dynamics and her own cultural notions of beauty. In the essay, we see how the family is instrumental in her silent suffering, and also how the family becomes a redeeming gift in the end, when Walker’s three year-old daughter Rebecca gleefully says that she sees a world in her mother’s blemished/scarred eye. In her presentation of the perception of her own beauty in respect of family and cultural values, her three year-old daughter becomes the metaphor through which she attains the most profound epiphany: she is beautiful in her own uniqueness. With Stevie Wonder’s song “Always”, she discovers another dancer within her own self, a dancer who is “beautiful, whole and free”, which reflects how she comes out of the conventional perspective of beauty thrust on her by family/cultural expectations and forms her own paradigms of living and acceptance.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s essay “Three Pokes of a Thistle”, also replete with evocatively woven family stories, is also in essence, the universal journey of a young girl striving to attain her sexual and psychological maturity. She segments her essay in three individual sections. The first section is about her childhood and school life, her first grade report card, a car accident and her loneliness and her discovery of Mark Twain’s book that shapes her vision of life. In the second section, she recounts her experiences with her father’s rich, stimulating world of language and cadence, the fragrant syllables in Arabic in contrast to the constrained Catholic environment of her friend Marcia’s house and her father’s pig-like grunt, and also her first tryst with the adult world of sex with the boys in the park, ragging her with the F-word. The third section is about her introduction to the feminine world of growing breasts and training bras in which she fumbles and eventually finds her way on her 12th birthday, when she is been gifted with a training bra. The three segments of the essay are neatly structured as various disparate layers of the author’s life, which she eventually joins with her metaphorical/artistic vision, and in the process, unfolds her relationship with her parents as a metaphor to discover/attain a recognition of her gradually maturing self.

Her mother cries “mightily, heaves of underground rivers”, peels beets, “her fingers stained deep red”, stands at the “screen door peering out, my baby brother perched on her hip”. Through these lyrical images, the author presents her mother as a primal force who actually leads her towards her fascinating discoveries of life. Her mother also represents the pervasive silence that permeates the author when she questions her about the F-word, when she questions her: “What really happens between men and women to make babies.” In the author’s life, it is this silence of her family, particularly her mother that leads her to the quest of understanding and discovery, which is again the author evoking the universal human emotions of wonder, anger, fear and insecurity. Moving back and forth between her family’s cultural truths and her discoveries of the greater physical truths, including the blossoming of her sexuality and her gradual awareness of it, Nye’s essay accomplishes the task of a successful/effective personal essay. The tension between the cross-cultural conflicts and her assimilation to conformity is brought out beautifully, with the portrayal of the family.

Thus, it can be seen that in all respects, these four essays are effective in bringing out the larger perspective which moves the writing beyond the merely personal to resonate with the general audience.


Miller, Brenda and Paola, Suzanne: Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003

Root, Robert L. Jr. and Steinberg, Michael: The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction–4th ed. Pearson Education, Inc., 2007