And then I fell in love with the writer… If the fatwa can be called an extreme form of literary criticism, then why not falling in love with the author make a case for critical appreciation? And is it not all the more justifiable if the book is a memoir?
I had saved the book to be read on a sultry spring afternoon when there is a bit of magic in the air. I loved every word of it – from “the kettle of my girlhood days” to “the moon is a tear-drop away” everything resonated with me as if I have been sucked into a false sense of nostalgia. Even though being a male and identifying with a female’s narrative seems odd at first I realize that long time back during my university days I had also identified with Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” But perhaps it is all a hallucination induced by the beautiful prose and surely in time the waves of the world will come to claim the sands of my castle. I let Lopa know that I have been reading her book and she replies: “Yes it is the pent up thunder in my soul for long that has compelled me to craft all the chapters of this book. Waiting for you to read it fully and let me know your thoughts on it. I had to make sense of the hubris of this life by writing about the storms and the waves.”
Perhaps Lopa is the Bakul of Bakul Katha, recording the lives of three generations of women, as I tell her that while reading of your mother giving up the tanpura reminded me so much of Ashapurna Debi’s Satyabati. I assure her that I am delving into her “inner sojourns” to know her “pent-up thunder and tranquility”, the very words she has inscribed in my copy while signing. The book starts with an ode to her home, “Still with me” – yes, it will be a sacrilege to call each division of the book a chapter because the whole narrative is poetry and each section of it a stanza of that poem. It is autobiographical revelations about family, love, growing-up, gender, feminism, diasporic life, psychology and how nostalgia of the past becomes the elegy of the present. It is about creation and procreation – of how seamlessly the language of “load shedding” gets replaced by the language of “power cut” and motherhood makes a writer a conceiver of the future.
So, I willingly suspend my disbelief and enter Lopa’s world on the bare skeletons of truths common to both of us – the truth enmeshed in stories of Enid Blyton, Arabian Nights, Misha magazine, Chitrahaar on TV, Barrackpore and a whole old world where we lived parallel lives. From Lopa the mermaid to Lopa as Marjina, I live with her in the book. We grow up. She sings song of the curves, breaks free of “relentless femininity”, becomes a “sexless dribble”, boards a train and comes to the city. She writes: “It was inside an unceremonious train compartment that a much younger me coughed up my first poetry…” She whispers to me how she walked the corridors of Calcutta University, was inspired by Taslima Nasreen, has loved, was jilted in love, met online her husband-to-be, married before her wedding and wiped out the vermilion mark, and migrated from the city. But she could never escape Calcutta. Even “across seven oceans and thirteen rivers” in Nebraska she will periodically bring nuggets of her nostalgia “out of their dens and listen to the stir of their breath”. Having crossed the Atlantic she thinks of her ancestors who would have scoffed at her for crossing the “Kaala Pani.” But in her new life she becomes the chronicler of the narratives of her ancestors. She writes of how her grandma becomes a schizophrenic woman “plagued with insanity from the loss of too many of her children”, of how a couple of her aunts widowed in the prime of their youth performed “their ekadashi days in our merciless Indian summers” and were excluded when “streer-achar (womanly rituals) were performed with diligence during the weddings in our family.”
I whisper to Lopa that you are in America now as I read the book further. In America it is “rhapsody” where creation and procreation come together beautifully; the writer and the mother become one. Her two daughters are born on American soil; to them she dedicates her book. The process is interspersed with episodes of depression, both existential and exilic, and death comes as news in diasporic life. As one generation passes away witnessed by the quintessential rains the now motherless daughter flies back to her “childhood den, to the deep embrace of the damp yellow walls and the haunting lullabies of childhood slumber.” A trip to Puri and then it is back to the United States where she cooks, waters plants, writes and rewrites while wandering “aimlessly in crinkled corners” of her girlhood. What will I with all my doctoral research on Indian diasporic life tell her? Do I tell her that the “naïve, wondrous memories” she crunched under her feet and the atoms of her “transient longings” she hid in the nooks and crevices of the Niagara Falls should be more precious to her than all the crumpled love-letters of her girlhood days? Do I tell her that she should now identify with Minnehaha and Hiawatha and forget her childhood folklores? Dear Lopa, you were expecting that I would write a review of your book as a diaspora theorist but I have failed you. For now let this masquerade as a review of your book and let me not be an expert on Indian diasporic literature. Is it not better to be a failed theorist but a good reader than the other way round? Perhaps this is my thwarted escape from being an indulgent reader.
About Lopamudra Banerjee
Lopamudra Banerjee is a writer, poet, editor and translator, currently based in Dallas, USA. She has a Masters’ degree with thesis in creative nonfiction writing from the Department of English, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a Masters’ in English from Calcutta University. She is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology on women, Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas, published in collaboration with Readomania and Incredible Women of India.
Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey, her debut memoir/ nonfiction novel, published by Authorspress, has recently received Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Book Festival 2017. The manuscript has also been a First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media LLC. Her literary works have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, both in India and the US. Her poetry has been published in The Significant Anthology, Umbilical Chords: An Anthology on Parents Remembered, Kaafiyaana, and her fiction is forthcoming in Silhouette I & II anthology, to be published by Authorspress. She has received the Reuel International Award 2016 (category: Translation) for her English translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novella Nastanirh (translated as The Broken Home) instituted by The Significant League, a renowned literature group in Facebook, and the book is available in Amazon Kindle.
[Disclaimer: This book review, being a creative piece of writing, uses the literary technique of unreliable narration to show the effect the book has on a reader. It does not take the traditional path of telling about the merits of the book and recommending it but rather implicitly does so through self-indulgent reading that unites aspects of critical thought with the body of emotion.]Published in