Outsider Perspectives, Insider Narratives: In Defense of Omissions

By Mandira Pattnaik

In the Summer of 2020, peak-pandemic times, I received my first writing solicitation. The topic was to write a micro-memoir. I had never written such a thing before, and like the way I am, the challenge itself made me accept the offer. In near impossible times, we had become more nostalgic. With schools closed, offices and business establishments open and shut randomly, flexible work hours and work-from-home, we had learnt to live in an environment of uncertainty. Friends and family recounted events and times bygone, fondly embraced them as though enshrining them in some catalog. We omitted the unpleasant, the anguish and anger like it never existed, in case something changed we didn’t feel weighed down with unresolved pendency.

I had enough experiences to share, but I was afraid. For one, how to share it — character, dialogue, family history, culture. And then, stymied by inexperience, I self-rejected several for one reason or other.

New Flash Fiction Review’s then ‘Micro-Life’ Editor Charmaine Wilkerson (now the author of Black Cake, debut author on New York Times Bestseller List and on Barrack Obama’s Summer Reading List) gave me all the freedom to choose what I wanted to focus on. Indeed, that proved liberating to a great degree but the shackles were in my mind, what to include and what not, in the gushing flood of memories. Like a gurgling mountain river, it was okay to feel its force, and drink in its freshness, but comparable to the natural world it was full of sediments, pebbles, vegetation and what not. I meandered a long while in its vague but insistent streams, to find what I really wanted to say.

One night, and it was when the Scorpion is most prominent in our skies, I was on the verandah at my home, just gazing up and I remembered how my grandfather, who died when I was just nine, was a committed star-gazer. He wanted a telescope but, in those times, it was not easily available in India so he used to spot constellations and stars with naked eyes and made sure anyone even remotely interested had some knowledge just by being up on the terrace with him.

Again, I have nothing against nostalgia, but I’m more drawn to chronological disorder than simple flashbacks or flash-forwards. And I also believe the structure of a composition to some extent dictates itself. Not always the case, but a regular mother-daughter plot could spill into the subnormal, and a climate fiction piece may be in the jacket of a pizza recipe.

My little story was born as a cosmic truth meets fractured family, and thus was drafted a memoir embedded as much in time as in timelessness.

This was my briefest encounter with memoir-writing. I had the chance to tell a story that had remained concealed for decades, waiting to be told. Looking back at the flash flood, I had succeeded in damming a stream. My micro-memoir carved a tiny pool for itself, translucent and thirst-quenching, in the archives of a literary magazine.

In conclusion, may I add that in writing this and many other pieces, I thank the omissions I’ve made. I have gained from the exercise of confronting something relegated to the bunkers in my mind. It is in bringing them to the fore that I discover myself.

Read Mandira’s other work here at Reckon:

Outsider Perspectives: Matchmaking for the Outsider
Outsider Perspectives: Insider Narratives
Outsider Perspectives: Home, Hinges, and Halcyons
Reckoning Flash: An Interview with Tommy Dean
Fiction: Porcellanidae

Mandira Pattnaik

Mandira Pattnaik is a fiction writer, essayist, poet and columnist published in print and online, including in The McNeese Review, Penn Review, Quarterly West, Citron Review, Passages North, DASH, Miracle Monocle, Timber Journal, Bending Genres, Contrary, Watershed Review, Amsterdam Quarterly, and Prime Number Magazine. Anthologies where Mandira’s work can be found are Best Small Fictions (2021), Best of Asian Speculative Fiction (2021, Insignia), And if That Mocking Bird Don’t Sing (Alt Current Press), 200 Poems Around the World (Sweety Cat Press), Ten Ways the Animals Will Save Us (Retreat West), In the Belly of the Whale (EllipsisZine) and Everything Has a Price (EllipsisZine). Her work has received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction and Best of the Net, been translated, and was nominated for longlisting at Wigleaf Top 50 2022, Honorable Mention in CRAFT Flash Contest 2020, and Highly Commended at Litro Magazine Summer Contest 2021. More at mandirapattnaik.com