Exploring the art of prose


Author: Chaya Bhuvaneswar

Author’s Note

“Orchid” is a memoir excerpt about the experience of living in a Brown femme body as a queer South-Asian woman psychiatrist, a body resembling those targeted by the carceral state that punishes any who resist it, whether patient or doctor.

But “Orchid” is a new story. Not a story of trauma and survivorship, but dreamy flowering. Enduring, strange, evasive modes of growth.

Not simply an American story, or an immigrant story, but the story of a plant with roots that touch British colonial soil, violent topography and luxurious materials—a story of Raj.

In my memoir, I interweave personal narratives of medicine and madness with familial and societal violence, against the backdrop of colonial history, including the Victorian British Raj conception of the orchid as an exotic trophy from colonized nations, but for me, a metaphor for stubborn survival, with orchids the oldest plant family on earth, dating back 110 million years. I use carefully curated scenes and storylines to center my relationships with my parents and my brother, but the understory is larger—fanning out to the history of my colonized family, including my two grandfathers who were already fathers by the time of Indian Independence and Partition, and to their legacies so informed by the rigid social and caste divisions and racial self-hatred specific to Indians during the British Raj and its aftermath.


CHAYA BHUVANESWAR is a practicing physician, writer, and finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection for White Dancing Elephants: Stories, which was also selected as a Kirkus Reviews Best Debut Fiction and Best Short Fiction and appeared on “best of” lists for Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Vogue India, and Entertainment Weekly. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Narrative, Tin House, The Sun, Electric Literature, The Kenyon Review, The Masters Review, The Millions, Joyland, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Awl, and has been anthologized elsewhere. She has received fellowships from MacDowell, Community of Writers, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Find her on Twitter at @chayab77.