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Book: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

The Henna Artist is first of the Jaipur Trilogy - The Henna Artist, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur and The Perfumist of Paris, written by Alka Joshi. Alka was born in India and moved to US along with her family when she was nine. She did her BA from Stanford University and had written advertising commercials and marketing copy. She enrolled herself in the MFA program in creative writing at California College of Arts at the age of 51. Later she went onto write her first fictional novel - The Henna Artist, which immediately became New York Times bestseller. 

For this debut novel, Alka drew inspiration from her mother's life. Her mother had to discontinue her studies to get married at the age of 18. Both her parents got into wedlock, against their personal choice. Both had dreams and goals to achieve. Sooner they had children and her mother couldn't have the life that she wished. Alka is known to have mentioned, “I can’t change her life, but I can change it in fiction. I can create a character who leaves her marriage and goes off and finds herself and finds her destiny, and her financial and emotional independence. That’s where ‘The Henna Artist’ came from.” 

Getting into the plot of The Henna Artist, in the year 1950, 17 years old Lakshmi leaves her village, her home, her marriage and her abusive husband and reaches pink city - Jaipur. She becomes a henna artist there and starts a new chapter in her life. She is assisted by a servant boy of 7-8 years age named Malik. Known for her original designs and wisdom, Lakshmi becomes the go-to person in the elite group and is also trusted with their secrets. Samir Singh, a renowned architect was the key person to introduce Lakshmi to the elite circle in Jaipur. Over the years, Samir has got Lakshmi's respect and becomes her go to person. But she is careful enough to not let her secrets spill out, as it could ruin not only her reputation, but also her means of living. 

In the process of realizing her dreams to lead an independent life, she is building a beautiful house with all her hard earned money, which she aspires to call her own. That's when she is confronted by her husband after many years, with the help of a 13 year old girl named Radha, who claims to be her sister - a sister Lakshmi is not aware of. 

Lakshmi learns that Radha is born to her parents the same year she left her home and her parents and mother-in-law passed away. Radha has faced much of her villagers' hate for bringing ill fate to her family and the village and since then been marked as the 'bad luck girl'. Radha learns through Lakshmi's letters that she has a sister living in Jaipur and reaches her with the help of Lakshmi's husband. Even though, Lakshmi isn't happy about the encounter with her husband, she is indeed delighted to have a sister - a relationship she can call her own. Lakshmi decides to give a good life to Radha, the life that she couldn't have. So she enrolls Radha into a school. Since there is some more time left for the academic year to begin, Radha offers to help Lakshmi in her henna business, by preparing henna paste and sweet treats for her customers. 

Having seen the ugly side of the world, Lakshmi behaves stricter with Radha, to ensure she stays on the right path. Obviously, Radha doesn't appreciate Lakshmi's behavior and stops talking with her. On the day of her house warming, Lakshmi is devastated with a shocking revelation about Radha. That one fateful incident, creates a havoc in Lakshmi's life. Those people who sang praises about her in Jaipur, start to call her a thief. In the process, Lakshmi loses her business, her only companion Samir (with whom she shared a special bond) and finally compelled to leave her home and Jaipur. She decides never to paint anybody's hand. Lakshmi's life as a henna artist was over.     

I don't want to be a spoiler by revealing the reason for this turbulence in Lakshmi's life. Read the book to know why she decides not to be a henna artist and what she intends to do next. Alka Joshi, has beautifully woven all the characters, especially that of Lakshmi as an ambitious, bold and independent woman, persevering and at the same time, uplifting those surrounding her. The following lines from the book are just enough to sum up Lakshmi's personality and strong character.

I felt my spirits lift. I would leave the map of my life here, in Jaipur. I would leave behind a hundred thousand henna strokes. I would no longer call myself a henna artist but tell anyone who asked: I healed, I soothed. I made whole. I would leave behind the useless apologies for my disobedience. I would leave behind the yearning to rewrite my past. My skills, my eagerness to learn, my desire for a life I could call my own—these were things I would take with me. They were a part of me the way my blood, my breath, my bones were. 

Most of the story is set in Jaipur, post independence days. Alka Joshi has described Jaipur and the culture in those days, so intricately, that it takes us to the old Rajasthan days, Jaipur Royal family and their lavish lifestyle. The Henna Artist is enriching, vibrant, bold and will surely leave a lasting impression on the reader.   

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  1. Nice story n description by U. Keep it up Manu👍😍

  2. I am glad you all liked this article. You will definitely like the book too. Do read it!!!

  3. Very good Narration manu...Hope I will read this book soon....


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