The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad By Twinkle Khanna Juggernaut, India ISBN: 978-9386228055 233pp.
As a woman growing up in Southeast Asia, it’s very common to be under the spotlight of society’s unblinking eye. Yet determined women have gone against the grain for the better and stood out to do extraordinary things. Those who didn’t change society as a whole, or create movements for progress, at least felt the currents shift within themselves. It is these women, unwavering yet able to move with the winds of change, that make up the first three stories in Twinkle Khanna’s collection of short stories, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. These are stories of women who have been driven to take matters into their own hands despite their families — or even because of them.
‘The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad’, ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’, and ‘If the Weather Permits’ follow three very distinct women as they realise their destinies have always been in their hands. Lakshmi Prasad is a village girl with an ingenious idea. When her married sister is sent back to her parents’ home with marks of abuse at the hands of her in-laws, Lakshmi knows things must change, not only for her newborn niece, but also for the other girls in her village. Because of her efforts, where most villages decry the birth of a girl, Lakshmi’s now celebrates it with fervour.
The protagonist of ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’ takes us a world away, to a bustling seaside city where Noni Appa and her sister Binni are living out their widowhood in each other’s company, playing solitaire and drinking the occasional whiskey. Binni hires a yoga teacher to come to her home and teach them the ancient art, but what follows the yogi into their home is something neither sister expected. ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’ is a tale of sisterly love and winning companionship when you need it most and expect it least.
Twinkle Khanna’s collection of short stories casts new light on what the world expects from traditional India
‘If the Weather Permits’ is the penultimate story that caps off the book’s female protagonists with Elisa, a free-spirited woman who is tied down by her parents though life has other plans.
‘The Sanitary Man from the Sacred Land’ follows the same narrative thread but with a male protagonist, Bablu Kewat. This tale makes up the bulk of The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad and with good reason. It is a fictionalised version of the true story of Padma Shri-awardee Arunachalam Muruganantham — a man famous for inventing low-cost sanitary napkins for women belonging to poor backgrounds, giving those same women jobs to manufacture the napkins, and creating awareness of feminine hygiene. The story made headlines around the world and, after Khanna’s fictionalisation of the events, Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar (Khanna’s husband) is set to play the Pad-Man on screen. Khanna’s version is highly romanticised with all the twists and turns of a good Bollywood flick, befitting her writing style.
Despite the varied backgrounds, cultures, and turmoils of the heroines and hero present in The Legend of Laskhmi Prasad, a common theme of resilience ties the short stories and their lead characters together, bringing forth a book that truly has something for everyone with the added bonus of some very endearing characters. Morsels of wisdom woven throughout the narrative give just enough pause to reflect over the unfolding story without patronising the reader. Sagacity offers itself as a realisation to the protagonists, while also guiding the characters to reach and fulfil their desires, so we root for them from page to page and story to story. The book’s clever wit makes it stand out amongst the sea of serious South Asian writers, and shows that a lesson taught through a laugh has more impact than one that is delivered sternly. Khanna delivers her lesson loud and clear.
The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is the writer’s second book. Her first, Mrs Funnybones, was a bestseller that put her on the map as one to watch on the literary scene. Having developed her unique voice, Khanna now writes regular columns for the Times of India and the Daily News & Analysis. A former actress, interior designer, film producer and Bollywood wife, Khanna writes with grace and wisdom; the sharp wit and clever anecdotes peppering this anthology can be likened to Bapsi Sidhwa.
Khanna has a strong and clear voice, and even when she adds characters or scenes for a quick quip, the story never loses its pace. She deftly trapezes from one story to the next, making it entertainingly perfect for a weekend or beach read. Embedded in the banter of Binni and Noni Appa, within the branching thoughts of Lakshmi, encased in Elisa’s thoughts or even in Bablu’s workshop, are reflections we’ve all had at one point or the other, in the multicultural societies where we live as daughters of the East. The empathy that Khanna shares with her readers through her characters showcases a mature writer and skilled storyteller.
The reviewer is a freelance writer
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 5th, 2017