Going against the grain is a hard and abrasive endeavour. Trust me, I am living the tale. A tale I might or might not tell later. However, to sustain myself, I can read the stories of seemingly ordinary people who turn extraordinary by their sheer endurance. Published by the barely 200-day old new age publishing house Juggernaut, Twinkle Khanna’s The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is a collection of four short stories of fortitude and hope, with an occasional sprinkling of Mrs.Funnybones wit and humour. You can relish each story in short bursts or the entire book in one long sitting. Like I did. On a Saturday night, I devoured the book in four hours from 10 PM to 2 AM.
Each story of The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is speckled with lead characters who have a zidd (stubbornness). Not the stubbornness of the destructive kind, but the one that has the potential to become beacons of change, for the greater good or just in their own lives. In the title story, people of a small village near the river Kosi sing the glory of Lakshmi whenever a girl child is born. Very few know in the village are aware that the songs are not in the praise of the goddess of wealth, but in the praise of fourteen-year old Lakshmi Prasad. In a country where the birth of a girl child is still considered unfortunate in some places, the gawky teenager brings about a transformation in her village that makes every girl child financially independent the moment she is born. A legend is thus born.
Refusing to follow convention and following your own heart is easier said than done. As the widowed Noni Machiwala in Salaam, Noni Appa realises in her twilight years when she develops a deep friendship with the yoga teacher Anand ji. A married man! What sacrilege! What would people say?! A close brush with death brings a revelation: it is not the society, but your own ideas about propriety that gets in the way. With familial support and Anand ji’s patient affections, Noni Appa (“Appa” being an epithet of respect given to her by all and sundry) throws caution to the wind and decides to do what truly makes her happy.
But doing exactly what you want comes with cost for Elisa Thomas in If the Weather Permits. Spunky Elisa marries five times to two men and then divorces them. She willingly plunges into the first marriage and forces herself into the next, all because of her father’s constant nagging “Deaf and dumb but a man is a man is a man”. An adage that Elisa’s sister angrily claims is both idiotic and “fucking grammatically fucking incorrect.” Elisa is neither successful in holding both the marriages together, nor is she able to free herself from the clutches of her overprotective parents. A woman who “briefly belonged to many, but truly to herself”, she finally asserts her independence and moves out of her parents’ house with its constant smell of meen moilee, only to meet another tragedy. If the Weather Permits is the odd of the lot, with a bitter-sour aftertaste.
Things are neither easy for Bablu Kewat of Mohana in The Sanitary Man of the Sacred Place. The tale is based on the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham and his invention, the low-cost sanitary pad making machine. Unlike Noni Appa, Bablu Kewat is abandoned by his family and his new bride when he embarks on an socially-unacceptable unsanitary journey of making the lives of hundreds of women in rural India healthier and safer. He lives the difficult life of an inventor facing disillusionment, ostracization, and desolation, but driven by a purpose at the cost of immense loneliness. But success comes with its own set of difficult decisions.
Generally, celebrity writers stick to safe topics. They rely on subjects that might appear to lie within their comfort zones. With her crisp and observant writing, Khanna goes far and beyond what would be expected from a person of the tinsel town and delivers us stories that are as real as we the readers are. Spanning the diverse geographical regions of India, the characters of The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad fight their own battles by “carrying a little sunshine under their skin”, as Bablu Kewat says to his new wife when she asks how he stays upbeat even under dire circumstances. The only way you can hope to survive the “following your heart” bug is by doing away with the need of explaining yourself to others. Like the everyday heroes of the book, I think I will live to tell my tale.