THE LEGEND OF LAKSHMI PRASAD: TWINKLE KHANNA






I have been a regular reader of the articles of Twinkle Khanna published in one of the major dailies of India. What distinguishes her writings is her innate wit & humour through which she presents matters of both domestic & national importance. So, when I got a chance to lay my hands on her book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad at the local library I just gobbled it up and soon I found myself going through her other works as well.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is a collection of tales - three short stories and a novella. With her trademark wit & humour, Twinkle in each of her stories brings out the social & personal issues, the discrimination faced by women in India .

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad

In this story Twinkle brings forth one of the greatest evils to plague India - the dowry system. In India parents are saddled with worries from the time a girl child is born. They have to arrange for a lump sum to marry off their daughters. Sometimes they have to mortgage their homes, sell their property, their lands to arrange for the money. This often lands them in the clutches of moneylenders. But sometimes even this is not enough. There is a constant demand of more and more money from the in-laws, and if the same is not met the girls are tortured, sent back to their parents house and even burnt alive.

The story revolves around two sisters Sukriti & Lakshmi growing up in a village in northern India. Sukriti is married when she is only nineteen. But she is far from happy in her new home. Her husband and in-laws torture her and there is demand for more and more dowry, or gifts as they liked to call it. Burdened by their constant demands Sukriti’s father Bijendra Prasad is down to his last penny. In desperation he tells Lakshmi, “That is why a son is so important, for his old parents to lean on. With daughters, all our life savings go away in giving and giving.”

One day Sukriti is sent back to her parent’s home ‘holding the gifts her in-laws had given her in return- burns on her back, from boiling water and hot pans’, when their demands for dowry are not met. Soon it is discovered that Sukriti is pregnant. She wants the baby to be a boy. She tells her sister, “Lakshmi, I hope this baby is a boy. Life is easier for them. We girls have nothing. We go to live in other people’s houses and they treat us like slaves.” But the child turns out to be a girl. When her in-laws learn that Sukriti has begot a girl child, they refuse to take her back claiming that Sukriti had not been pregnant when she left their house. Sukriti’s father is ready to sell their fields to arrange for the dowry, so that Sukriti’s in-laws will take her back. At this point Lakshmi, who had been but a mute spectator, stands her ground and asserts herself, “Enough with this managing, of this bending……. It’s only when we have something that people will stop treating us like we are nothing.” She then comes up with a unique idea that will not only save her sister’s but of life of generations of girls in her village.

In this short story Twinkle brings out the various evils that plague the women in our society. She not only depicts the problems but also comes out with a viable solution.


Salaam, Noni Appa

In this story Twinkle brings out the loneliness that pervades the life of the elderly and their desire to find some love & companionship in old age. Noni & Binni are two elderly widows living alone in their respective flats. Noni’s daughter is now settled in London. The two sisters try to fill the void in their lives by engaging in various frivolous activities like shopping & frequenting the parlour; they also try art classes & also join embroidery classes but these fail to hold their interest for long. In comes a sixty three something yoga teacher Anandji in their lives. He has a harrying wife and tries to escape his domestic discordance by taking yoga classes. Noni & Anandji bond over yoga and playing cards. Soon they develop feelings for each other that are beyond the carnal. Anandji says to Noni “At our age I cant say that my heart flutters when I am near you, but it hums contentedly, and I want to spend the time I have left listening to that sound.” In each other they have found the love & companionship that fills the void in their lives.




If the Weather Permits

The stores narrates the tale of a modern woman searching for love and the societal pressures which forces her into loveless marriages with disastrous effects. The story opens with the marriage of Elisha Thomas with her long term boyfriend Javed. Elisha has been in an on-off relationship with Javed for eight years. “She had married Javed partly because she had a bond with him and also because she needed to get married before she would inevitably, one weary day, succumb to one of the Malayali boys, a Varghese or a Joseph, it didn’t matter which, that her parents used as battering rams to beak her defences down.” But soon the marriage breaks down and she is back at her parents house. “Two years went by where Elisha went from one relation to the next like she was trying on a pair of jeans, slipping it on, twirling around and then leaving it in a crumpled heap on the floor.” The pressure of her relatives again forces her into marriage a second time. This time with a half mad, clinically depressed drug addict Chacko who is the son of the local district collector. This marriage also ends in disaster and soon she dumps her husband and is back with her parents.

With her inimitable wit Twinkle exposes the institution of marriage. In India women are often forced into marriages as soon as she completes her studies or gets a job. She often succumbs to the pressures of the parents and society and often enters into an arranged marriage with a total stranger. The result is often a loveless marriage with disastrous effects to both the partners. On her honeymoon Elisha realizes the fallacy of her marriage to Chacko, “In the darkness, she sensed the empty space that lurked inside her, which she kept away with laughter and company; the vast loneliness that had brought her to this point, where she was now  married to a man whom she not only hardly knew but had no interest in knowing better. Elisha spent half the night staring at the ceiling fan as it turned round and round endlessly, moving continuously but not going anywhere.” Twinkle also pokes fun at the evils and superstitions associated with marriage in our society.  Elisha’s father tells her to marry a tree first as she is a Manglik, and this  ritual would enable her to acquire a “nice Malayali boy.”


The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land




This novella brings into focus one of the most pertinent and burning issues of India - Menstrual Hygiene. Menstruation like sex is a strict taboo in India - you don’t talk about it like it does not even exist. A recent study has found that only 18% women in India use sanitary pads. Most women in India particularly in rural areas are forced to use dirty clothes which results in poor hygiene & diseases . The taboo is not only limited to the rural areas but even in urban India we find the taboos associated with menstruation. During their periods women are often treated as untouchables and are barred from participating in religious ceremonies. The issue has recently gathered international attention because of the Oscar winning documentary Period.End of Sentence. 

 The novella depicts the struggles of Bablu Kewat to make low cost and affordable sanitary napkins which are accessible to all. Bablu is shocked one day to find his wife Gowri using a dirty rag during her periods. He promptly buys her a packet of sanitary pads. But instead of being happy on seeing the packet she retorts, “If Shalu and I start buying these packets every month, the let alone curd and ghee, we will not even have enough money to buy milk.” Bablu is dejected but he decides to make the pads at home rather than let his wife use a dirty piece of cloth. He promises his wife, “Gowri, I will find a way to make a pad for you at quarter the price.” Each month he tries to make the pads using various combination of materials like cotton and cloths at home but each time he fails. During one such experiment at testing his home made pads, he uses a rubber bladder filled with goat’s blood and a plastic tube and attaches it to his body to resemble a realistic uterus. But unfortunately he is discovered by the neighbors with bloodstains on his pants and is ostracized by the society and abandoned by his wife and relatives. He leaves his village, but instead of giving up Bablu becomes more resolute at making low cost pads and making them accessible to all the women of the society. After years of hard work and with the help of his distant relative Bhaskar Sharma, a Professor at IIT Indore, he finally manages to build a machine which could manufacture sanitary pads at fraction of the cost of the such products available in the market. But instead of selling his machine to some multinational company and making a a lot of money, he decides to travel from one village to another selling his machines to the women there and helping them set it up so that they can be financially independent.

The story is based on the real life story of Padma Shri awardee Shri Arunachalam Muruganantham and has been adapted into the screenplay of the 2018 blockbuster Pad Man, starring Akshay Kumar.

In The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad Twinkle Khanna emerges as a Feminist with a difference. Her brand of feminism is not limited to just male bashing but in each of her stories she brings out the relevant issues pertaining to women of today's India. The ease with which she brings out the humour in everyday mundane matters reminds one of the works of Ruskin Bond.





Other Books From the Author

1. MRS FUNNYBONES




In her debut book Mrs Funnybones Mrs Khanna recounts episodes from her own life. With her self-deprecating humour she tells us one anecdote after another . From the baby to the man of the house, from her mother-in-law to her own mother, everyone has to pass through the intense scrutiny of her microscope of humour. It is a tale of the struggles of the quintessential modern Indian woman trying to balance her professional & domestic life.

2. PYJAMAS ARE FORGIVING

Pyjamas Are Forgiving, the latest offering from the author is a journey of a woman to self discovery. Anshu is a divorced middle aged woman. The infidelity of her husband and the consequent divorce had hit her hard and she went into depression. She was able to recover slowly only with the help of her sister. Now every year she visits Kerala’s Shanthamaaya Sthalam, which is an ayurvedic spa cum resort to heal herself. But this year among the residents of Shanthamaaya she notices one familiar face-her ex-husband Jay, who has come here with his trophy wife to settle a deal. Passions are reignited as Anshu is irresistibly drawn to her ex-husband. 

THE STRANGER



Life is made up of moments. Some small, some large, some sweet, some bitter. They come, they go. But some linger on, longer than usual,  and become memories. Today I am opening my memory vault to narrate a story that has left an indelible mark on my life. My university education along with the rich and inclusive Bengali culture had given me a certain secular outlook on life which I was proud of. But this incident changed it all. It made me question myself, and altered the course of my life forever….

It was the time of assembly elections in Bengal. I was on training for my election duty. My interactive session was over by 12 oclock and we were instructed to assemble again by 2.30 pm. As I had enough time during the lunch recess I just looked for a quiet spot on the lawn, opened a novel and started reading. Through the corners of my eyes I could see a person who was sitting a few yards apart looking at me. After a few minutes he got up and walked up to me.

The Stranger : What are you reading?
Me : (For God’s sake just leave me alone) Oh! Just a novel by Agatha Christie.
The Stranger : Is it any good?
Me : (Why don’t you mind your own business) It’s just a thriller. Good way to pass the time though.
The Stranger : Can I sit here?
Me : (Fuck off) Sure.
The Stranger : Are you here on election duty?
Me : (No, I am here to sell pakoras) Yes.
The Stranger : What do you do?
Me : (None of your business) I work for a Nationalized Bank.
The Stranger : So they give election duty to Bank employees now. Huh!
Me : Yes, just my luck. What do you do?
The Stranger : Oh I am a driver at the local BDO office. How is life in the Bank?
I could see that this fellow was not going to leave me alone. So, I finally closed the book I was reading and we started chatting. After 15-20 minutes of conversation( if you could call it that, he was mostly doing the talking, and I the listening), during which we became fast friends, he pointed out that It was time for lunch, “Aren’t you hungry yet?”. “Indeed I am”, I said. “Have you brought lunch from home?”, he asked. “No, I have not”, I replied. “Let’s find a cheap restaurant to eat then”, he said. We agreed and together we went in search for a place to eat.

 After about a 100 metres we found one which looked clean and tidy enough. I was about to enter it when I heard my new friend cry out, “Don’t go in there”. “What’s the matter?”, I asked. “This place is not right. Lets eat somewhere else”, he replied. I was confused. I followed his furtive glance and saw the name of the place, NAZEER FOODS : Indian and Mughlai. Pure and Halal Food. Now I understood. My stomach was already growling and I thought, seriously, now we are going to play Hindu-Muslim at this point of crisis. I was about to say something when he again pleaded, “Bhai, lets go someplace else.” Bloody racist, I thought. But I acquiesced. So, we went in search for a sudh Hindu restaurant.  

Looking around I saw that this was a Muslim area. I was now in an indulgent mood.
Me : This looks like a Muslim neighbourhood.
My Dear Friend : Yes, looks like it.
Me : The place is swarming with these people. Slowly they seem to take over the whole city. It will be difficult to find a Hindu restaurant here.
My Friend : Lets keep looking.
So, we kept on walking. After about 10-15 minutes of walking a signboard greeted us: Radhey Shyam Hotel. At last. Hunger was practically playing a KKR vs CSK IPL final in my stomach. So we promptly ordered two plates of fish and rice (the quintessential Bengali delicacy called Maach-Bhat). The food was good and we had our hearts fill.

After the hearty lunch as we were walking back we noticed a shop selling paan and cigarettes.
My Dear Friend : Do you smoke?
Me : No. But you carry on. I don’t mind.
My Dear Friend : No Bhai, some other time.
Me : All the walking and searching for the perfect restaurant seems to have paid off. The food was good.
My Dear Friend : It was indeed.
By the time we were in sight of our destination I was very thirsty. We bought couple of bottles of Bisleri. As I was drinking the water my friend remarked, “It was nice meeting you.”
Me : I am glad too meet you as well. By the way I forgot to ask your name.
My Dear Friend : Mohd. Ansari.

My jaw dropped open…..


How I Met Your Mother


Prologue

Hey Buddy!!! Your mother has recently accused me of not being expressive enough of my love for her. Of not saying how much I love her and expressing my love on social media like Facebook with such terms of endearment as Janu, Sona, My Love, My Life, and not posting photos of her cooking with the caption Made by my Lovely Wife. I have always been a very shy and reticent person who likes to keep his thoughts to himself. But today I am going to tell you a story. This is a story of a simple village boy and a smart city girl, how their different worlds collided and became one. This is my storyOur story.of How I met your mother. The title of the story is borrowed from a popular soap opera but the rest of the story is carved from the pieces of my heart . You are too small to understand it now but one day you will grow up and read this and convey it to your mother and then she will understand..

Chapter 1 : The Girl on the Platform

The story starts years ago on a train. I, a third year student, was travelling to Kolkata to join a tution class. As I alighted on the platform and was looking for my buddies, I saw this girl get off the train. As she passed me with a smile on her lips, a cool breeze blew across the parched valley of my heart. It was just a moment, an instant, and then it was gone.. she was lost in the milling crowd. My mates approached me and soon I was on my way to my classes with the image of this girl with a lovely disarming smile. Little did I know then that we were destined to meet again on the same dayand then again. and again.. that the smile will remain with me forever.. and like the sun brighten up my dull days..like the lode-star guide me through my darkest nights..


Chapter 2 : And Here We Meet Again

It was my first day at the coaching centre. I promptly arrived and took the only vacant seat available. As I looked around , I was surprised to see a girl seated across the room. The Girl with the Golden Smile, watching me her captivating eyes. I was intrigued. I wanted to know her name, to befriend her. But being a shy kind of guy who hardly spoke to girls outside his circle, I retreated back to the comfort of my cocoon. But, by the end of the day I somehow managed to know the name of my mystery girl.Madhumita

I never believed in love at first sight. I still dont. In subsequent days I formed a more clearer picture of her. A fair skinned Brahmin girl from a well to do family from the suburbs of Kolkata, thinking herself superior to the rest, living in her ivory tower and looking down upon and judging people like me from small town. Well I disliked her then. I normally was a chivalrous young man but I decided to adopt this cavalier tone towards her. We even had a few fights. One day as I was taking some papers of my friends to the get them xeroxed, she asked me if I could take hers as well. I was piqued. How could she just sit there smugly and order me around. Cant you get them done yourself? Are your feet made of clay?, I quipped. We had our fight, but I got them done xeroxed anyway. For gods sake I was not a monster to turn down pretty girls.. I was just showing her a bit of my attitude.

Judging people while not sufficiently knowing them is a crime. And as time passed I realized the depth of my fallacy. It was not she who was judgemental, I was. She was just diametrically opposite to the image I had formed of her. It was my insecurity, a dark skinned small town boy hailing from a so called lower caste Hindu family, that I had projected onto her. It was fuelled by the endless chatter of her friends who liked to bitch behind her back. welcome to the girls world (me being too sexist eh, well if its any comfort we boys do it as well). With time we slowly started conversing a little and started to know each other.. Our prejudices started to melt away……

Chapter 3 : The Proposal

She was this colourful vibrant young woman whom everyone desired. I was this reticent, brooding young man whom people liked to despise. My shyness was often taken to be a mark of my arrogance. There could not have been two different people imaginable. But they say opposites attract..

I used to steal glances at her while pretending to be deeply immersed in studies. One day as I looked up at her, I saw her looking back at me. Our eyes met……Those deep dark eyes looking into mine.and I knew. I tore my eyes awaybut something sharp had already pierced my heart. The cupid had cast its proverbial arrow. Focus I said, focus on your studies, you could not fall into love at this point. Concentrate on your studies, exams are ahead. Failures had taught me one thing in life - to focus on your goal. So, my mind said pay attention to your studies you fool. But the love bug had bitten deep and I could feel its poison run through my veins. I had to get it out of my system. I had to let her know of my feelings..

We used to find excuses to talk to each other. But we were always with a room full of people. Iwe. wanted some time alone. One day at the end of the classes I found her lingering behind. Her friends had left. I took my cue and took an unusually long time to tie my shoelaces. So, my friends also moved ahead. Finally we were the only two left behind. Our friends seem to have deserted us today. Lets walk together to the station, I said. Okay, she replied in her sweet voice. So, instead of taking a rickshaw we walked to the station together. It was awkward though. We did not know what to say to each other. It was long silence.. a bit of forced conversation. then silence. anyhow we somehow made it to the station together. We parted ways. Stupid fellow, I said to myself, what were you thinking, you would be lucky if she ever talks to you again. But I could not be more wrong. We went for classes twice a week and the next day the same routine followed except that this time the conversation flowed more naturally. This continued for weeks. Had the others noticed? They surely must have, but at that time I couldnt have cared less.

Our classes were coming to an end. Then came the Bengali festival of Neel Sasthi. I would surely propose to her on this auspicious day. But the words never came out. I cursed myself…… surely the next day. I was determined this time around. I started with light conversation. She seemed in an unusually cheerful mood. As we approached the platform time seemed to run out. I gave her a Subho Nobo Borso (Happy Bengali New Year) card. She seemed to like it. Say itWe were now on platform No.1 taking the overbridge towards platform No.2.. Say it . I opened my mouth to utter those three magical words. You know, today is my Birthday, she said suddenly. Oh Hell. should I say it now? What if she says no? It would spoil her birthday and I would never be able to forgive myself for making her sad on her birthday……Next day perhaps.. But someone inside me cried out. Be a Man, its today or never. I mustered enough courage and asked her cautiously Have you loved anyone before?”……. awkward silence.. Man I had blown this .. After a long silence she said encouragingly Actually I never have.”…… This was my moment.. I said, You know how I feel about you??? Do you feel the same.”……..more silence. Then slowly she replied, You know how I feel, dont you???”…..

That day when the train came to a halt at my hometown I was not on it. I was miles away with someone special. We had found love, and we were not willing to let it go. Though I couldnt afford any expensive gifts, she afterwards told me she got her best birthday gift on that day .…… Love.



Chapter 4 : Things That People in Love Do

Love is a wonderful emotion. It uplifts you, transforms your dreary everyday existence into the ecstasy of Eden…….. But Love can also be a hard taskmaster, especially if you don’t have a penny in your pockets……

Vignettes

Scene 1: A couple is sitting on a bench on the Platform. Trains come… trains go….people are rushing by….they are oblivious….they just look into each others eyes….

Scene 2 : A railway overbridge….. a couple are having their first fight…. They are planning to go to a restaurant. They are arguing about who will pay the bill…. the boy wants to pay…. the girl offers to pay as she knows he doesn’t have a penny on him….

Scene 3: A boy and a girl are walking…..sometimes holding hands, sometimes apart…. they don’t know for how long they have been walking……they don’t know where the path will take them…. the girl is not used to walking, you can see her feet bleeding….but she doesn’t care…..they have each other…..

Scene 4 : A hot summer afternoon…. It’s 45 degrees outside and humid…. there’s not even a dog on the road….. a boy appears, holding an old rickety bicycle in one hand, a mobile phone on the other….he is soaked in sweat…sweat is running in streams from his forehead, his eyes are blinded by it….. but he is afraid to wipe the sweat from his brows, least the call get disconnected….. wonder who he is talking to…..

Chapter 5 : Enter the Villain

Every love story needs a villain…. I too had mine…only in my case the villain was not a person…. It was much more than that….. It was one of the Seven Deadly Sins….. My Sloth….

For four long years I had been living in a dream world. We had become so lost in one another that the outside world did not exist. But this dream bubble burst with the first prick of reality….. One day a call came…..“They are fixing my marriage. Today I am supposed to pose for my profile photo”.….

All Hell broke loose….my world had turned upside down…. “Hang on”, I said, “I will always be with you…… just don’t let go”…..

Thus began the most difficult phase …….the struggle to stay together, the struggle to stay alive…. of burning the midnight oil, of frantic searches in newspapers and magazines for jobs, of giving job interviews….. “Just hang on….don’t let go”……

Finally my Bela Bose*** moment arrived…… only in my case, my Bela was there on the other end of the line…..

Chapter 6 : A New Beginning

With the sounds of Shehnai, ullur dwoni and saankh I arrive###, clad in the traditional Bengali Punjabi and Dhuti….. She awaits in an upper room in her red Benasari Sari…… rituals are performed…. garlands are exchanged…..shoes are stolen. Tears are shed at the Bidai….. As we depart for our home, she sitting beside me, it all slowly begins to sink in… it was end of one journey and the start of another…..

(And They Fought Happily Ever After)

Epilogue

Here my son, I rest my case. You be my messenger, and convey my message to her that ours was a Love that that overcame the hurdles of penury, caste, colour, status and inverted the accepted social norms……. and may be….. just may be….. one day she will understand…..



*******
P.S. - The above piece was written as a series of Facebook posts to woo back the affection of my estranged wife.

(Notes -

***Bela Bose is a song by the famous Bengali auteur Anjan Dutta in which a boy telephones his girlfriend after getting a job. But the call came just a bit too late….

### This Para describes the Bengali Marriage Rituals)

*******

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

The time is Nazi Germany. The start of the second world war. Death is at its busiest collecting souls by the thousands. He notices the Book Thief for the first time while he is collecting the soul of her little brother.  Subsequently he has many encounters with her. Over the course of the book Death narrates the story of the Book Thief Liesel Meminger, her Papa Hans Hubermann, Mama Rosa Hubermann, friend Rudy Steiner and a Jewish Fist Fighter Max Vandenburg; and when Death tells a story, you really have to listen.

The story starts on a train to Munich in which Liesel Meminger, a ten year old girl, is travelling along with her little brother and mother. The children are to be given over to foster parents in Molching. But Liesel’s brother does not survive the journey and dies on the train. Her mother hands her over to the authorities at Munich and leaves never to return again. Liesel is then taken to Molching, a town on the outskirts of Munich, to her new foster home at 33 Himmel Street where she is greeted by her new foster parents the Hubermanns. Here she befriends a boy named Rudy Steiner. Over the course of the book we witness the life and adventures of Liesel and Rudy - the football on Himmel Street, the school life, the stealing of fruits and books, and finally the war.

Hans Hubermann (Papa) is a kind, loving and merry figure; a painter by profession who likes to roll his own cigarettes and play the piano accordian. He has already cheated death once in the First World War. Eric Vandenburg, a Jew and Hans’ dear friend saved his life during the war but was himself killed. When he went to meet Eric’s family Hans promised Eric’s widow and son that he would help them if ever the need arises. On a later date he would surely be required to keep his promise.

Rosa Hubermann (Mama), was once beautiful and quiet spoken as described by Hans to Liesel. But time has changed her. Now we see the picture of a squat woman “who looked like a small wardrobe with a coat thrown over it.” Her vocabulary consists of chiefly two words, Saumensch and Saukerl, which refers to pigs of the female and male varieties respectively. “Her cooking was atrocious. She possessed the unique ability to aggravate almost anyone she ever met. But she did love Liesel Meminger. Her way of showing it just happened to be strange. It involved bashing her with wooden spoon and words, at various intervals." But behind the tough exterior Rosa had a heart of pure gold as subsequent events in the book would prove.

Max , is the son of Eric Vandenberg. He was nearly two years old when he lost his father to the war. At nine his mother was completely broke and they moved to his uncle’s house where while fighting with his cousins his love for fist fighting began. Soon he began to engage in fist  fighting on the streets. He held a job at an Engineering Factory but was sacked in 1935 following the Nuremberg Laws of the Nazi Party. Soon after the persecution of the Jews began and by the end of 1938 Max had to leave home and stay in hiding. He remained in hiding for the next two years and was slowly rotting away when he remembered a promise made by someone years ago. He arrives at 33 Himmel Street.

The lives of all these characters meet at 33 Himmel Street (Himmel means Heaven). Here we witness their joys, their sorrows, their fears and finally the devastating effect of that war has on their lives.

Sketch from Max's Book
The book presents a picture of the Germany under Nazi rule. Though Hitler does not appear in person in the book, but we feel his influence everywhere. The ideology of the Master Race, the training of Hitler Youth, the hatred and persecution of the Jews, the horrors of holocaust and of concentration camps are presented in the book. Though the subject matter of The Book Thief is grim, but the author never allows the narrative to brood or slack but enlivens it with his dark humour. The narrator itself is no ordinary narrator but Death himself, who is shown to have a heart. He introduces himself, “I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable….Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”  He threatens the readers “personally, I don’t think you want to argue.” But in the next sentence he reassures, “Please, be calm, despite that previous threat. I am all bluster - I am not violent. I am not malicious. I am a result.” The horrors of the war are presented through the eyes of small children and ordinary commonplace people.

Sketch from Max's Book
Despite its grim subject matter the book is about hope, about the power of words. Liesel tries to overcome her human condition through the strength of words. It is words which binds her so deeply to Max. Each stage of her progress is symbolised by the stealing of a book. At her brother’s funeral Liesel picks up her first book The Gravedigger’s Handbook which was dropped by one of the gravedigger’s apprentices. Each night when she woke up after having nightmares Papa used to read her from the book in the middle of the night. Then as her reading progressed she received two more books at Christmas which was bought by Papa by trading his hand rolled cigarettes. Then on Hitler’s Birthday in 1940 a bonfire of books was lit up. Even as the embers were cooling she managed to pick up a book The Shoulder Shrug from the ashes and hid it into her dress; the book burned her but she clung on. Subsequently she would steal The Whistler and many more from the mayor’s library. At the time of war during the air raids she would comfort everyone present in the basement through her reading. Max acknowledges the power of words and in his allegorical book The Word Shaker, Liesel is shown to defeat the Fuhrer himself with the power of words.

 I have just finished reading the book and my eyes are still brimming. It’s full implication is yet to sink in. It has touched me in a way that only a few books have. The only other books I can think of are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The Book Thief undoubtedly lays its claim to be one of the classics of English Literature. It is not just a piece of fiction but a Human Document of immense value.

P.S -
Suggested further reading : The Diary of a Young Girl  To Kill a Mockingbird


THE LEGEND OF LAKSHMI PRASAD: TWINKLE KHANNA

I have been a regular reader of the articles of Twinkle Khanna published in one of the major dailies of India . What distinguis...