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. 

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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...