In Conversation with Alka Joshi, Author -The Henna Artist
The Henna Artist has very easily become one of my favourite books this year. Simply because of how this tale of two sisters is eloquently written. Every scene and character of the book is carved out in such engrossing detail that it completely absorbs you in its old-world beauty and charm. It was also refreshing to see the additional chapters this book had in the end, which included recipes I would definitely want to try!
Like many other readers, I had my curiosities and questions about the book. And I thought why not try reaching out to Alka Joshi, the author of the book, herself. And I was beyond thrilled when she kindly agreed to answer a few short questions. Hope this short Q&A shared below intrigues you a little more to pick up the book right now!
Q: The main characters, Lakshmi and Radha have a very well developed character arc. Was their trajectory planned out or did it develop as the story progressed?
Joshi: I knew from the beginning that with Lakshmi as the strong-willed protagonist, I would have to create an equally compelling antagonist. But because the antagonist is her sister and Lakshmi has such a strong sense of responsibility, I knew that she couldn’t ignore Radha or disregard her; she would try to reason with her younger sister or teach her a different way of going about the world. What I didn't know from the beginning was how their relationship would evolve to the point where they could hold up a mirror to the other and reveal each other's inner desires and needs.
Q: The pink city, in its glorious self plays a very important part of the story, how important was to have the story set in Jaipur?
Joshi: While my own family lived in Jodhpur, Jaipur, Banswara, Bikaner and Chandigarh before leaving for America, I still have extended family throughout Jaipur. It’s a place I know, a place I can describe, a place I can always conjure in my imagination. Remnants of the British Raj and gorgeous Moghul architecture abound there.
Q: How do you think Lakshmi’s struggles will resonate with the Indian women today?
Joshi: Women from all over the world—Indian, White, Black, Hispanic, Filipino, Brazilian, Croatian—write to me daily or tell me in my discussions with virtual book groups how much the story of Lakshmi resonates with them. They find it easy to relate to women who are allowed a smaller life than is their due but who prove to be so resilient that they manage to thrive within its boundaries.
Q: At a tender age of 13, Radha has endured more than a child at that age should. Was deciding to keep her that young a conscious decision?
Joshi: In rural India, many young girls endure far more than children from Western countries; they must leave school to work or marry very young because there isn’t enough food on their family’s table for them. Reduced access to information and contraception leads to adolescent pregnancies—and the cycle of poverty repeats itself. Educating young girls to read and write can stop that cycle. Both Lakshmi and Radha benefited from the education they received from their father.
Q: It took several years of research for the book to come together, did the story line ever change from what you had started with during this course?
Joshi: The story changed in many ways throughout the decade. While Lakshmi’s character remained virtually the same, Hari’s changed drastically. I altered the relationship between Lakshmi and Samir in different ways before settling on the version you see in the book. The arc of each character deepened and became more complex. Scenes got tighter. Parvati redeemed herself. The sisters fought more, fought less.
Q: Lastly, what kind of books are you reading during this lockdown, any you would like to recommend?
Joshi: During lockdown, I’ve been so busy with virtual book clubs and podcast interviews—125 at last count!—and working on the sequel,The Royal Jewel Cinema, will be in bookstores July, 2021. So I read less than usual. Currently, I’m currently reading The Perfect Scent. It’s part of my research for the third book in the trilogy, which centers on Radha as a perfumer living in France. I can hardly wait for readers to check out the entire trilogy!