Book Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

“I was still the same girl who dreamed of a destiny greater than she was allowed.”

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is a spirited novel full of bright ethnicities and vibrant landscapes as it peeks into the life of Lakshmi Shastri, a newborn henna artist in the post-colonial city of Jaipur. The story goes on to oracle that much like Lakshmi’s intricate henna strokes, her life too, is a striking mandala of complexities in a palace full of blitz and hidden truths.

“Do you have any more questions?”

“Only the ones neither of us can answer.”

Lakshmi Shastri runs away from the barbs of an orthodox, traditional society into a world where she has a freedom of her own. She becomes a popular henna artist among the colourful streets of Jaipur, serving women of royalty. But calling her just a henna artist is undermining her value. She is also known to provide herbs and teas that can change a woman’s fate and can give her power over her prudence. But that’s not all the secrets she holds though. She discovers the secrets of the rich and the royals, secrets that can destroy their reputations in the Pink City of Jaipur; and can maybe, destroy her own too.

“My patterns were more intricate; they told stories of the women I served.”

Living in the divinity of her independence, she speed bumps over various truths about her long lost family, who had given her away into a life of an abusive marriage; a life that she had run away from, a life she propelled to leave behind. And just when her freedom had taught her enough about the world, destiny puts her to test her love.

“I had lived with Hari for only two years, but he had lived in my mind for half of my life.”

This novel carries many beginnings and ends in it’s repertoire and thus, it leaves us spinning into a thread full of ambient mysteries, leaving us unsettled, until the chaos is finally unweaned by a string of striking revelations.

Overall, a lovely read.

Quotes:

1. The darker the henna, the more a woman was loved by her husband.

2. Only a fool lives in water and remains an enemy of the crocodile.

3. But these were flaws for a husband to discover, not for me to reveal.

4. Stretch your legs only as far as your bed.

5. Freedom is relative.

6. She expected from me what wasn’t mine to give.

7. He knew the rules: we only revealed what the other needed to know.

8. Without parents to quash her dreams of romance, her imagination had allowed her to turn fiction into fact.

9. I believe you would agree that a family’s dirty laundry is best cleaned by its own.

10. She had been my personal monsoon.

11. In the pupils of his eyes, I saw what he saw: a sapling of a woman.

12. She knew no better because no one had taught her any better.