Alka Joshi on "The Henna Artist"

Erin Kodicek on May 07, 2020

Alka Joshi and her book, 'The Henna Artist,'

In Alka Joshi’s poignant and rousing debut novel, a young bride flees an abusive marriage and becomes a celebrated henna artist, opening a window of possibility that, although precarious, might crack her closed world open. Here Joshi describes how the heroine in The Henna Artist was inspired by her mother.

My mother, born in India, never had control over her destiny. When she turned 18, her father arranged her marriage, and by 22 she had three small children.

She wanted me, her only daughter, to have a different destiny: to choose my husband; decide to have children, or not; and to find my own career.

I never thought I could repay my mother for those gifts she’d given me until I started reimagining her life. What might she have been had she had those choices? That reimagining became a novel—The Henna Artist.

The Henna Artist is the story of Lakshmi—a young woman who wants a life larger than the culture and customs of her small village will allow. Lakshmi flees her marriage and reinvents herself as a henna artist in the Pink City of Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, during the heady years just after India’s independence. She defies convention. She clings fiercely to a life of her own making and becomes a celebrated henna artist.

Like my mother, Lakshmi is determined, creative, inventive. When women write to me from different corners of the world, they say that Lakshmi gave them courage to reinvent themselves and make their lives their own.

When they say “Lakshmi,” they’re really talking about my mother, Sudha. Her spirit—and her gift—live on. And although my mother did not live long enough to see the novel published, she lives in every breath Lakshmi takes and every word she utters.

Happy Mother’s Day, brave and beautiful Sudha.

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