"The Legend Of Lakshmi Prasad" | An unputdowanable collection
Anil Bhat writes how this collection of stories engages a reader with its characters, plot and delivers a desperately needed message to society
Once in a while comes the kind of novel or a collection of short stories, as in this case, which happen to be quite unusual but not incredible. They tend to engage the reader with the characters and the plot as also into wishing well for the various protagonists facing social pressures, resulting in this book being unputdownable. And whether the four stories in this book are either purely from the author’s imagination or based on real life happenings, they turn out to be good or feel-good without any sensational prop-ups.
As I wrote this review, I was watching on television the story of a model village in Rajasthan called Piplantri, where 111 trees are planted for every daughter born. I am not in a position to determine whether this happened before this book’s first story was written or otherwise.
The book’s first story is of a lanky girl Lakshmi Prasad, whose name makes the title of the book. Her elder sister, not very affectionate towards her, is the typical case of getting married to a lout whose parents are ever hungry for more dowry, which has already impoverished Lakshmi’s father. Pregnant, beaten and bruised, Lakshmi’s sister comes home supposedly till her delivery, but after delivering a girl, she is all the more unwelcome in her in-laws’ home. And it is when the father decides to raise more money to appease his daughter’s in-laws to accept her back, that Lakshmi explodes in rage. She insists on her parents to no more bending and also vows not to marry till every girl in the village has her own assets. Read how she convinces everyone to achieve her unique aim to create assets not only for all daughters but for the environment too.
The next story, ‘Salaam Noni Appa’ (elder sister in Urdu) is a delightful one about this elderly widow, whose discussions with her younger sister keep the reader in fits of laughter and who grows close to a younger married man who is her Yoga instructor.
The third story titled ‘If the Weather Permits’ is about Elisa Thomas, whose first marriage requires for her to change over to her husband’s religion. That does not really matter because she embarks on a few more marriages and finally marries a clansman fulfilling her father’s lifelong hope, or then, does she?
The last and longest story ‘The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land’ happens to be based on factual events. It is also the delightful journey of a determined man who chose a most unusual subject and pursue it to make it a very successful enterprise. Here is a man, whose sensitivity and empathy for women, stemming from their managing of menstruation by time – worn methods, fires his zeal into painstakingly and relentlessly researching and testing to achieve production of a comfortable, convenient, medically safe and affordable sanitary napkin, which he finally succeeds in producing. The miseries he is subjected to initially get compensated by the brilliance of his success.
Considering the author’s background, of being a charming daughter of late Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia and married to Akshay Kumar, and being an interior designer, newspaper columnist, film producer, author, and former film actor, she has shown sensitivity and talent of weaving absorbing stories far from her filmy milieu. And in this case, all her four stories have social messages very relevant to both the backward/disadvantaged as well as the affluent communities in a country like India.
In an environment where daughters are still done away with on birth, or treated like second or third class children within families for education and facilities and then subjected to indignities even to the extent of being murdered, for “not enough dowry” or “not producing sons”, or being “barren” and worse even with some amongst the educated/aware, Lakshmi’s story carries a huge desperately needed message.
Noni Appa and Anandji should have the right to enjoy each other’s company without anyone getting into a tizzy. With the erosion of the joint family system, there are so many elderly people both among the prosperous and poor classes suffering from sheer loneliness. Seeking companionship between men and women is still not considered socially unacceptable. ‘If Weather Permits’ bears a message for parents not to become obsessed with marrying their daughters off or accepting that they would not like to marry or marry within their community.
The last story featuring Bablu Kewat the producer of affordable sanitary napkins is a tribute to relentless determination against great odds. Imagine what kind of public reactions there would be of family members, friends or neighbours, particularly in a conservative rural setting, when they discover a man’s preoccupation with women’s management of menstruation. The author’s first book ‘Mrs Funnybones’ sold over one hundred thousand copies making her India’s highest-selling female writer of 2015. She also won the Crossword Book Award 2016 for ‘Mrs Funnybones’.