What I read
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is set in India. The year, 1955. Thirteen years before, Lakshmi Shastri escaped her abusive husband Hari, and over the years makes a new life for herself as a henna artist–and an herbalist who helps wealthy women prevent (and abort) pregnancies. The life she establishes in Jaipur is a far cry from the one she left where her parents’ fortune was ruined after her father was accused of siding with the Separatists. An incredible artist, Lakshmi’s henna work is remarkable in its intricacy and the hidden images she adds to give her clients good fortune. Like many women who step outside the life that society has established for them, Lakshmi walks the fine line between dishonor and respectability.
But on the whole, life is good. Lakshmi is building a beautiful home of her own, although she sometimes struggles to keep her account with the shifty builder Naraya up-to-date. She could afford to hire eight-year-old Malik as her errand boy. Lakshmi had saris and salwaar-kameez to spare. Her upper class clients sometimes gave her lavish gifts.
But that all starts to slip through her fingers when Radha arrives. Radha, the sister born the year Lakshmi left her husband. Radha, the Bad Luck Girl who tried to pick up the shameful pieces that Lakshmi left behind. Radha who, from her earliest memories, had been the target of the Gossip-Eaters. At thirteen Radha is headstrong and romantic. She does not suffer fools gladly. Custom and class mean little to her, and she balks at Lakshmi’s many rules. It is Radha’s naiveté–and headstrong nature–that threaten to destroy the life that Lakshmi so carefully built when she falls for the son of one of Lakshi’s wealthy patronesses.
Sometimes stories of India fall into a trope of the exotic. And while The Henna Artist will transport you to a time and place that is lavish and extraordinary, it is also the story of one woman’s realization that maybe the hustle necessary to commission an intricate mosaic tiled floor is less important than being true to oneself. At the end of the novel, Lakshmi says, “I would no longer call myself a henna artist but tell anyone who asked: I healed, I soothed. I made whole … I would leave behind the yearning to rewrite my past.”
Lakshmi is a rich woman indeed.
What I lived
I’ve felt a little like Lakshmi in the past couple weeks, running from one thing to another: child care, tutoring, yard work, cleaning to-do’s, exercise. I have to admit that I didn’t think my retirement would fall along these lines. And while I worry about money, I am considering reducing my work days next school year from three to two. There are days I don’t have much time at all to do nothing. But friend Denice and I did manage to squeeze in a day of fun in Shipshewana last Friday. She had never been to my beloved E&S Foods, and I had never been to Yoder’s and Lolly’s for fabric, so we both saw something new.
Denice is a wonderful photographer as anyone who reads her blog knows. And while traveling by car, it’s usually her patient husband Bruce who is Master of the Three Point Turn when she calls out “STOP!” for a photo opportunity. As Denice tells it, he ‘lovingly’ turns around, backs up, or whatever else he needs to do so that she can point and shoot–all the while muttering a few well-chosen expletives as he does. Reader, I’m not ashamed to say I channeled my inner Bruce on the trip with some of his favorites. Let’s just say dadgummit and goldarnit will have to suffice here, but the photos below are testament that the turn-arounds were worth every minute.
I said in my Holmes County post, I might be the only person I know who considers food and fabric appropriate souvenirs. I was wrong. Denice does, too. She hooked me on the tiny pretzel balls and animal crackers at Yoder’s Meat and Cheese, and I had her at the mini-M&Ms at E&S where we wandered the aisles to the background chatter of Pennsylvania Dutch. We both bought some fabric, except Denice was on a mission for a quilt background, whereas I just sorted through fat quarters until I found something that called out to me. I came home with cinnamon rolls and oatmeal and pickles. (Remember my “Life is Delicious” post?!)
We chatted there and back about books and family and death & dying and betrayal and heartache and growing old. Denice is a darn good listener and I hope I’m the same for her.
I might always worry about money, but I am rich indeed.