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Friday, December 3, 2021

Downton Abbey Indian: Henna Artist from the Bay Area Henna Artist celebrates the beauty and complexity of India after independence.

After Bay Area author Alka Joshi moved to the United States from India at the age of 9, she quickly learned that Americans are mostly faced with negative tales of her country of birth, often told from the perspective of British expatriates mourning the end of colonial rule.

Joshi hoped to broaden readers’ understanding with her 2020 bestselling book, The Henna Artist (Mira Books), which depicts India in its post-independence prosperity, with an emphasis on ordinary people moving across different walks of life.

Alka Joshi

Henna Artist was inspired by Joshi’s mother and set in 1955 when her parents got married. In the same year, India passed a landmark law that made it easier for married couples to divorce. The novel follows 17-year-old Lakshmi, who abandons a brutal marriage and travels alone to Jaipur, the picturesque “Pink City” and capital of Rajasthan, the western state where Joshi was born. There Lakshmi became a henna artist and confidant of women from the city’s social elite, including the royal family.

Joshi’s lyrical writings about class, family, romance and women’s empowerment caught the attention of Reese Witherspoon for her Book Club selection in May 2020 and Indian star Freida Pinto, who will play Lakshmi in a limited series set to begin filming in early 2023. … producer Michael Edelstein said Joshi’s multi-layered narrative could make her tales an Indian version of Downton Abbey.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, the second in Stanford University’s Jaipur Trilogy, takes up the 1969 story of Lakshmi, with mystery and intrigue revolving around a range of themes from Bollywood glamor and smuggling of Himalayan gold to ancient healing arts. …

Q Freida Pinto said she loves your books because they give a picture of Indian life that Americans don’t often see. How important was this to you?

A I wrote Henna Artist as an alternative life for my mother in the sense that Lakshmi is making her own way. Women in India are very tough. They will always try to find the happiness they want.

What was also very important for me was to tell the world about what normal life was like in 1955 or 1969. I want people to understand this phase of Indian history, how people feel after 200 years of domination, that they finally have a chance to take the country back into their own hands to decide what to do with it.

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Q What else was important to you?

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