Twinkle Khanna on her new book: The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad
The author talks to Kaveree Bamzai about writing, reading and telling stories.
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The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, a collection of superbly crafted short stories by Twinkle Khanna, is as delightful as its author. Witty, elegantly crafted, with odd protagonists who don't understand the meaning of defeat, it is a triumph of the human spirit.
Khanna, whose columns are almost as popular as her tweets, is a former actor in Bollywood who is now a successful interior designer. Self taught and self deprecating, here she is on what makes her second book special - the first was a collection of columns called Mrs Funnybones: She’s Just Like You and a Lot Like Me. Here she answers a curious Kaveree Bamzai on writing, reading and telling stories.
Q. All your protagonists — Noni Appa, Lakshmi, Elisa and the Sanitary Man — are outsiders, mavericks, who defy the rules and still succeed. Mirrors your own journey, doesn’t it?
A. Well, if I don’t know if I am a maverick, but have always been a bit of an outsider. I still remember my days growing up and my grandmother moaning about my dal-stained jeans and nagging me to go on a diet and I would always tell her, "But if I am not bothered about trying to fit in, why in the world would I care about fitting into a size medium dress." I was always the plump nerd with a book in my hand and I guess it all paid off eventually.
Q. How did your years in Bollywood influence your writing?The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad; Rs 189
A Aside from making sure that my meagre brain cells had not committed harakiri in despair, experiences add to your abilities, even if it is your ability to laugh at yourself.
Q. Which writers influenced you and when did you discover them?
A. I am primarily a science fiction junkie so I read all the greats, Asimov and Philip K Dick, when I was very young. My maternal uncle was a big fan of sci-fi and he had cartons filled with all these books and X-men comics. This odd education lead to a wonderful moment almost three decades later when in 2014, I was one among the few who could understand large parts of the most baffling movie known to mankind, Interstellar. A small step for bookworms like me and a clumsy giant leap into the abyss of inferiority for the rest of mankind.
Q. Your writing also has such a simple and elegant quality. How do you write? All at once? Slowly? Lots of revisions?
A. I first plot the story and then I add in all the research, impressions, even a few dialogue bits, right after that as a second step. I prefer writing this by hand in a large notebook that unfortunately happens to have Girl Boss rather tackily emblazoned across the cover.
I went to Maheshwar for about a week to just look at houses, roads, people for the sanitary man story as that was based in Madhya Pradesh. I also bummed around in Kerala for another week. For some odd reason, I am fascinated with numbers, so just for me as a writer, I need to know exactly how many kilometres Indore was from Dewas or how long does the train actually stop at Vikram Nagar station on the way to Uttarakhand, is it enough for my protagonist to get off and get tea and samosas?
The research was the fascinating part; it was like I was following a trail of breadcrumbs that would eventually lead me to clarity. I write from the beginning to the end of stories, imperfect disjointed paragraphs, do the same with columns as well, and then go over that, again and again from the top, filling in all the holes.
Q. Your heroes are all feminists—even the men. Intentional?
A. Bablu Kewat is a true feminist and so is Arunachalam Muruganantham, who the story is based on. I did not set out to write a book about feminists, but when you write, your attitude towards society, your ideologies, all influence the kind of ideas that interest you, so perhaps that is why the stories, when I look at them in hindsight, turned out to be about women finding their place in the world and a man who wanted to free them from taboos associated with their most intimate, biological function.
Q. There’s also such a sad tragic quality even to the happiness your protagonists experience. Elisa’s end. Sanitary man having to give up the woman he really loves. Left me in tears. Like life isn’t it? We don’t always get what we want.
A. Nothing in life is perfect including the pursuit of perfection. And to be honest, I was rather pleased with the layered endings.
Q. Are your kids and husband guinea pigs for your stories? Or are you a private writer?
A. My family and friends are all used to listening to me narrate stories and odd ideas, half the time they laugh and sometimes I have to prod them awake. I think they do their best to avoid sitting next to me on airplanes as they end up imprisoned in their seat with me jabbering on.
Q. How did you start writing?
A I wrote half a book when I was 18 and in fact Noni Appa and Binni were originally part of that book, though the protagonist was then Noni's granddaughter. I tried to write that story again at 39 where the protagonist was Noni Appa’s middle-aged daughter and, finally, this is my third attempt that has finally appeared in print, where the story revolved around the two old ladies and Anand ji. I also carried around a file as a teenager that contained all the poems that I had jotted down, primarily about maggots and death. To be honest, the poetry that I dabble with sometimes even now, is still rather appalling.
Q. So are you an interior designer who writes? Or a writer who also designs? Or just a woman with terrific taste?
A. Currently, I am a woman who is always falling behind at something and everything.
Q Weekly columns. Short stories. What’s next?
A. I have an idea for a book set in dystopian India, but looking at the masked, breathless creatures walking around Delhi, perhaps we are already living in that era.