Meeting Alka Joshi
I had the pleasure of meeting and doing henna on author Alka Joshi, author of The Henna Artist, at the Spring Fling Henna Conference. She read an excerpt from her book, which we all enjoyed. She then told us about how it was basically her exercise in writing an storyline for how her mother’s life could have been in an alternate timeline. I was lucky enough to cross paths with her after her talk, and suggested that it would be a shame for her to leave a henna conference henna-less! She agreed. For her design, she wanted something simple and small just on the inside of her wrist, so I did a little mandala for her. Having heard just the excerpt that I did, I knew that having the henna be deeply, richly, personally symbolic for the wearer was important to Alka, so I tried to live up to that expectation.
At the design’s heart was the symbol for the goddess Lakshmi. She is both the protagonist of the book and the goddess of wealth, good fortune, and beauty. In the center of the mandala is a lotus with a book sitting in/on it. It sits there in the same way that a god, goddess, or bodhisattva would.
I also put lotuses going in all four compass directions. Lotuses grow up pure and new and glorious after making their way through muck . This seemed especially important for this alternative timeline story. Despite coming from a place of hurt and trouble, Lakshmi’s life certainly did bloom beautifully by the end. (Ha, ha, ha….to those who have read the book…no, I did NOT even know this when I drew the design! The book hadn’t even come out yet!!)
Also, I added a little heart, because a) I am cheesy and b) the book is her exercise of showing love for her mother.
Sharing Alka’s Design
I intend to draw up a version of the mandala and post it here, so that you can see it. In the meantime, if you look on her right hand (to the left of this photo), you’ll see it there. In the photo is also my friend Mrunal (@mrunalsmehendimadness), who did figs for her. I was trying to keep the design simple, as I thought Alka had other things to do. Meanwhile, Mrunal drew these gorgeously detailed figs with traditional Indian henna patterning, which meant we got to talk to Alka for quite a long time. Thanks for that, Mrunal 🙂
After we finished Alka’s henna, we also convinced her to stay at the conference for dinner. Next came dancing at the Bollywood Dance Party! This tradition began many years ago at The Henna Gathering, now carried on at the Spring Fling Henna Conference.
After dancing, Mrunal and I still had a bit of life left in us, so we headed up to her room to recreate the exact fig-based henna described in the book. The design in the book was on soles of the feet, so doing this was an interesting challenge. Although I think a lot of the talk of how sexy henna is thought to have been was a bit overplayed in the book (and, I fear/imagine, will be even moreso in the upcoming TV series), there was no doubt that intention for this design was to be extra sexy. Or death cult-y. Or both. You decide.
I kid… But the idea here is that the figs are super sensual and juicy…and can only be fertilized by having a wasp come inside them. And then…the wasp dies – that’s how it works. Oops, was this really attracting a lover or giving a warning!?!? I will have to re-read with this in mind now that I understand how all of the relationships between all of the characters ultimately play out.
ANYWAY, here are the bottoms of Mrunal’s feet, with sexy death cult figs:
It’s important that these are Turkish fig leaves, as knowing the Turkish rather than just the Indian fig leaves shows how cosmopolitan and worldly Lakshmi, the eponymous Henna Artist, is.
As always, the 2020 Spring Fling henna conference brought me much growth and connection, and I am eternally grateful to Neeta Sharma for organizing it.
I am always happy to do henna for weddings, festivals, and other large celebrations, and work with a great team of artists who serve throughout all of New England. Using the contact form link at the top of this page is the best way to reach me.
If you’d like to try henna yourself, you can get all-natural henna paste made with my recipe at ArtisticAdornment.com.