Kajoli Khanna’s book is about grappling with life’s challenges
With three interlinked narratives Kajoli Khanna’s Destiny’s Flowers is all about dealing with personal battles, both big and small, and coming to terms with the challenges life throws at us. The book opens with Mila, an art restorer who is reeling from the after effects of a violent attack while working on a prospective project at the beautiful Fort of Joji that’s shrouded in mystery. The grounds of the fort themselves become a locus of much of what the book tries to encompass in its 280-page narrative. Mila’s encounters with the storytellers, one of whom leads her around the fort and through the wings of the Palace Full of Pearls and tells her that the “flowers of destiny” have brought her to Joji, Mumtaz’s journal that details the lives of earlier women inhabitants of the fort, and the stories that come to be told through the artworks all represent the ways in which the author makes manifest the various ways of retaining memories. They also bring out the distinctness of varied perspectives.
After introducing Mila, the narrative moves to Pema, a nun with a closet full of skeletons. With Pema aka Nandini’s story, the author brings together the themes of social inequity, the spiritual quest for peace, and the unequal access to resources that underpin the book. While the initial pages don’t paint a very clear picture of what is to follow, once the narrative falls into a rhythm, the links that hold the storylines together become more apparent.
Next, we encounter Atish, the only character whose story is told in the first person. Through him, the author brings into focus entrenched class biases, the struggles of urban living for those without the means, and the deeply enmeshed networks of money and politics. The characters Hawk Eye and Grunge represent the nexus of those networks with violent suppression. It is with Atish that Khanna’s storytelling takes on a different tone and apprises the reader of the microscopic details of life in Taaza Basti.
Atish’s personal experiences while growing up in Guwahati form the most engrossing aspects of the book. This includes vignettes of his poor mother Luxmi trying to pacify a young crying Atish with the prospect of an ice lolly while rummaging through her purse to pay the shopkeeper for “her meagre list of requirements” and the description of Atish’s government school where knowledge was imparted “with threats and demeaning remarks”. Through Atish’s voice, Khanna also paints a picture of the repressive “contemporary purdah” system that allows Hawk Eye’s daughter to pursue a career as a designer under his “protective gaze”. She takes sewing classes in the close environs of a structure that stands opposite a motorcycle dealership her father owns and operates.
The three threads of the book twirl around one another tying in Buddhist teachings and scenic locales as the narrative focuses on each of the characters and the paths they take to self discovery. Destiny’s Flowers follows Mila, Pema and Atish through the difficult process of forgiving themselves for past mistakes – it’s something each of them has to do in order to confront their own histories and step into a future of their own making.