‘For the Love of Laxmi’, An Unusual Book by Bijal Shah

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Caption : The Book Cover of ‘For the Love of Laxmi’. Photof: courtesy au;thor Bijal Shah

The science of Aesthetics says that art brings back memories of your life. While music brings back an entire period, a photo brings back a particular moment of your life. That is what author Bijal Shah seems to be aiming at in her first book, For the Love of Laxmi!

A picture book for adults, and, on a social and psychological history of growing up in the midst of a family, is not a very common form of a book. Laxmi is different. Movies there have been made on such issues, but not books. There have been other picture books for adults that we have loved, the Archie Comics, the Superman, the Spiderman, and all those wonderful picture books we eagerly waited for. But none of them were about a multigenerational family where so much was taken as a given part of life which, in hind-sight, can be analyzed as having had a big impact on everyone within such a family.

That is what For the Love of Laxmi tries to talk about. “I chose the picture book form to take the audience back to their childhood,” said author Bijal Shah to Desi Talk in an exclusive interview. “Visuals can take you back to the moment when something similar happened to you,” said Shah, a New Yorker currently living in Maryland.

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Shah said that while having loving parents and grandparents was a definite advantage in the new and very different culture where she immigrated at the age of eleven, the constant appreciations and non-appreciations of everything she did or did not do or looked and did not look left a deep impact on her psyche. As most Indian Americans know, that the family loves you is a given. But it is the manner in which it displays it, is another given – a manner that is so culture specific.

“As you get older, you look back at your childhood and realize what someone said years ago has remained with you even today,” Shah said. She said her mother was the oldest in the family and there were many uncles and aunts and their children. Such a large extended family surely gave her the insulation of protection and love, but it also gave her lasting insecurities, Shah said. She said that she remembered stray comments from her childhood and discussed them with her mother and grandmother and they all agreed that those comments were character affirmations and subtle criticisms in the guise of praise sometimes. It is that realization that led her to write the book, Shah said.

Inside page for the illustrated book, ‘For the Love of Laxmi’.
Photo: courtesy author Bijal Shah

Like most Indian Americans born in India, Shah said her family was also over protective, leaving her incapable of handling the world, had it not been for her mother who was always supportive and encouraging. She encouraged Shah to write her book too. Writing is in her blood, Shah said. Her grandfather was the publisher of Gujarat Times in Nadiad, India. Shah said she remembers how she used to ask him to write down her words in Gujarati script which she did not know and she would then distribute those to her family and friends. “For me, writing was a means to communicate,” Shah said. “There is always a lot to communicate. There is a need to tell a story,” Shah said. It is this that drove her to experiment with a picture book, she said.

Writing an illustrated book was very different from writing a regular book, according to Shah. “It was especially difficult for me since I came from the article writing background,” Shah explained. An illustrated book gives you little space for descriptions. It is like writing the summary of a summary of a summary of what one is trying to say, which would normally take many pages to describe. “It was almost like writing a screenplay,” Shah said.

Shah said that she has been very lucky to have found the illustrator of her book, Alexa Carter. “Alexa came from the background of illustration and animation,” She said. “Alexa understood my concept thoroughly. She even saw a similar pattern of comments in her family. Laxmi’s could have been any other girl’s story, she had said,” Shah told Desi Talk.

Bijal Shah, author of ‘For the Love of Laxmi’.
Photo: courtesy Bijal Shah

“We talked continuously while the book was being prepared. We worked together on how people look like in the beginning and when they get older, how they dress, how they sit or stand.” “It took Alexa a year and a half to complete illustrating the entire book. We talked during all that time. But we met only after the book went into print,” Shah recalled while talking about their affinity. She said they talked so much about Laxmi that Laxmi became real for them. “We would be discussing something and one of us would say ‘Laxmi would not wear this today’ or ‘Laxmi would not say that’,” Shah remembered.

For the Love of Laxmi is Shah’s first book. It is an illustrated hybrid book for children and adults. Restrictions during the pandemic have limited access to a lot of publicity avenues which might have been easily available in normal times to Shah. One of the major tasks in front of Shah is to reach out to the audiences of her novel book, she said. “At the present, I am trying to reach out to groups and am looking at some social media marketing tools. I need to secure some response to the book before I start another,” Shah said.

For the Love of Laxmi is a three part book. The first one, about sowing the seeds, covers Laxmi’s childhood. The second one is planned to cover adulthood in the twenties when Laxmi is in college and has begun to realize the impact of the comments she heard in childhood, and the third one is planned to span the thirties when healing from those comments takes place.

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