“A name does not hold the key to your deeds,” writes Mimi Radhakrishnan. “It is your deeds that will heighten your name.”

Radhakrishnan’s The Tales Of Lavangalatika, an illustrated book originally written in Bengali and translated by Sreejata Guha, follows the life of Lavangalatika, a character named after the Bengali sweet that is crispy on the outside, dripping with sugar syrup and sealed with a lavanga, or clove.

“Bengalis like elaborate, long names which also have a specific meaning,” said Radhakrishnan, whose birth name is Suchismita, meaning the one who has the most beautiful, pure smile.

An exhibition of the art work in the book is on display at Ojas Art Gallery in Delhi. The sequence in which the paintings are placed reflect the nostalgic element of The Tales Of Lavangalatika, with the viewer being greeted by a “timeworn Lavangalatika” lost in thought.

Home in the greenfield. Credit: Mimi Radhakrishnan

For this book, the words came before the art. Asked by a publishing house to work an anthology of fairy tales, Radhakrishnan felt a sense of incompleteness once the writing was over. So she picked up her paintbrush and brought Lavangalatika alive in earthy hues of red, green and blue.

The old lady with her unconnected thoughts and images. Credit: Mimi Radhakrishnan

"Lavangalatika, the character, is born out of my life experiences,” said Radhakrishnan. “She is made of what I know of the world. But, the character is not autobiographical. I think the character is 25% Lavangalatika and 75% me. The stories themselves are a mix of surreal and absurd set in reality.”

Lavangalatika’s world consists of her parents, grandmother and a few farm animals and, in later life, talking fish and birds. They live in an idyllic small town – her mother is normally busy with the household chores, her father is the breadwinner, and her grandmother conjures traditional sweets like "nadu", from coconut, sugar and milk, while serving as Lavangalatika's constant companion.

“The character of the grandmother in the book is based on my own,” said Radhakrishnan, who was extremely close to her grandmother while growing up. “My siblings used to be away at hostel and I used to be quite lonely. The only company I had was my grandmother.”

The girl in the golden courtyard. Credit: Mimi Radhakrishnan

The book follows Lavangalatika's life from age 13 to her silver-haired years.

We meet a girl who is annoyed at her sweet name but finds solace in her grandmother's reassurances that it fits her. She is not the topper in school, but she takes comfort in her familiar, almost magical, surroundings. As an old woman, Lavangalatika is nostalgic for the past.

The family photograph taken in the fairground. Credit: Mimi Radhakrishnan

Writing is another theme that Radhakrishnan devotes a large part of the book to. Lavangalatika puts pen to paper and pours out her thoughts, dreams and feelings, just as Radhakrishnan has done several times in her life.

“Whenever I have hit a roadblock, I have found a new way to express myself,” said Radhakrishnan. ”When life as a lithographer took too much of my time and kept me away from my family, I turned to painting. When painting became too expensive, I took out my pen and paper and decided to write and found that I have a very special way of writing.”

Credit: Mimi Radhakrishnan

For Radhakrishnan, time is key in a writing career, especially if you are a woman. That is why she gifted Lavangalatika time in the book.

"She wrote the things that came to her mind and what she did not remember she began to fabricate to fill in the gaps; thus she fabricated and she wrote and wrote as she fabricated and went on and on,” writes Radhakrishnan. “As she wrote, the noon wore on and evening set in, then came dusk and gradually night crept in. The summer swished past, the rains pattered in, autumn gave way to nippy nights with spring following on its heels... and then again summer and then winter. The months passed and the years passed, but her writing went on and on.”

Author and her thoughts. Credit: Mimi Radhakrishnan

Tales Of Lavangalatika is on display at Ojas Art Gallery, New Delhi, till November 13.