Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
If there is a book that I could term as my absolute favorite for this year, it has to be The Gita For Children by Roopa Pai.
A little background. The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the epic Mahabharata, and is really a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Lord Krishna is Arjuna’s charioteer and as Arjuna surveys the battlefield just before the commencement of the great battle, the enormity of what was going to happen, strikes him. He has to fight all those people who had been an intrinsic part of his life – fathers and grandfathers, uncles and cousins, teachers and elders, nephews and grand-nephews, fathers- and brothers-in-law and scores of friends – and defeat them in order to be victorious.
In the conversation that makes up the Gita, Krishna basically tells Arjuna why he must fight all these people he loves, even though it is the hardest thing for him to do.
Like the Mahabharata, The Gita is also written in two-line couplets or shlokas and comprises of 700 shlokas in all. And Roopa Pai deconstructs it brilliantly. Her The Gita For Children is written in simple sentences that capture the essence of the book, and make it engaging for children. The lessons, or shall we call them guidelines for living are presented in a non-preachy manner. The rules are simple – Do your duty and the universe will take care of the rest, listen to your best friend-your conscience, and be true to yourself.
Roopa has added valuable gems to the book – a brief recap of the Mahabharata, of the way battles were fought in the ancient times, the formations of the armies, the art of yoga, the concept of castes, the seasons and months, and of the principles of the Mahabharata that have found place in classic literatures of other cultures. For instance, when Atticus Finch decides to fight the case of the black man in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, his argument is the same one in The Gita. “The one thing that does not abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”Or Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF” that echoes the most famous Gita shloka – “You have the right to perform your duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities and do not be attached to inaction.”
Roopa Pai’s The Gita For Children works at many levels. It is an excellent distillation of the story in the Gita and its message; it helps connect the learnings to everyday decisions one must make, and what it may mean when we do not play our parts with honesty and commitment. What makes her book even more unique is that there is nothing religious in the book – the values and lessons are timeless, universal and secular.
As a Sikh growing up in India, I read stories from the epics-the Ramayana and the Mahabharata-that Amar Chitra Kathas published. These fascinating stories were part of my cultural Indian landscape, not religious books that I had to keep the faith in. As an adult I enjoyed the stories narrated from the Bhagavad Gita to me, but I never managed to read The Bhagavad Gita-I felt that even the best translation failed to capture the essence of the shlokas that make up the book.
With Roopa Pai’s The Gita For Children I finally feel like I have understood The Gita and its special importance to all who revisit it time and again for answers. In part because the battlefield of the Mahabharata is our own mind and conscience. Every day, there are many little battles we fight with ourselves; we make choices between the easy and the difficult, and between right and wrong. Like Arjuna, we make excuses for our weaknesses, try to take the easy path instead of the right one, and try to run away from crucial choices. Krishna is our conscience, that small voice that urges us to do the right thing and urges us to make decisions with wisdom. Sometimes when we ignore it too long, our conscience stops speaking and increases confusion.
I would recommend this book to everyone – it is a book you will go back to – again and again.