When 'The Gita for Children' got me thinking

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Based on the original scripture, ‘The Gita for Children’ is targeted at the younger audience, but it’s also a welcome alternative for urban mums like me who find the original too heavy

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The Gita for Children is perhaps too dense a book for primary schooler

I’ve tried innumerable times to read different version of the Bhagvad Gita. For some unputdownable reason, I couldn’t go beyond the preface of some versions though. In some cases, I even managed to read the first few chapters and then on the sly, strategically kept away the book in such a place that ‘I-just-could-not-find-it’. But then, I was also sure I wanted to read the mother of all epics, and do it before it was ‘time for me to read it’.

It could have something to do with the the characters etched in my mind courtesy the many mythological stories my granny would narrate to me as a three-footer, who would refuse to go to sleep without her staple diet of a nice, fat story. Back then, Amar Chitra Katha had a rich collection of mythological stories and countering granny with a ‘I-know-who-Sudama is’ based on these books, was a different high.

However, today, when I go to the library or a bookstore with my six-year-old daughter, she doesn’t seem as besotted by the illustrations of the jewelery-clad Gods and Goddesses or the kings and queens. Her idea of a king is a character straight out of Cinderella’s land. While I do believe that books are books, irrespective of their origin, I also secretly wish that she showed some interest in the myriad fascinating tales of our land.

The reasons could be many for the new crop of book-reading young wonders who prefer tales of foreign superheroes, magicians and Gods. With an influx of the concept of nuclear families, the prime source of story telling—grandparents—just don’t exist, at least not in such close proximity. Most of the suggestions come from library wala aunties and uncles or the bookstore owners who, for the sake of survival in the times of thriving gigantic chain of bookstores, would rather push international titles.

Second, and I feel, more important of the reasons is the fact that parents these days aren’t as amazing storytellers as the generation prior to theirs was. It’s easier to just plonk with a hardback cover of Dr Seuss and read it out aloud rather than lean on your flakey memory bank and revive the stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana.

May be it was an assault to my ego, but after our last visit to the library, I’d decided that it was high time I introduced my girl to the wondrous world of Krishna, Rama, and other mythological characters, who were more of super-heroes than Gods for me. And so I grabbed a copy of Roopa Pai’s The Gita for Children.

Continue reading for a brief review of The Gita for children and some more suggested readings

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The Gita for Children has some amazing illustrations by Sayan Mukherjee

Since I’d already tried my hand with different versions of the Gita unsuccessfully, with trepidation I started with this one and while the transportation to the battlefield of Kurukshetra wasn’t immediate, Pai’s writing style ensured that I kept reading. Which also got me thinking.

Firstly, it’s not meant for children alone. I felt it’s meant for the consumption of one and all, irrespective of their age. The general perception about the Bhagvad Gita is that it’s too dense a piece of work that can only be grasped by people beyond a certain age. Isn’t the Gita mostly associated with the retired, elders of the house for whom spirituality is the only respite from boredom? Personally, I feel it should not be so. And somewhere even Pai must have felt that, which led to this beautiful piece of work.

Considering the target audience was meant to be children, she has broken it down in terms of explaining the characters, the whys and the hows behind their actions and moral dilemmas. Let’s just say, Pai explains the essence of Gita in a form unburdensome for adults and children alike. Explaining the idea of karma without sounding pretentious is a task and she does it with ease, comparing instances with that of your school life.

There are consistent parts in the book termed ‘Lessons from the Gita’, which has Pai further simplify each chapter, by relating to instances from the life of a child and sometimes even quoting the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Shakespeare, and Michael Jackson among others. Brilliant strategy to drive home Krishna’s message, isn’t it?

By the end of this book, I knew I had to own and read up on other books on epics that I could eventually either narrate to my child or better, hope that she picks up on her own as it pique’s her curiosity. Some of the books I felt we could have in my bookshelf, and may be every book loving parent must think about are:

The Mahabharata: A Child’s View by Samhita Arni. It is an amazing book for kids as well as adults looking for an introduction to the epic

Pashu by Devdutt Pattnaik is a wonderful read for some simple stories from mythology for kids

The Little Book of Hindu Deities by Sanjay Patel has stories with cute illustrations of Hinduism’s most important gods and goddesses.

As for the younger children, you could start by introducing them to books like Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth, Amma, Tell Me About Hanuman, Ramayana: Divine Loophole and Indian Myths and Legends.

While reading is an art that must be cultivated at a tender age, ensure that you introduce your little ones to the rich mythological stories steeped in the essence of all things Indian.

Do you have any questions regarding this post around mythological books like The Gita for children? Please share in the Comment box below.

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