By Paromita Chakrabarti
Book: The Gita for Children
Author: Roopa Pai
Pages: 264 pages
Price: Rs 299
Considering the fact that the Union culture minister might soon recommend the inclusion of Gita, Mahabharata and the Ramayana in school curriculum to counter “cultural pollution”, it might be a good idea to become familiar with these texts. Thankfully, author Roopa Pai does not believe that Indian spirituality should be divorced from Western culture.
Her delightful version of the Bhagavad Gita, meant for a younger audience, is peppered with fun anecdotes, interesting parallels and nuggets of history that uphold the teachings of Krishna’s 700-verse long spiritual guide. In trying to explain shloka 32 of the 11th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, Pai draws on the words of physicist J Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the team which created the world’s first nuclear weapon during World War II.
After the first atom bomb, The Gadget, was tested in the desert of New Mexico, Oppenheimer had explained the mixed feelings of the team in the following words: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people remained silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form, and says, ‘Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose, we all felt that, one way or another.”
In another parallel, Pai talks of the importance of diligence and endurance by citing JK Rowling’s example, whose Harry Potter was rejected 17 times before it was accepted and went on to become a phenomenon. Pai does not talk down to her readers — her tone is conversational and interactive — which makes the exercise of learning about the holy text an intriguing affair.
Book: A Children’s History of India
Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta
Publishers: Red Turtle (Rupa)
Pages: 443 pages
Price: Rs 500
Subhadra Sen Gupta’s A Children’s History of India is more a compendium than a detailed account of India’s
rich past, more likely to be read as a companion text or a beginner’s guide than a intensive history of India. But the bare bones of history that it presents is an interesting read. Much of that has got to do with Sen Gupta’s writing — it’s simple, concise and goes straight to the heart of the matter. Sen Gupta follows a chronological pattern,
beginning with how Jambudvipa, the land of the rose apple, became Bharatvarsha and ending with life in post-Independent India in the Fifties and Sixties. Within that framework, she talks about the various dynasties that ruled the land, how, over time, the land made many of its invaders its own and how that paved the way for a spirit of nationalism which would eventually see India rise up in a struggle for Independence against its British colonisers.
There are interesting trivia and suggestions too — tracking Hsuan Tsang’s journey along the Silk Route from China to India on the internet, for example, can be far more exciting than merely reading about, or telling children, so used to the convenience of hi-tech gadgets; how Doordarshan came as late as the early Sixties to India, an interesting way of mapping out India’s technological progress. If there is a grouse with the book, it’s how under-utilised Priyankar Gupta’s black-and-white illustrations are. A NID alumnus, Gupta’s work shows an enviable range and deserved a better showcase.