- Publisher: Hachette India (2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9351950123
- ISBN-13: 978-9351950127
- Package Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Gita : For Children Paperback – 2015
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The author Roopa Pai has done a tremendous job of simplifying a complex subject. Her style is wonderful and she uses humor and contemporary language that will surely appeal not only to children but to their parents and other adults as well. Instead of the customary sloka by sloka translation and exposition, she has tried a new approach which proved a smart and successful attempt judging from the rave reviews. Even Swami Chinmayananda’s book for children was read mostly by adults. Readers have come out with unequivocal endorsements and well-merited encomiums – 5 Stars for her book.
The computer engineer who wrote the eight-book series, "Taranauts” also succeeded eminently in this attempt. The use of examples from various resources (Atticus, Oppenheimer etc.,) helps the reader to grasp the salient points. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Kipling's poem, If and Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Shakespeare's As You Like It, to name a few.
I like the following interpretation : "The Indian New Year is not 1 January when everything is cold and asleep and dead, but somewhere between end-March and early April, at the beginning of spring, when the sun has chased away the last of the winter chill and new life is bursting out of everywhere. In other words, at a far more logical time to celebrate new beginnings than 1 January."
Page 61 – 65 : Go(o)d will find a way – Ten Avatars of Vishnu. We can think of inspiring leaders as avatars – as small gods in human form, appearing in every age when unrighteousness is rampant. This wisdom leads us to the light of Truth and Justice. No doubt.
Page 122 – 125 : Roopa has explained beautifully the newly coined word (by her) ‘Multi-thinking’ . She has delineated the benefits of parallel thought tracks every time when you are in match mode, or homework mode or chore mode. Her narration of how the parallel thought track could one day could become your main thought track is brilliant. She has interpreted the essence of Gita for not only the young and impressionable audience but also for a 66 years old guy like me. (I am a 16 years old with 50 years of experience.)
Page 132 – 134 : Roopa has attempted to elucidate the important lesson – “No action is itself good or evil. It is intent that makes it so. All actions have consequences.” Even if we slip into the worst kind of wrong action, there is no need to despair. If we sincerely try to reform, God’s law will treat us just the same as a saint. We will be rewarded with as much inner peace and happiness as anyone else. No doubt that it is a nice warm blanket of thought to snuggle into at night. Particularly when we struggle to see the whole picture in our chaotic world.
Page 180 – 181 : The author has described the beautiful lesson : You are God -- Tat Twam Asi. How nicely she has shown how the essence and the life force of both a bulb and a treadmill are the same – rooted in electricity. Her sense of humor is evident when she describes a treadmill as a contraption : “it is a good way to get exercise while watching TV, is usually used as a towel stand at home.” It is true hundred percent.
Page 202 – 203 : How succulently the author describes our daily digestion with the description of Vaishvanara (the fire of Digestion) mentioned in Gita. Gita says that Krishna is the Producer of Food (Sunlight), Distributor of the Food (Plant sap) and Consumer of the Food (Vaishvanara). Gita mentions only four types of food.
Page 204 – 206 : Roopa narrates in her characteristic epic style the various Axes Mundi symbols – fig tree, Bodhi tree, gopurams, shikara towers etc., Even a rocket ready to take off could be seen as an AM Symbol because, this when launched, actually connects to other realms.
Roopa is currently hard at work trying to earn the right to this epitaph: "She was often content." We can also add this comment : “She proved an inspiration for children by decoding Bhagavad Gita’s essence.” We can pray sincerely for the continued success of this lady who experienced the first immersion of Gita in this book, and for her husband who lives the word of the Gita without having read a single line of it. We all should take pride to have born in the vast and inclusive ocean of notions that is India. Now, my responsibility as a review is over.
It is your responsibility to get the book and read it thoroughly and happily.
On the one hand you have over-simplified adaptations of the Bhagavad Gita that throw in a sentence or two from the text but fail to either capture the essence or its substance, leaving the young reader none the wiser at the end. On the other hand you have scholarly translations with detailed commentaries that bring a life's worth of study to bear on the subject, are a joy to read, but are ipso-facto mostly out of reach of most children, unless assisted by an adult. Then there are books that seek to bridge this gap, like Swami Chinmayananda's "Gita For Children" - but even that is more a parent's reading companion than a book meant to be read by children.
Roopa Pai's book, "The Gita For Children", therefore fills a much-needed gap. It's a book written for children, makes even the difficult sections of the Gita accessible to children, and which patiently explores some of the knottier questions that arise when reading the profound work. Actual shlokas from Gita are also present - the most obvious ones are all there - but used sparingly.
Rather than do a shloka-by-shloka translation, followed by an exposition - which would have turned the book too voluminous and off-putting for its core audience - Roopa Pai takes a chapter-by-chapter approach, interspersing these with shlokas from the Gita and with her own takes and "lessons".
One of the knottiest problems for many readers of the Gita has been the whole concept of "dharma", especially when seen in the context of what is arguably the most famous shloka in the world - as Roopa writes: "If the Gita's philosophy were reduced to one shloka... it would be Shloka 47 of the second chapter of the Gita."
Making this understandable to adults is a challenge, and has been for millennia. Part of the blame must lie with faulty translations that conflate and equate "dharma" with "duty", or overly simplistic translations that make it sound like the doer should not "expect" or "worry" about the fruits of action. I want to reproduce some extracts from the book that talk to this shloka and the concept of "dharma":
"For instance, don't expect to top the class just because you studied really hard, or get disappointed when you don't. In fact, according to the Gita, performing an action (studying) because you want a certain result (to come first) is completely flawed action; the right way is to study simple because that is your work, your duty as a student. ...
The trick, really, is:
1. To never perform you action with an eye on their results...
2. To never neglect your duty...
3. To treat your work as your sacred duty..."
The examples used are such that children will relate to, and explained without rushing through, or into. I expect children reading, and nodding their heads as (hopefully) the import of the message sinks in.
Similarly, there are examples that children and young adults will relate to when she talks of the importance of discipline in the context of karma-yoga. In-between these in-betweens, she also manages to inject some food for thought for children (and hopefully, adults alike). Like, the concept of 10 avatars, and how the order of these avatars "actually holds the secret to the evolution of man."
Or when talking about seasons, she brings up a very interesting point, that "The Indian New Year is not 1 January, when everything is cold and asleep and dead, but somewhere between end-March and early April, at the beginning of spring, when the sun has chased away the last of the winter chill and new life is bursting out of everywhere. In other words, at a far more logical time to celebrate new beginnings than 1 January."
Pages from Roopa Pai's book
If one had to go digging for quibbles - and I can be quite a fastidious digger - then well, yes, at least one reviewer took offence at the "flippant" tone. I am not sure I would call the tone flippant, because the matter is covered with requisite seriousness. Second, you cannot adopt the dry tone of an academic tome and still expect children to be attracted to the book - it simply does not work that way. Some of the dialogue between Partha and Keshava is certainly presented in some instances as light banter, but much of the special bond of friendship between Nara and Narayana comes through nonetheless. What I would however call out as quite unnecessary is her succumbing to the occasional temptation to secularize the text! I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to spot those few instances!
Actually, an important question would, or should be: if this is a book for children, how can I -an adult, a middle-aged adult at at that - sit in judgment on the book's success or failure? Valid point, and this is my response.
First, I read the book, alone, on my own. Second, after having read the book - and liked it - I started reading it out to my children. It helped that they had a better than average knowledge of the Mahabharata; I didn't have to explain the context of the Gita, nor the characters, nor the ending, and so on. Having read half the book to them, I can say, judging from their responses and interest, that the book meets the expectations of its intended audience.
Therefore, parents - go forth and share this book with your children. Read it - with them, to them, without them - any which way. You cannot go wrong with the Gita! A lifetime may not be enough to appreciate fully the Gita, but the sooner one starts, the better!
(Roopa Pai is also a children's writer, and wrote the eight-book series, "Taranauts", so she knows a thing or two about writing for children!)
Disclosure: This review is based on a gift copy of the book.