My only reading of The Gita was the Amar Chitra Katha version, which had me knots for the longest time. It did help me understand that there are consequences to actions, not all of them instant. I had the good fortune to meet the author of The Gita For Children before I ventured to read the book at a book reading. Roopa Pai was warm, open, intelligent and rooted. The perfect person to decode The Gita.
Turns out The Gita,better know as the Bhagwad Gita is a poem that is part of the Mahabharata, also a poem. The Gita details the conversation between two friends Arjuna and Krishna, about the code for living a righteous life. During the conversation, Krishna reveals himself to be the Lord of the Universe.Imagine that.Bhagwad Gita means ‘The Song of The Lord’ and is one of the holiest scriptures of the Hindus that was written 2500 years ago, the book informs.
I was expecting The Gita for Children to have a revered tone, with the author speaking in hushed tones, through her words that is. Instead, there are the opening of many windows and doors and the light bursts through each room, dispelling darkness. The language is beautiful and easy to understand.
Take chapter one ‘In Which The Stage Is Set For The Conversation‘ for instance:
That long- ago day, a nippy dawn was breaking across the sacred field they called Kurukshetra. It was getting to the end of November, and the winter that was already in the air promised to be a harsh one. But the sky, so recently a dull drab grey, was trying valiantly to infuse some cheer in the morning- awash in peachy pink, edged with gold along the eastern horizon, blending in the west into the fading night in a shade of aubergine.
This is followed by detailed notes and explanations, like this one.
Armies in ancient India.
In the olden days, the armies of the land essentially comprised of four divisions -chariots, elephants, cavalry(soldiers on horseback) and infantry(soldiers on foot). All the four divisions were represented even in the smallest, most basic unit of a battalion -the Patti. Pattis built up to form Sena-Mukhas, Sena-Mukhas were grouped together to form Gulmas, and so on, all the way up to a massive battle formation called an Akshauhini.
The author proceeds to the next narration. The reader can then move to The Lessons From The Gita, in which the author explains the concepts of the chapter it follows. We then go back to the next chapter, where further events unfold in the battlefield. The Lessons from the Gita chapters are extremely interesting. Let’s take a look at the lesson after chapter Two, titled ‘In Which Krishna Gives Arjuna a Stern Talking-To.’
It’s not only okay to be confused; it’s a darned good thing.
Now, that you are confused, don’t look outside for help, look inside.
…So how do you figure what’s right? Do you ask around you, and listen to anyone who has an opinion and is willing to share it? Absolutely not, says the Gita. Instead, it exhorts you to be like Arjuna.
Arjuna knows that if he walks away from the battlefield, his opponents will snigger at him, calling him a coward who got cold feet at the sight of their mighty army.
…But his heart was completely at war with itself! That’s when Arjuna made his second good decision. He didn’t simply close out one bad option and choose the other saying, “I’ll think about the wisdom of it all later, once the war is done.’ Instead, he decided to resolve his inner conflict right then and there, never mind how long it took or how inconvenient it would make things for him, and, possibly, everyone else. He simply put his bow down and turned to Krishna for advice.
And so can you.
This is a revelation, considering how we tell children they need to get it right, figure out what they want to do and fix their path; instead, the author shares the wisdom passed down from many ages ago that it is ok not to have all the answers; but it is important to pause, deliberate, turn to ask for clarifications. In this way,the author does not simply narrate or simplify the text, but makes sense of it and contextualizes it for the young reader.
Pai also draws freely from sources outside The Gita to make more sense of its message. She quotes ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird‘ by Harper Lee; in explaining a certain verse from The Gita she invokes Carl Sagan‘s prose about ‘starstuff’ from his book, Cosmos.
Also quoted are Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ , as are the lives of Madame Curie, Mother Teresa, and J.K.Rowling. Each instance is introduced to drive home a lesson in The Gita and ends up enriching the reader in altogether new ways.
She introduces the shloka:
yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya glaanirbhavati bhaarata
abhyutthaanam-adharmasya tadaatmaanam srijaamyaham
Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of righteousness,
O Bharata, then I send forth Myself
And just who does the author make a reference to while drawing a comparison? Batman!
He is a silent guardian,
a watchful protector,
a dark knight.
One of the most powerful-and comforting-pair of shlokas in the Gita is Krishna’s promise to Arjuna, and through him to all humanity, that he will incarnate himself on earth whenever, wherever unrighteousness begins to take over.
Just how awesome is that? The manner in which the author has built bridges between the very old and the very new is sheer genius. Children are bound to turn to their parents and relatives with a new interest for The Gita and ask them questions about it.
Critical lessons on equality, the need to treat everybody with kindness and compassion, self-discipline, yoga, focus, proof of existence, sure fire ways to not go to hell and the onus of ‘you’ are all dealt with characteristic ease and charm. Underlying these seemingly simple explanations are clearly a mountain of research and a lifetime of reading and understanding by the author.
In describing the role of focus and single-minded devotion to a task, Pai discusses how we sometimes feel that the ‘terrible’ people get ahead, while despite being ‘good’ we sometimes don’t.
But that attitude is all wrong. Success-or atleast what the world calls success-does not depend on whether you are nice or mean, but on how hard you work for your goal. Look a little closer, and you will see the champion swimmer is a winner because of the hours of practice he puts in each day, rain or shine, while his muscles scream in agony. The girl who swept the awards at the dance competition is the girl who refused to bunk her dance classes, even though it meant missing birthday parties.
Uh-epic. Page after page of brilliant narratives and wiser lessons flow, This is not the kind of book you want to finish in a go. This is the kind of book that demands you read a chapter and meditate on it, and you will, without ever meaning to. Every child may not take to it immediately, but once they do they will refer to it a million times. It will answer many of their smaller and larger than universe questions, thanks to this new-age ‘suthradaar’ or narrator.
The Gita for Children is in a sense a misnomer; this book is suitable for readers of all ages and is an important book to make sense of what often seems like the chaos of the world outside of us and our inner lives. Gift a copy to yourself; read it with your children; Share it with friends and live the code The Gita edifies.