The Gita in a 21 C avatar

Evergreen stories -- Roopa Pai simplifies The Gita for children

Evergreen stories -- Roopa Pai simplifies The Gita for children  

Author Roopa Pai makes The Gita more approachable and our-worldly in her latest book for children

Like in all good books, the reason for this one too is hidden within it. “There are some simple truths we all know, but it tends to change or get lost as it passes from man to man,” says Krishna (yes, the God). So some of these truths need to be re-told, and often.

You may not exactly have had the courage to pick up the intimidating colossus that The Bhagavad Gita looks like, and read it. Which is why Roopa Pai’s the Gita For Children (Hachette India, Rs. 299) makes for a great read for adults as well; it is for the Gita novice. As the author reiterates, we all do need a moral compass in our lives.

The book comes along at a time when conflicts and confusion of all kinds abound, within and around us — each day we fight many battles in our minds, and with ourselves. The book is divided into “white pages”, which recount the actual text of the Gita.

The “grey pages” — the side stories essential for any epic — tell children, in a language they can understand, what the lesson of the white pages translates to, in their everyday lives.

The popular children’s writer, who’s earlier authored the Taranauts adventure series and many science books for children, takes on this epic challenge in a comprehensive retelling. Excerpts from an interview:

You say in the book that your engagement with the Gita before this was superficial. What notions had you about The Gita before researching it?

I grew up in a Lingayat family that read the Vachanas of the Veerashaiva saints rather than the Bhagavad Gita. Although I had a general idea what the Gita was about, I had absolutely no familiarity with the actual text. My school didn’t offer Sanskrit as a subject, so I have never studied the language. But I had a Math teacher who was something of a Gita scholar, and she would always pick me to take part in Gita recitation contests because I was good at memorising stuff. I didn’t particularly like going for these contests, so my overall impression of the Gita before I started researching was that it would be dreary, dense, and incomprehensible, at least to me.

Indian religious and mythological works are considered uncool to read. We are more familiar with perhaps Harry Potter. Your comments.

Yes, and that’s a pity. The trouble is us parents. Our generation of the urban middle-class grew up believing (because our parents believed it as well) that the West had shiny new answers to everything, and that our own stuff was fuddy-duddy and uncool. Luckily, we had Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), which filled in the gaps in our mythological learning at least. Now, ACK is just one of the gazillion kinds of books our children have access to, so they don’t necessarily read them as eagerly or as comprehensively as we did. We feel bad about our kids’ disconnect with our stories, but we ourselves know so little that we cannot help them connect. When we look outside for help, we find there just isn’t enough reading matter around our own fabulous stories written in a way that would appeal to our kids. Naturally, they gravitate towards well-written western stories.

Do you think Indian children are willing to read something deep and philosophical like this? Or are we too dismissive of them?

It’s difficult for anyone to function without some kind of moral compass. Children realise this too, and are constantly looking, consciously or unconsciously, for some guidelines that will help them decide what the right thing to do in a given situation is. This book is an attempt to give them those guidelines, using examples that they can identify with, and that are relevant to their 21st century lives.

In what way have you contemporised and modified it for the younger audience you are targeting?

Part of the difficulty in reading the Gita in the original, even if it is in translation, is the fact that it is always translated shloka by shloka. In that sense, there is no real “flow”. I have taken the liberty to ‘storify’ it, by stringing the shlokas together into a narrative, while imagining the characters’ thoughts on the battlefield.

Was there any apprehension that you may have to oversimplify?

I was very clear that while I was okay with simplifying, rewriting, even reimagining some of the text, at least in terms of the thoughts that the characters were thinking, I was definitely not okay with trivialising or diluting the text in any way. I hope I have been able to achieve that.

You have quoted several instances and said how The Gita is relevant even today. What about it makes this book evergreen?

I think the moral confusion is a given for human beings in any age. Superficially, the mores of each age are different, and what held true a hundred years ago doesn’t anymore. But there are some core values that are timeless. The Gita, and other books of wisdom like it, help people reconnect with those values.

The Gita particularly is ruthless in its understanding of what the right thing to do is -- it sees through all the excuses you may make to escape doing the right thing, and leaves you with no place to hide. But it is also secular, liberal in its sweep, compassionate of human frailty, and comforting. It is this fine balance that has made it the go-to book for many generations of Indians.

The Gita says

Do your duty well and uncomplainingly.

Play your cameo role in the long and convoluted script of the universe to the best of your ability, for that's the only thing you have any control over.

Take joy in the journey; for the journey is the destination.

Always remember that you are but an infinitesimal part of nature, and that everything around you has the same divine core that you do.

Stay true to yourself.

Unimaginable connects in the book

* To Kill A Mocking Bird

* Physics and The Law Of Conservation of Matter

* Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘I’

* Batman

* Dashavatara and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

* Paul McCartney and his song “Ebony and Ivory”

* Michael Jackson and his song “Black or White”

* Shakespeare’s ‘All The World’s A Stage’

* Jack and the Beanstalk

* Robert Oppenheimer, Father of the Atomic Bomb

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 3:34:09 PM |

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