Radhika said to me few days after she returned from WCF event, “Hey, I got a good book for you, which I bumped into at the Delhi Airport. It is completely in ‘dude’ (youth) language, and you will like it. It is about Gita, and I just read few chapters”. I said, “Cool, what is so cool about it”. She immediately, “Never mind. You will not read any book that I would suggest or bring”. With a partly faking hurtful tone, I said, “Fine. If you believe it so, don’t show it to me”.
However, like any desi wife who wants to do best for her spouse, she walked to me, and gave the book “The Gita – FOR CHILDREN”. I quickly read what’s on the back page, and browsed, few random pages. The book struck my chord somewhere, I have read first 3 chapters until midnight. I told Radhika, I will return it back to her only after I read it completely. Every 10 minutes, I was profusely thanking Radhika for recommending the book to me.
For next 4 evenings / nights (during ‘Holi’ / ‘Good Friday” weekend), I have read through the book, as If a kid was reading Harry Potter. Yes, I never forget the eagerness with which Revanth used to wait and complete Harry Potter books on a single night. Last time (in this decade), I read a book over a single night, was a book by John Grisham and/or a book by Dan Brown. I haven’t really read any book other than that
Roopa Rai’s rendition of Gita, gave me solid clarity on purpose of life, definition of happiness, definition of god, definition of a prayer, and definition of good living, good human being, and more. She used day-to-day examples and events, to explain abstract topics such as “You are not the doer” or “You are it” or “You are the God”. It connected random dots in my head, which were representations of various ideas and beliefs planted by various books, literature, conversations, that I have read over the decades.
I have immediately ordered few additional copies, to give them as a gift to folks around me, and evangelize the need for reading such a lovely / clear presentation of Gita. Though the title of the book says, “The Gita, FOR CHILDREN”, this book is thoroughly enjoyable by almost everyone out there (and specially you)
Structure / Few Highlights of the book:
- Starts with story of Mahabharata and the lead characters. It gives the context of the events that lead to the deadliest war in the human history. I have actually learned few interesting data points, which I haven’t learned despite having watched several dozens of movies, sitcoms, reading zillion comic books on Mahabharata (which I am sure most of you did too)
- Then it leads us to the confusion of Arjuna on why he needs to go through the pain of killing his friends, uncles, gurus / teachers, and extended family members, to earn back his lost empire. He just wants to give it up as he does not see the need for losing everything and not sure if he will be happy at the end. That’s when the Krishna begins his conversation which is the basis of Gita, and which is considered as holiest conversations in the human history
- I have recently read that, our Union culture minister might soon recommend the inclusion of Gita, Mahabharata and the Ramayana in school curriculum. Now, I feel that it is a great move. Given that the book is religion agnostic, it should be adaptable and likeable by everyone.
- If you take a look at these lesson that she documents, for each of the 18 chapters from the Gita, you will understand the ease with she explains Gita. I loved the concept of “Multi Thinking”. Krishna says to Arjuna, “Those who are thinking about me, at the time of the death, will join me”. Then Arjuna says, “That is so difficult. I do not know when I am going to die. How will I know or ensure that I am thinking about you, at the time of the death? Author explains in the simple words, using the concept of “Multi Thinking”, similar to the lines of Multi Processing. She says, simple acts of being in content / gratitude is also same as act of prayer. We just need to practice the art of being content, all the time.
- Author does mix a healthy dose of western examples to convey the essence of spirituality. Book is peppered with fun trivia and anecdotes, and interesting parallels, events, and nuggets that actually relate to teaching of the Gita and it’s 700-verse spiritual guide
- In one of the examples, author quotes 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.” You can hear him on this youtube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaRPqgvbKeI
- In another example, Pai talks of the importance of 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. Coincidentally, JK Rowling had recently published some of the rejection letters on the web. Just google for them. She also uses analogies of The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Rudyard Kipling, too
- She uses simple description and explanation to convey the message of Karma Yoga. Example: 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 simply because that is your work, your duty as a student.
Gita is supposed to be a guide book for enlightenment. To be able to convey its essence for the teens is not an easy task. Roopa Pai had significantly succeeded in this effort. Many techniques are used here to make the style reader friendly. The chapter titles by themselves attract attention. She summarises essence of 18 chapters using simple titles (see below) and super clear explanation. 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. I would consider you as one heck of lucky dude, if you end up reading Gita, and actually persuade, compel, and motivate loved ones (starting with your kids) around you to read it too.
- 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
- Matter cannot be created or destroyed; it only changes form
- Eureka! There is a recipe for happiness
- Life is a roller coaster. You can’t control it, but you can enjoy it
- Go(o)d will find a way
- Keep the faith. The rest will follow
- Yup, responsibility is a heavy burden. Now shush up and shoulder it
- Self-discipline is a like a muscle. Exercise it regularly to stay in great emotional shape
- Singled minded devotion to a cause, any cause, is rewarded. Choose your cause wisely
- Multi-thinking is vital for a happy life; All you need is practice, practice, and practice
- No action itself is good or evil. It is the intent that makes it so. All actions have consequences
- You don’t need to worship god to be dear to him. Just following “good person” rules is enough
- You are god. No, sincerely
- Your better nature is in there somewhere. Become best friends with it to avoid being reborn as bandicoot
- There is an easy peasy way to stay out of hell. Just avoid the paths marked Desire, Anger, and Greed
- You are what you eat. Or a computer scientist puts it, “Garbage in, Garbage Out”
- It is not your parents or work, that defines you. Your nature does. Stay true to your nature, you will be happy
Roopa Pai’s (see above) interview on HINDU
Few excerpts from the interview:
You say in the book that your engagement with The Gita before this was very superficial. What notions did you have about it before researching?
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, given that I had a great love for Indian mythology, 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 Maths teacher who was 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 rather uncool to read. Children are more familiar with perhaps Harry Potter. What are your comments on that?
That’s a great pity. 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. Luckily, we had Amar Chitra Katha, 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 for some guidelines that will help them decide what is the right thing to do in a given situation.
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?
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 had 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.