Gita retold for kids to serve as modern-day instructional manual

Sonal Sachdev Patel and Jemma Wayne KattanNEW DELHI: Sonal Sachdev Patel and Jemma Wayne-Kattan are passionate about working on improving mental health in young children and they thought of nothing better than the teachings of the Gita to draw inspiration for their book, which is a modern-day instructional manual for kids.

“Gita: The Battle of the Worlds” talks of important life lessons and, with meditation at its core, equips young readers with accessible mental health tools.

British-born Sonal and Jemma, who was born into a Jewish family, emphasize the universality of the Gita and transforms it into a story for children aged 8 to 14 with an aim to promote greater religious understanding and tolerance from an early age.

“We draw out the tool of meditation as something all children can use to bring about peace and calm. We also weave the concept of introspection and karma throughout the story itself these ideas help the child to empower themselves in choosing their actions, as well as their emotional reactions to whatever their lives throw at them,” says Sonal.

“We have found that children and adults alike have been particularly drawn to the aspect of meditation that we bring out in the story. Meditation has been proven to actually change the grey matter in the brain as well a whole host of other benefits such as increasing empathy and calmness,” Sonal told PTI.

She cites statistics around mental health in children, saying 1 in 10 children in the UK is being diagnosed with a mental health order, and a student commits suicide every hour in India.

“There is a need for a book like this and it feels right that the answer should come from our holy scriptures. Children instinctively are drawn to these messages of good winning over evil and the desire to be kind and loving,” she says.

Her partnership with Jemma made for a wonderful and dynamic collaboration.

“Together we were able to bring out the universal messages of the Gita in a way that we hope will appeal to Hindus and non-Hindus alike. The wisdom of the Gita goes far beyond religion and is for all humanity,” she says.

Sonal’s knowledge and passion for her guru’s teachings combined with Jemma’s talent and experience in writing led to lively brainstorming sessions and ultimately the book was born.

“We could then take our characters, and the reader, on the adventure of meditation, through the chakras – which in the book became magical realms with all sorts of creatures and challenges to overcome – and we could show all of those difficult concepts from the Gita, through a compelling adventure story,” she says.

The story begins with a young boy named Dev, who is consumed by grief after the tragic loss of his father. He’s angry, lost, is lashing out at those around him. Until he meets a sprite-like being named Sanjay who claims the incredible: that there is a battle raging inside his body.

Sanjay, who represents divine introspection, then persuades Dev to let him go inside his body and up his spine. He begins in total darkness at the bottom of the spine, then travels on a perilous journey through the chakras.

His mission is to find the noble warrior Arjun, leader of the good tendencies, and urge him to fight the leader of the bad tendencies (Duryodhana who is called Prince Ego), in order to help bring peace to Dev.

Eventually, Sanjay reaches the famous point in the Gita – Krishna and Arjun together on the battlefield with the impending war about to take place.

According to Sonal, through these two parallel stories – the emotional turmoil of Dev’s life, and the adventure that is taking place within him, we see some of the important messages in the Gita play out, and also how the internal self and the external life we inhabit are inextricably linked.

Illustrations are a key part of the book, published by HarperCollins, and the sketches are done by Soumitra Ranade.

Sonal says Ranade did a phenomenal job of combining some of the traditional images we are used to seeing with a totally new modern twist and it has led to a unique story with equally unique illustrations. PTI

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