Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book Review: The Mahabharatha - a child's view by Samhita Arni

Title: The Mahabharatha - a child's view
Author: Samhita Arni

Publisher: Tara Books
Pages: 288
Price: Rs 650
Genre: Children's books / Mythology / Religion
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback

This book has been with me for a really long time. I bought it before my son was born, may be even before I was married. At that time, I bought this book for myself. 

Recently, we (I and my 6.5 year old) were discussing about Ramayana and the conversation veered off to Mahabharata. Mahabharata is so exhaustive and full of so many characters that I could not decide where to begin. The next day, I chanced upon this book in my collection and thought it was a perfect time to introduce him to this book.

According to her website, Samhita Arni started writing this when she was 8 and it got published first when she was 12.  This assured me that the story will not be complex and, moreover, when the book is written by a child it will strike the right chord with children. I also did not worry about what kind of details the story would have captured about adult relationships.

He took to it immediately. When he likes a book, he gets possessed by it. He would read it every waking minute.  It has been over 2 weeks. He has already read it twice. Mahabharata is a story that deserves to be read again and again. It always opens up multiple dimensions to the story or you start thinking about some different character every time. I am personally a Mahabharata fan too and I know my Mahabharata and Ramayana collection will be the last to go (considering I am no longer the hoarder I used to be).

No doubt, this is a fantastic book for kids who have started showing interest in Mahabharata. The best aspect of this book is its ability to narrate a complex story in a simple way. 

Samhita Arni writes in her foreword:  "There is much that we lose in growing up.As one grows up, we feel a little less strongly about things. Sensations are blunted. We develop a terrible habit of refashioning the world around as we want to see it, and ignoring that which makes us uncomfortable. There is a freshness in the way children see things, in the instinctive, individualistic reactions they have.Unfortunately, many think that the best way to instruct children is mot to encourage them to reveal their own, innate reactions and thoughts, but to teach them the right (and only) way to think, to see, to respond. This seems to be the goal of education - not to allow children to ask questions but to indoctrinate them; to let them learn by rote. I think there is much e, adults, can learn from talking to children, from their own, strongly individual reactions ad perspectives."

There are many things which work in this book:
- The pictorial family tree at the beginning helps in understanding the relationships between all the characters. Especially, in a story like Mahabharata, it is very important. Naturally, it came extremely handy to my son while reading the book. 
- The neat pictorial layout at the end captures 'Pandava Alliance' and 'Kaurava Alliance'. This was also very useful in understanding who supported whom in the battlefield.
- The illustrations, created when the author was a child, capture the essence of the story beautifully. A child reading the book identifies with it and it certainly aids understanding. 
- Spread over 55 Chapters, the story captures everything from Santanu to Janamejaya and everyone in between. 

Sometimes children point out such simple and obvious things which we unknowingly overlook. My son pointed out that Hidimbi wasn't shown in the layout showing Alliances; even Draupadi wasn't shown. I had to finally explain that during those times women did not enter battlefields. He found Amba's story quite interesting. He also asked if Ghatokacha looked the way he was shown; I said it was the author's imagination. Nobody has seen him! 

These days, we are having such discussions all the time since we have also added few more books to our collection. It is interesting how both of us are reading different versions simultaneously and even fighting to read the same book. 

This book certainly worked for us as the first book on Mahabharata for my 6.5 year old, and I highly recommend this book to the enthusiasts of Mahabharata - young or old. As someone rightly said 'a children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.' 

Note: Here is the link to the page on Mahabharata inspired books. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Image credit (except the page on Alliances): Author website