• Sonal Sachdev Patel

Mums & Stories: Sonal Sachdev Patel shares on Gita and the influences it has got on our lives

Sonal Sachdev Patel and Jemma Wayne –Kattan are the authors of the book Gita-The Battle of the Worlds. Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books and illustrated by Soumitra Ranade, the book is an absolute must for children who are stepping into their teens. Do read our short review at the end of the article.

We at Mums and Stories also got to interact with Sonal and here’s what she has to say on her being an author, her childhood memories, her writing and why she considers Gita is important in our lives?

Sharing her story with Mums and Stories, London based Sonal Sachdev Patel says, “I grew up with my parents, twin sister and elder brother on the outskirts of North London. My parents had come to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s. They were poor in possessions but rich in love, ambition and happiness. Their families had followed in droves after the exodus of Idi Amin.

We grew up with a wonderful mix of East and West. Our parents pushed us to embrace the best of what Britain had to offer, whilst retaining our Indian heritage. We were educated at one of the top British girls’ school and absorbed from the melting pot of cultures that live in London. My mother has always been deeply spiritual and from a young age, I saw her bringing many of the ideals of Hinduism into our lives – be it through welcoming family into our home or sharing stories of Krishna and Ram and Sita.  I was fortunate to be welcomed and included wherever I went – I would swap my puris for white bread jam sandwiches and see my friends stare in awe and admiration as my Nani would occasionally accompany my Nana to school to collect us – dressed in a sari, a bold bindi on her forehead and bright white trainers on her feet.

My interaction with the Gita began when I was a young girl. My sister and I slept on a bunk bed. The top bunk was the most sought-after place to sleep. It symbolised power, victory and ultimately superiority. Born five minutes before her gave me seniority which meant the top bunk was mine. Our family temple was in the corridor outside our room – a collection of statues and pictures of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The two that had the greatest impact on me were baby Krishna – his eyes magnetizing and inviting; and Ma Ambama – a fierce woman leader – trident and sword in hand seated atop a tiger, who has been a role model for me.

From that special height on the top bunk, I would often wake to the sight of my mother, seated in front of the temple, the dim light of the diva gently illuminating the yellowish pages of the Gita she was reading. I did not read the Gita myself until I was much older, but I saw what a magical relationship she had with this book.

When I did finally read the Gita during my pregnancy, I found the text dense and difficult to understand. It was a desire to take the inspirational messages of the  Gita to my children in a modern and relatable way that led me to want to create this new work.

Talking about her beginnings in writing, Sonal shares, “ I worked in strategy consulting in India and the UK and it was a brilliant way to turbocharge my career. The skill set I learned in that face paced environment was second to none. Ultimately what caused me to change was the desire to take these skills that I had learned in the for-profit world and apply them to the non-for-profit space.

Writing was not simply about the writing process itself – but more about the message and the story that I felt passionate about. These special truths that are an integral part of humanity – not religion – that could be shared in a universal way.

My co-author Jemma Wayne Kattan is not only a talented author and journalist but also a close friend. We had grown up together and so approaching her for her opinion initially, and then ultimately to collaborate on creating this new work together felt totally natural. Working together was such a fun and dynamic process as we were really able to spark off one another and ultimately create something which built on both of our strengths – my knowledge and vision for the messages and her creative writing and talent as a storyteller. As a mother, I wanted to share the beauty and wisdom that is written in the Gita in a modern and relatable way that my children would want to pick up and read. It shouldn’t be a chore to learn these messages, but an interesting and engaging story that they don’t want to put down.

The Gita teaches us how to win this battle of life. In our story, we bring out two main themes based on the interpretation of Paramahansa Yogananda. The first is this idea of introspection – or turning within.

The epic battle that takes place in the Gita between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is actually a metaphor for the internal battle that takes place within ourselves every day between our good and bad tendencies.

We can take this concept and at the end of each day think through what has happened on the “battlefield” of our own life.

Have we been kind, caring, thoughtful? If not – can we try harder tomorrow?

Secondly, meditation is a strong theme and our main character Dev uses this tool of meditation to create calm and become more peaceful. In our face paced, technology-filled modern world, meditation is even more relevant in tapping into that inner spiritual consciousness which is within each one of us.

Thirdly, we focus on the universality of the Gita – how the fundamental messages such as karma, reincarnation and duty are common to all of us and not limited by religion. These principles underly humanity and unite all of us.

This extract (taken from the book) follows the scene where Krishna reveals Himself to Arjun. We depict this many-headed divine being with heads of men, women and children of all backgrounds. The purpose of this illustration was to further emphasise the point of the universality of God – and that He is within each one of us. Moreover, it is the feeling of God that we wanted to get across to children.

“Before you discover how it looked, it is important you know how it felt because the way it made Arjun feel was extraordinary. Of course, it’s difficult to describe. How would you describe the juiciness of an orange to someone who’s never tasted it? You could talk about the zesty scent, the sweetness on the tongue, the liquid exploding in the mouth, but still, you wouldn’t quite capture it in its wholeness. So it was with Krishna.” (A paragraph from the book Gita-The Battle of the Worlds)

Talking on her deep connection with Indian culture and roots Sonal shares, “ As NRIs, I think we are acutely aware of losing our culture and our identity. We are conscious that we are not immersed in it because we are away from our Mother country and therefore we make all the more effort to stay connected. I lived in India when I was in my twenties, and I saw that the culture permeates via many small things that knit together to create this Incredible India. From the garlanded tiny Ganesh statue I saw in the new subway sandwiches outlet, to the girl touching the feet of her Grandmother as she went to school to the incense rising up out of a roadside stall.”

Sonal also has a word of advice for mums who are keen to pursue their interests. She shares, “Carve out time when you are at your most creative. Mums are the ultimate multi-taskers – being bombarded by a multitude of demands. For me, my most productive time is early morning when everyone else is asleep – I go to my writing space and I achieve in one hour what it would take me three during the day.”

I also feel as a mother one has the ability to shape the kind of family, one wants.  Do you want to go on adventures together, cuddle under the covers on a Sunday morning or be directing your kids in their homework. I see a mother play a hugely central role – what kind of values do you want to guide your family? What norms will you implement in the way you interact with each other? Being an author is similar – the story is yours and it is up to you to shape it into something you are proud of.”

Mums and Stories thanks Sonal for sharing her view on writing the book, her advice to others and on Gita and its importance in our lives.

Here is a quick Review of Gita –The Battle of the Worlds

Plot of Gita- The Battle of the Worlds Dev, a young boy loses his father to death and the battle of ego, frustration and irritability takes a turn with him meeting Sanjay a more than life like character who helps Sanjay in combating his anger. This story will be a good read for adults and children and to those kids who might be in a tough situation like they have lost someone in the family.

(A page photograph from the book Gita-Battle of the Worlds)

Beautifully illustrated, the story is meant for readers who can understand the deeper meaning of life, sadness, anger with situations as life presents. As an interpretation of the original Gita, this narrative will connect with readers who are probably going through a tough situation or even those who can understand that life need not be fair all the time.

This is a good story to be introduced if you are planning to introduce the child to Mahabharata as there are references to the story. What we liked particularly and that which might be of immense help to younger kids is the concept of ego explained and handled in the book with direct story references to the Mahabharata.

In present context, it is the ego- the everyday battle within our mind and perhaps one of  the effective methods to tackle them like meditation can be considered in our lives. Another point is our unnecessary obsession on having bottled up emotions. Sometimes it is better to let it go just like many things in life.

The book is available here

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