• Sonal Sachdev Patel

FIRSTPOST: New book based on the Bhagavad Gita

‘Fire burned mercilessly around the warriors, and there was a sense of madness growing, of an appetite for violence and decimation,’ writes Sonal Sachdev Patel of the battlefield of Kurukshetra in her book, Gita: The Battle of the Worlds. She describes how the two armies stood poised, prepared for war and carnage, but that Arjuna’s limbs failed him. He lowered his bow, unable to bear the thought of killing his own brothers — and all these plot developments take place inside the body of a young boy!

In The Battle of the Worlds, which Sonal has co-authored with Jemma Wayne-Kattan, the events of the Mahabharata unfold within the body of a boy called Dev, who is struggling to cope with the death of his father. Dev allows Sanjay, a pixie-like being, to step into his body, navigate through his spinal cord and find the valiant Arjuna, to defeat the evil Ego who has taken over all of Dev’s being.

In a rendition of Krishna’s wise words to Arjuna in the Mahabharata which also draws from the meditative process of Kriya Yoga, Sonal brings to young adults a scripture and a recipe for inner peace that is often deemed as far removed from their lives. “Our holy scriptures contain a lot of magic and wisdom,” she says. Through the book, the author-duo has tried to bridge this gap and help children deal with any challenges that might stem from the burden of grief or stress.

Sonal Patel and Jemma Wayne-Kattan have co-authored Gita: The Battle of the Worlds

“The Gita teaches us how to handle our emotions,” she says, "and it is exactly what we need today. In it are all the ingredients that we need to be happy and successful.” By making the age-old text more relatable and accessible to children, Sonal wishes to empower them by equipping them with the ability to gain insights into themselves. She wants children to feel that the answers to their qualms lie not in the outside world, but within themselves.

Sonal strikes one as a spirited person who exudes positivity. At the launch of her book at Kitab Khana in Mumbai, she said, “This is the one book that I wanted to write.” This London-bred writer, who currently runs the God My Silent Partner (GMSP) Foundation, founded by her parents Ramesh and Pratibha Sachdev, across India and the UK, has been a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda since her childhood. She found herself drawn to the universality of the Bhagavad Gita after reading his retelling of it, which is titled God Talks With Arjuna.

In her partnership with Jemma, who has had a Jewish upbringing and whose work After Before was on the long list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Sonal has tried to bring out Krishna’s message, which she feels transcends Hinduism. “Religion is too often appropriated to exclude and divide us, when in fact it can really be used to unite us,” she adds.

Meditation emerges as a significant character in her narration of Sanjay’s escapades as he navigates through the chakras in Dev’s body. The sounds of tinkling bells, the swarm of bees, and Sanjay’s heightening spirituality as he ascends Dev's spine are all reflections of Paramahansa Yogananada’s Kriya Yoga. This ascent symbolises the significance of the spine and the kundalini energy (the current that carries Sanjay up the spine) that flows in an upward direction through the spinal cord.

Sanjay, a pixie-like being meets Dev and ventures into his body through his spinal cord to find the valiant Prince Arjun. Illustrations from Gita: The Battle of the Worlds

Children don’t always have access to all these teachings, she says, and while every stressor may not be termed a mental health issue, meditation can help young adults to deal with these stressors and to be more peaceful, calmer and successful. On her part, even as two-hour long meditation sessions remain a weekly practice, Sonal also engages in 30-minute long sessions every morning and evening.

A lot of the issues we observe in modern society stem from the fact that we are not tolerant or respectful towards each other. Making Dev's body the backdrop for the battle of Kurukshetra is nothing but a metaphor for the internal struggles of everyday life, the author says.

Gita: The Battle of the Worlds highlights the significance of the spinal cord in Kriya Yoga meditation.And while self-introspection, internal battles and meditation are fleshed out ideas in the book, Sonal says there were many aspects of Krishna’s message that it couldn’t cover, such as the importance of mindedness and focus that the character of Sanjay personifies. Moreover, one doesn’t meet Krishna until the middle of the story. “I have always loved Krishna and I wanted him to have more beauty, to capture his essence and to stand out against the other characters,” Sonal says.

Krishna is revealed in all his splendour as Arjuna’s charioteer only when Sanjay witnesses Kurukshetra within Dev’s body. He is the only one in the story who speaks in lilting tones, the only one with poetry. “We wanted to explain how Krishna makes you feel rather than telling children that they should worship him. And who wouldn’t want to have a best friend, a mother, a mentor, all rolled into one?” she explains.

Sonal stresses on the idea that mental health, conflict, and violence all stem from one vice — the lack of mutual respect and understanding. Krishna, she says, embodies everyone. Taking that universal divinity to children in their formative years puts across the idea of truth and respect, helping them ascend to a more peaceful and successful plane. In her book, when he reveals his true form to Arjuna, Krishna’s heads are men, women, children and the entire universe. The Gita is about Lord Krishna, she says, but we can worship all Gods the same way.

She says that illustrations become significant in the process of putting these complex ideas across, because just like the Gita, books can be daunting too, because of the sheer amount of text on their pages. She adds that the drawings, created by Soumitra Ranade, are meant to guide the readers through this magical journey while simultaneously giving them the the freedom to imagine certain things their own way, without being too prescriptive.

"For me, it’s all about the message and the social impact," Sonal says, as she appears radiant and bright even at the end of a long day. Will she write another book? “If I have a message to give, I will write a book about it.”

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