‘For Karma is a mathematical law, What’s next depends on what’s
done before’—is the premise of Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in
the Bhagavad Gita. The ethical conundrums of right-wrong or good-evil fall under a larger spiritual understanding and acceptance of one’s duty. This complex idea which forms a part of the Bhagavad Gita has been re-written by Sonal Sachdev Patel and Jemma Wayne-Kattan in a lucid style, appropriate for their middle grade and young adult audience.
For an adult reader, what strikes the most is the lack of simplification, a practice that jeopardizes a lot of children’s literature. While simplifying a grand idea for a younger audience is necessary, oversimplification results in distortion of the said ideas which ultimately undermines the purpose of the book. Patel and Wayne-Kattan’s work bring in the importance of psycho-spiritual development for a well-adjusted growth in an age-appropriate manner.
Having said that, the plot of Gita: The Battle of the Worlds is the story of eleven-year-old Dev who is trying to process his emotions after the sudden demise of his father. The story is about Dev eventually mastering his anger and frustration at the unfairness of the situation. The narration is one of a process. Here’s where the story takes on an interesting turn. It incorporates elements of the mystical as Dev meets a sprite-like creature named Sanjay who helps Dev find his way. After that, it is Dev’s journey as much as it is Sanjay’s.
The journey motif is fairly common in the path to realization. Sanjay goes through an adventure almost Odyssean in nature. What makes it worthwhile is the quirky juxtaposition of the physiological and the spiritual. Sanjay traverses the ‘spinal trail’ entering through ‘gate coccyx’, eventually reaching the ‘spiritual eye’ through the ‘dorsal door’. The symbolism of this journey from the base of the spine to the top of the head could be missed out by young readers if not spelt out by someone with some insight into eastern spirituality. The journey, as I understand it, is representative of the Kundalini shakti, the feminine creative energy that is present in all humans. It is said to resonate with the Supreme Being when one is able to raise the energy from the base of the spine to the top of the head. People go through different spiritual practices to raise this energy through the various chakras (levels) that are said to be present in the human body.
As Sanjay travels up the spinal trail, Dev undergoes catharsis and ultimately reaches a state of Consciousness. ‘Consciousness is One and You are That’: The idea of a Universal Mind and a unified consciousness is the focus of Paramahamsa Yogananda’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita which has greatly influenced Patel and Wayne-Kattan’s work. An awareness of what happens within the human: body, mind and soul, a contemplation of right and wrong is what makes a spiritually developed individual in this philosophy. The war between good and evil happens within our own minds.
Sanjay essentially becomes Dev’s guide to acknowledge the Great War that is taking place inside of him. Here is where more connections to the Mahabharata are revealed besides direct import from the Bhagavad Gita. The name ‘Sanjay’ could be read as a reference to Sanjaya, son of Gavalgana, a charioteer who narrates the Kurukshetra war to the blind king Dhritarashtra, for he is gifted with seeing events from a distance. He is able to see what is happening within Dev.
The Great War, which is not described in the book is a stand-off between ‘Ego’ and Arjuna who is supported by Krishna. Interestingly, the story looks at Ego as self-conceit rather than the psychoanalytical understanding of ego as the mediator between the Id and the Superego. The idea is built up on the contrast between ultimate control (which ‘Ego’ holds) and ultimate surrender (which Arjuna is able to do to Krishna). Interestingly, Dev’s surrender occurs through the medium of meditation or that of unquestioned love or faith. Dev’s father’s Kriya beads becomes the instrument that channels the barrage of thoughts and emotions into a state of awareness.
What is particularly exciting about reading Gita: The Battle of the Worlds is also how much it resonates with a non-spiritual audience. For those who consciously want to avoid its innumerable connections to the Mahabharata, the story opens up as a well-justified psychological narrative, stressing on the importance of expressing one’s emotions in a healthy manner, especially when confronted with grief. However, it is definitely not a choice that I would recommend.
With Sonal Sachdev Patel and Jemma Wayne-Kattan’s lucid narration and Soumitra Ranade’s gripping illustrations, Gita: The Battle of the Worlds will open out new worlds of understanding for a budding reader. A book that is definitely worth your while.
Anugraha Madhavan is a lecturer who loves to share the joys of reading with her students. A proud bookworm, she collects stories from all over the world.