Arshia Sattar, writer and translator, did her PhD from the department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. The renowned Indologist, Wendy Doniger, was her advisor. Arisha Sattar is a reputed authority on the epics. She has written a wonderful collection of books, for adults and children, exploring the Hindu epics.
It is her fabulous retellings of the epics for children that are under discussion here — Mahabharata ( 2020) and Ramayana (2016), both published by Juggernaut Books. To convert oral stories into print, stories that have had centuries of storytelling behind them, as well as readers have very fixed notions of how these stories are meant to be, this is not a mean task. Arshia Sattar does it well. The stories are immensely readable. They also work very well if meant to be read out aloud. Or if someone is familiarising themselves with the stories for the first time. The books have been beautifully illustrated by Sonali Zohra. In fact, the two publications also highlight the journey of the illustrator, from being relatively unknown in the publishing world, Sonali became a “name” as indicated by her name being mentioned on the cover of the Mahabharata but not the Ramayana.
My only wish is that the publishers would focus as much on stories of other faiths as much as Hinduism. When last seen, India was not a theocratic state, despite an emotional cloud engulfing its citizens in the hope that it is. We are still a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic” when last heard and as enshrined in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. So perhaps the publishers who ascribe to secular credentials could consider addressing the spectrum of religions practised in our magnificent country. Thereby enabling children and adults to be sensitised to what else exists in this multi-cultural society. Many of us are proud of this heritage as is evident in the fantabulous stories being documented by the India Love Project on Instagram ( @indialoveproject). It is time younger generations too were acquainted with their rich cultural inheritance.
17 Jan 2021