Anyone who has worked to make a difference in the world using peaceful means owes a debt of gratitude to India's Mahatma Gandhi. He was the first world leader to leverage non-violence instead of war, thus winning freedom for India from centuries of British rule. Many leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., adopted Gandhi’s peaceful campaign in their own fight for civil rights.
In this debut picture book set in rural India, Arun Gandhi (the fifth grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) gives a personal glimpse into the simple Sevagram (service village) life his grandfather led and shares a childhood incident that steered Arun towards living his own life as light.
I spoke by phone with Arun Gandhi to learn more about this time in his young life.
Arun came to live with his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi in the mid-1940’s, when India was on the verge of gaining independence. For 12-year-old Arun, life at the Sevagram - with it’s message of self-sufficiency - meant eating bland boiled pumpkin, learning his grandfather’s language, Gujarati, spinning cotton, and living without electricity or his favorite John Wayne movies.
The best part of life at the Sevagram was the occasional chance he had to spend one-on-one with his busy grandfather without being flocked by the 350 followers who lived there as well. In one of these circumstances, Arun discovers the secret of how to use his anger to bring about positive change.
Words and pictures work in harmony to portray the values and symbols that are a true representation of the Mahatma (which means great soul). This memoir reminds everyone that peace is within one’s reach once you understand how to channel anger. To learn more, go here.
I picked up the book out of curiosity to learn about the legendary leader from a young boy’s point of view. It brought back memories of my own grandfather, the times we shared and the lessons I learned. My teenage daughter, on the other hand, thought the story gave a new perspective on dealing with anger, a natural feeling part and parcel to her life. Most importantly, my 11-year-old loved the book so much that he easily related to the character as a peer, placing himself in Arun’s situation.
During my interview with Gandhi, I learned more about the journey behind this creative venture.
Memphis Parent: The story was born in October 2001, when co-author Bethany Hegedus heard your speech at New York City’s Town Hall just one month after the violence of 9/11. What inspired you to write a picture book to convey your grandfather’s message?
Arun Gandhi: I have all these very valuable stories I had learnt from my grandfather. I always wanted to share them with children because they have a big impact. But I didn’t have the knowledge and experience writing for children. So I kept putting it off until Bethany came and offered. I said, “Yes, why not?”
This is a picture book debut for all three of you: Co-author Bethany Hegedus, illustrator Evan Turk, and yourself. How do you feel about the collaboration? How did Evan’s mixed media collage techniques help highlight your message?
Gandhi: I feel very happy about the collaboration and I think we worked very well as a team. For the clothing, Evan tried to learn how to spin yarn. After a few months, he realized it was a very difficult thing. Then he found a lady who was able to spin it for him and he used that cotton fabric in the pictures to make it unique. I think Evan did a wonderful job. That’s half the story. Once the children get gripped by the art, then they will listen to the story.
Controlling anger is something adults wrestle with. A child’s world can also be filled with violence (toys, games, movies). So how is it possible to channel one’s anger?
Gandhi: Parents need to learn how to deal with anger constructively and positively, and model this for children. We can’t tell kids to do something when they see us doing the opposite.
We have created a whole culture of violence. Everybody wants to control everyone. We control children through fear — fear of punishment. It is that fear of punishment that leads to misuse of anger. When we use threats, the first seeds of violence are planted. Human beings are not meant to be violent; we become violent because of all these experiences that happen in our childhood that engender anger.
According to experts, more than 80 percent of the violence we experience in our personal life or as a nation, is generated by anger. When people get angry, they lash out and do things that change the course of their lives.
Every time you get angry, don’t say or do anything, instead, write about your feelings in a journal. Write with the intention of finding a solution to the problem. Once you get into this mindset, you will start looking for solutions instead of thinking about revenge.
You have taken a complex issue and presented it in the most kid-friendly way. What do you hope children will take away from this intimate portrait of Mahatma?
Gandhi: I have written this book for adults called Legacy of Love: My Education in the Path of Nonviolence. All these stories are contained in that book. While I was writing that book, Bethany came to me with the idea of taking this to children. So I passed on the story of anger because I thought it was the most important and the book came out of it.
The way many people live right now is so selfish, self-centered, and violent. If we are civilized human beings, we should learn to live in a civilized manner. Civilized manner is where we can live in harmony with not only people but with nature and everything. We are part of this whole creation. We are not apart from it. The way we are living right now is that we think we own everything and we can destroy everything. I am hoping children will get some positive ideas from the story and make a difference in their life and eventually save this world from destruction.
• Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus. Illustrated by Evan Turk. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Available at grandfathergandhi.com, local libraries, & The Booksellers at Laurelwood.