by Supriya Kelkar, published 2017
“Ma handed Anjali one of the two prasad trays as they headed into the hall. Anjali gave a ladoo to her father and bowed to him in pranaam. He raised his hand over her head to bless her…”
If reading this quote from a children’s book stops you cold, then you (and your child) may struggle unnecessarily through what is otherwise an excellent work of historical fiction. Since I spent enough time in India, I feel completely at home with the amount of Hindi words that the author uses, but I realize others may not. Yet I can’t find fault with the writing, as there is a lot of to be said for immersing oneself in a foreign culture via reading, and that indeed is what happens with Ahimsa. There is a glossary at the back, so my suggestion is, be brave, and step into another world.
The word ahimsa means non-violence, and it was the hallmark of Gandhi’s fight for Indian independence. This children’s book is based on the author’s great-grandmother, who worked with Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar, and was imprisoned for her work. I found this children’s book both surprisingly honest, and also heartbreakingly real as it described the fighting, the chaos, and the turbulence of that period in India. And yet, the story is an important one. One might think very little has changed – Hindus still fight with Muslims; untouchables are still marginalized, and India’s problems are repeated all over the world.
But I think this children’s book offers an important message: never stop standing up for what you believe is right. Equality among humans may be an ideal we will never reach, but it is certainly worth holding on to the vision.
Because of the intensity of the fighting, I feel this book is better for older children, 12 to 14. It also would work very well in a classroom that was studying India.