One of my favourite things to watch on television while growing up was the Republic Day parade of India. While the Independence Day telecast on Doordarshan didn’t spark any interest in me, the pomp and ceremony of the Republic Day parade left me giddy with delight. I used to be glued in front of the television staring at the columns of the armed forces marching by with precision. The favourite part, of course, was the “jhankis” or tableaus which the different states and government departments used to put up. Critiquing them with my sisters used to be a big part of our republic day celebrations. Even now, though I am far from India, on Republic Day morning, I am glued in front of the television watching the columns march by, eagerly waiting for the “jhankis”.
I had written a previous post (a place to call home) about the feeling of homelessness that we, expatriates, sometimes feel. We want to show the beauty and grandeur of our country to our children, who understandably, do not have the same feelings for India that we do. It is difficult for an expat child to learn about a country as full of contrasts and conundrums as India. We want to show our language, our culture, our heritage to our children, and the best way, in my opinion, is through stories. Stories make an alien culture more real and more approachable. This post contains a list of books which I think, will help parents in introducing the wonders of India to their children.
- Let’s Go Time Travelling (Subhadra Sen Gupta). This is hands down the best book to introduce Indian history to children and not kill them with boredom. Written in an easy narrative style and featuring illustrations this book not only educates but also entertains the children. The book rather than using dry facts tells history using clothes, food, daily routines. It paints a picture of the eras it is talking about. This different approach to history makes this book an enjoyable read.
- A Flag, A Song and a Pinch of Salt (Subhadra Sen Gupta). Freedom fighters fought against the British dominion over India and inspired future generations with their beliefs and ideals. While most of us are aware of stalwarts like Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar, this book also gives due importance to ones, who are lost in public memory, like Frontier Gandhi, Birsa Munda, and Bhikaji Cama. This book takes these leaders out of boring history lessons and making them more real and believable.
- We, The Children Of India (Leila Seth). What better way to introduce India to the children than through its constitution. This slim book contains the preamble to the constitution of India. It breaks down the preamble explaining the concepts and the ideas which our founding fathers had when they set the foundation for our country. This book is important in understanding the principles on which our great country was formed.
- Paramvir Chakra (Amar Chitra Katha). Amar Chitra Katha comics are the best way to introduce Indian mythology and heroes to the children. The winner amongst the lot is Paramvir Chakra. This comic style book contains the stories of all the PVC holders of the armed forces. The children will enjoy reading about the Bravehearts who defended our country against all odds. Since it is a comic book, the connection with the children is also more.
- Grandma’s bag of stories (Sudha Murthy). Nobody captures the earthiness of rural India like Sudha Murthy. This book evokes memories of summer vacations spent with cousins and grandparents, free of cares and worries with storytelling sessions lasting late into the night. In this age of nuclear families, where families live far apart, this book comes as a boon. Read it to your child at bedtime and let them also discover the magic of stories as told by a grandmother.
- The Ocean of Churn (Sanjeev Sanyal). This book does not stick to India only but encompasses the whole region of the Indian Ocean. This book is a fascinating account of the sea-faring days of the Indians and how India influenced and in turn was influenced by the regions in the Indian Ocean rim. Written by economist and writer par excellence Sanjeev Sanyal this book is for children above the age of fifteen when they are more aware of the world and the issues around them. This book shows how a country can interact with the world and yet retain its identity.
Contrary to my ways, I have tried to keep this list very short with the books I think each Indian child should read and be aware of. There are, of course, lots of books and authors which the children can read to gain more knowledge about Indian history, folklore, mythology, and religions.
And if you do have the time, do watch the Republic Day parade with your children, I am quite sure they will also love watching the “jhankis”!!