When my son was about five years old, an older child in the school van asked him if he was a Muslim or a Hindu. As he had never heard either word before he told her, “I’m a Gemini”! Anyway, that was the beginning of his questions to me.
What is a Hindu? What is the difference between Hindus and other people? How many Gods are there? Why are some people so poor? Where did Grandpa go when he died?
I looked in every bookstore for books that could simplify Hindu concepts for him. This was in the late nineties, when we depended on bookstores, not on the internet. I couldn’t find any. Finally I decided to put down on paper what I had imbibed about Hinduism over the years. Those jottings gradually grew into a book, and illustrated and edited by friends who believed in it, reached stores in early 2005.
Review by Bala Chauhan (Deccan Herald):
http://www.deccanheraldepaper.com/ (DH Archives 24th April, 2005)
‘A little book for The Hindu Child’ by Bangalore-based psychiatrist Shyamala Vatsa is an interesting introduction to Hinduism. The book, primarily meant for children and early teens, is equally fascinating to adults because of the way the author has dealt with the content. Her address is straight and her answers to certain very profound questions, to the point and without any dogma.
In the first chapter ‘What is religion?’ she begins by usual questions like “Who am I?”, “Why was I born?”, “What is God?” and turns to the readers for the answers. “Who can answer these questions? Only you.” The baseline – ‘Find out for yourself’ does wonders and is the essence of Hinduism.
Dr Vatsa’s approach to the subject is good. Keeping in mind the vulnerability of the age group she has addressed, she has kept away from pedagogy and preaching. Instead, she has, at some places, used classroom lessons to clear doubts on intense questions like the existence of God, meaning and relevance of education, goals in life, etc. and at some, she has used life as a great learning experience to address similar serious queries. She has very simply and interestingly connected the basic principles of Hinduism like the four ashrams or stages in life to everyday life. Brahmacharya, Grahastya, Vanaprastha and Sanyas come out of the dry pages of scriptures and become alive in a young mind.
Nowhere has she sounded absolute and final in her effort to make her readers understand the subject, and this, I feel, is a remarkable achievement. For instance, when she talks about education, she says, learning something is actually ‘discovering’ something that is already in one’s mind.
Her definition of right and wrong is equally commendable. ‘Whether a thing is right or wrong depends on why you are doing it. So you have to be clear about your reasons for whatever you do,’ is quite profound. She has explained Karma – one of the underlying principles of Hindu philosophy and at the end, says, “Maybe you don’t believe in Karma or re-birth. Then what do you believe in? Try to argue it out in your mind till you are satisfied.”
It’s a reaffirmation of her remarks towards the end of the book. “Hinduism is a way of thinking and one of the ways to find out these answers.”
Review by Raj: