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Mahatma Gandhi and Children's Literature in Indian English
By Ved Mitra Shukla
In the present century, children's literature has not been a marginalised area in the world of literature. There is a long list of such writers who are constantly writing for children. As far as the beginning of the history of Indian English literature is concerned, writers have knowingly or unknowingly focused on it. Children-centric works can be credited to Rabindranath Tagore, R K Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, etc. However, the genre could not be developed so much in the pre-Independence era, but later on, there followed a number of writers who focused considerably on it. But not many big names except writers like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, etc. can be cited as far as the development of the genre is concerned. However, the paper will make an attempt to discuss the influence of Mahatma Gandhi on some selected works of Indian English children's literature. No doubt, a number of children's books can be found on Gandhi. Owing to the limited scope of the paper, there will be a focus on the children's books suggested by the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal/Gandhi Book Centre, Bombay. Works like Pictorial Biography of Mahatma Gandhi by B R Nanda, Inspiring Stories from Gandhiji's Life by Uma Shankar Joshi, Mahatma Gandhi by Jyoti Solapurkar, Story of Gandhi by Ramanbhai Soni, The Story of Gandhi by Rajkumari Shankar, A Pinch of Salt Rocks by Sarojini Sinha, etc. will be taken for study. Some other works which are without the biographical account of Gandhi will also be taken. All these works will be studied with the purpose of a literary analysis of the writers' treatment of the technique, tone and content, or length in the respective works. The paper will also try to scrutinise the books by age category, keeping in view the divergent interests of children of the age-group 1-18. Over and above, it will concentrate on how children's literature has gone through considerable changes under the influence of Gandhi over the years.
Undeniably, the influence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869- 1948) can be surveyed in most of the branches of knowledge of the contemporary world. As far as literary and visual representations of Mahatma Gandhi are concerned, a lot of study can be traced out. In this regard, Harish Trivedi discusses the portrayals of Gandhi in. print and visual media in a chapter of The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi (2011). In the very beginning, he writes:
Since shortly after he [Gandhi] entered Indian public life on return from South Africa in 1915, Gandhi has permeated Indian literature and the arts; he is to be found everywhere, from office walls to public spaces to collective memory either personal or transmitted. He has been represented to enduring effect by a variety of foreign writers and artists as well, from points of view that serve to illuminate him differently and often with a striking supplementarity. (199)
In favour of this statement, a few libraries like the National Gandhi Museum (New Delhi), the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal/Gandhi Book Centre (Bombay), etc., which are fully focused on Gandhi, can be evident. These libraries also own children's books on Gandhi. But, due to the lack of interest or awareness in children's literature criticism, the works of Gandhi an scholars do not include enough discussions and literary analysis of Gandhi's influence on this particular discipline. And this is the reason why works like Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable (1935), R K Narayan's Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), etc. based on Gandhian thoughts are almost not analysed or discussed as young adult literature that comes under the rubric of children's literature. There are a few books with visual references on Gandhi that can be helpful to understand his life and ideology for children. But, academicians do not choose some of those as pictorial books for our children. However, as the librarian of the National Gandhi Museum says, children show their interest and read such books.
In the present paper, there is an attempt to discuss the influence of Gandhi on some selected works of Indian English children's literature. Owing to the limited scope of the paper, there is a focus on the children's literature on Gandhi.
It has been a complicated task to define children's literature (Lesnik- Oberstein, 15). However, scholars like M Landsberg, J Rose, J R Townsend, N Babbitt, etc. have tried their best to define it keeping in view various aspects of this literature. Generally, the meaning of children's literature as 'books which are good [in terms of emotional and moral values] for children is taken by us (Landsberg, 1987). In other words, it encompasses those books or writings which are written by children, written for children, chosen by children, or chosen for children. As far as its genres are concerned, on the basis of methodology, tone, subject, or length of children's books, this literature can be categorised into six major genres: picture books (board books, pattern books, concept books, and wordless books), traditional literature (myths, fables, ballads, folk music, legends, and fairy tales), fiction (fantasy and realistic fiction), non-fiction, biography or autobiography, and poetry (Anderson, 2006). On the basis of the different interests of children's ages 1-18, this can be divided further as picture books for pre-readers ages 1-5, Early Reader Books with the purpose of developing reading skills for children aged 5-7, chapter book for children aged 7-11, and young-adult fiction for children aged 13-18 (Jordan, 1998). This kind of division can differ from one country to another due to the differences in language skills of non-native speakers. In the world literature, there is a long list of such writers who are constantly writing in all these genres for children. In this context, J K Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Horowitz, Lauren Child, Raymond Briggs, are some noteworthy figures. In the beginning of our Indian English literature, writers have knowingly or unknowingly focused on it. Many children-centric works can be credited to Rabindranath Tagore, R K Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, etc. With the purpose of having a discussion on a new literary history of post-independence Indian English literature, Makarand Paranjape tries to draw a picture of contemporary children's literature in Indian English. He writes:
The rise of children's literature has been phenomenal. Several writers including Margaret Bhatty, Monisha Mukundan, Sirgun Srivastava, Swapna Datta, Loveleen Kacher, and Geetha Dharmarajan have enjoyed great success. Both Penguin and HarperCollins India have created new imprints exclusively for children. Finally, the boom has allowed a lot more of Indian fiction to be translated into English than ever before. Some of the newer writers widely available in English now include Nirmal Verma, Srilal Shukla, Rahi Masoom Raza (Hindi), U R Anantha Murthy and K Purnachandra Tejasvi (Kannada), Vilas Sarang (Marathi), Gopinath Mohanty (Oriya), O V Vijayan (Malayalam), and several others. (1054) .
At this point, it is remarkable that the Indian independence movement and the great Indian figures who fought for the freedom of India, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, have much influence on Indian English literature (particularly on post-independence Indian English Literature). And children's literature in Indian English is not an exception. As far as Gandhi, 'the man who has something for everyone', is concerned, Indian children in the later part of the twentieth century learnt about him in a variety of ways. There are several books which are written in the different genres of children's literature. In the present paper, the selected books are being taken for the discussion with the purpose of looking at the writers' ways of bringing Gandhi to a child of today. It is interesting to examine how the authors retell his inspiring story so that he is not just part of a history lesson.
Bal Ram Nanda's Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography (1972) is known as the first pictorial biography of Gandhi. Historically important incidents and facts are enumerated into thirty four chapters including an index, and illustrated with contemporary black and white pictures, newspaper reports, facsimiles of letters, and cartoons. The chapters are titled as "Childhood", "Off to England", "Briefless Barrister", "In the 'Dark Continent'", "The Young Politician", "Satyagraha Struggle in South Africa", "The Making of Mahatma", etc. Language is predicative and full of long and complex sentences. The writer also uses comparative words at many places. A few lines from the book are given here:
In January 1948, before three pistol shots put an end to his life, Gandhi had been on the political stage for more than fifty years.... "Generations to come, it may be," Einstein had said of Gandhi in July 1944, "will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon earth."... He used a stone instead of soap for his bath, wrote his letters on little bits of paper with little stumps of pencils which he could hardly hold between his fingers...
The book can be taken as 'chapter book' for the age above 14 years. Similarly, Rajkumari Shanker's The Story of Gandhi (1969) can also be categorised as 'chapter book'. But, the language and style is slightly different from the earlier one. It can be suggested for 8 to 14 years. The writer narrates the story in simple sentences, and short and snappy style:
In a small, white-washed house in Porbandar, on the coast of Kathiawad in western India, Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869. His parents were Karamchand Gandhi and Putlibai. He was small and dark, and looked no different from the millions of other children born of India.
Reading biographical description of Gandhi's life in Sandhya Rao's Picture Gandhi (2007) can be an irresistible temptation for an early book reader (5- 7 ages). She not only uses the old black and white photographs of Gandhi with colourful hand-done elements in order to illustrate the facts, but also employs children-friendly language and style. She writes on the first page in the beginning of the book:
Once upon a time there was a man who lived a life so ordinary, he died without a paisa to his name. He was a man of peace who believed in the force of truth and love. / Once upon a time this man was a boy - a child like anybody else. / Gandhi was born in this house [illustrated with a photo of his house] on October 2.
In the book, thought balloons (a graphic convention used to allow words to be understood as representing the thought of a given character in the book) are also used to summarize different incidents of Gandhi's life. It seems these balloons peep into his mind. Rao has contributed two more books on Gandhi, i.e. The Story ofDandi March (1999) for children aged 8-11 and My Gandhi Scraphook (2007) for pre-readers aged 1-5. My Gandhi Scrapbook consisted of 'pictures cut and pasted, comments thrown in, something copied from somewhere, random thoughts, quibbles and scribbles'. It may be taken as 'wordless book'. There are some other books which contain inspiring stories of Gandhi. B Z Qudsia's Our Bapu (1955), M Meghani's Gandhi-Ganga (1968; tr. J M Verma), Uma Shanker Joshi's Stories from Bapu's Life (1973), S Sinha's Pinch of Salt Rocks (1985), Rita Roy's Everyone's Gandhi: A Collection of Gandhi Columns (1997), Ravindra Varma's Gandhi: A Biography for Children and Beginners (2001), Mrinalini Sarabhai's Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2007) are some noteworthy works.
Poetry and plays have also presented Gandhian subjects to children down through the years. Mulk Raj Anand's Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi (1991) has been an interesting book for children. The book is divided into fifteen scenes. Each scene reveals the greatness of Gandhi in dramatic dialogues. Scenes are 'placed in Sabarmati Ashram where Krishan Chander Azad comes down to earth from the elitist snobbery of Bloomsbury' (Anand 143).The book is a part of Anand's novel, And so He Plays His Part. Makhan Gupta's The Apostle of Non Violence: A Musical Drama (1987), Pratap Sharma's Sammy: A Play in Two Acts (2005), Premshankar Trivedi's Mahatma Gandhi (2001), etc. may be taken as some other remarkable dramatic presentations of Gandhian thoughts for children. As far as Gandhi's representation in Indian English poetry is concerned, it has been a difficult task to have a study on this topic. In this regard, M K Naik's remark is noteworthy:
It is surprising that the Gandhian whirlwind produced no outstanding poetry of any kind, though numerically the poetic scene remains as thickly populated as earlier.
B A Pathan in his book Gandhian Myth in English Literature in India (1996) also shares the same view (pg. 152-53). At this juncture, it really becomes a difficult task to find out some poetry for children in Indian English. However, collection of a few poems on Gandhi suggested by the Sarvodaya Mandal, Bombay is made visible on its website ( "Father of the Nation", "Mahatma Gandhi", "The Recipe", "Glory of India", "White Light", etc. are some noteworthy poems on the site for Indian children.
Different aspects of Gandhian ideology also find an indirect expression in different ways in different novels of Indian English novelists. Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable (1935) depicts Gandhian thought on the dignity of labour with the help of a young character Bakha. In R K Narayan's Waiting for the Mahatma (1995), Gandhi appears formally as the protagonist. He is at Malgudi. With the help of fictive characters like the orphan-girl Bharati and Sriram, Gandhian thoughts are expressed by the novelist.
Furthermore, there are few books on Gandhi which can be taken as children's literature by children. Understanding Gandhi through Cartoons (2009) compiled by Sharad Sharma is a book of that kind. Through this book, children have contributed many cartoons/ comics on Gandhi's life as well as on its relevance and importance in the present era. Certainly, this kind of innovative approaches towards Gandhi confirms his relevance and importance in the present context for the post-independence generation.

Reference Books:
  1. Anand, Mulk Raj. Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi: Arnold Publishers, 1991.
  2. Anderson, Nancy A. Elementary Children's Literature, Boston: Pearson Education, 2006.
  3. Bhatanagar, S K. Personal interview, 15 November, 2011.
  4. Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal/ Gandhi Research Foundation. Poems on Gandhi. Students Projects. Web. 21 Nov. 2011. (
  5. Jordan, Louise, How to Write for Children, London: Piatkus Books Ltd, 1998.
  6. Landsberg, M., Reading for the Love of It: Best Books for Young Readers, New York: Prentice- Hall, 1987.
  7. Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin, "Essentials: What is Children's Literature? What is Childhood?." Understanding Children's Literature, Ed. Peter Hunt. London: Routledge, 1998. pp. 15- 29.
  8. Naik, M. K., The History of Indian English Literature, New Delhi: Sahitya Academi, 1982.
  9. Nanda, B.R., Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography, New Delhi: Publication Division, 1972.
  10. Paranjape, Makarand, "Post-Independence Indian English Literature: Towards a New Literary History." Economic and Political Weekly 33, 18 (1998), pp. 1049-1056.
  11. Pathan, B.A., Gandhain Myth in English Literature in India, New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 2002.
  12. Rao, Sandhya, Picture Gandhi, Chennai: Tulika Publishers, 2007.
  13. Shanker, Rajkumari, The Story of Gandhi, New Delhi: Children's Book Trust, 1969.
  14. Trivedi, Harish, "Literary and Visual Portrayals of Gandhi," The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi, Ed. Judith M Brown and Anthony J Parel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
    pp. 199-218.
Source: Anasakti Darshan, Combined issues Vol. 7, No. 2 and Vol. 8, No. 1 (July 2011-June 2012)