As an editor of children’s magazines for over fifteen years now, I’ve often featured interesting pieces on people who are inspiring and who make us feel like anything can be achieved if we set our minds to it. These features have mostly been done in the form of imaginary diaries, letters, comics and even posters, so children can easily relate to the stories of men and women who have made a mark and changed people’s thinking. However, more often than not, many of these chosen heroes have subsequently ended up revealing feet of clay, making me wonder if we really should cling to heroes in the twenty-first century.
Well, my head says we should not, but my heart says we should, which is why I’m happy to recommend a book about a man I have consistently looked up to across the years… Mahatma Gandhi. Sure, we know he was not a perfect man. We know he had a difficult relationship with his children; we know he had strange ideas on food; we know he made decisions that perhaps delayed our country’s freedom. But the fact remains that India still stands as an inspiration to the world, a shining example of the power of non-violence, only because of this man. Gandhi’s principles of non-violence are now widely recognized as the most sustainable and least harmful way to ensure social change.
But none of all this in the picture book I’d like to present, Grandfather Gandhi. A poignant child-centred portrait of the Mahatma written by his twelve-year-old grandson, Arun, the book gives us a wonderful and unusual perspective into Gandhi’s concept of Ahimsa. Arriving at Sevagram, the ashram where Gandhi lived as an old man, young Arun is overwhelmed both by his new lifestyle and his iconic grandfather. The story reaches its climax when Arun is tripped and injured during a soccer game. He is furious… so much so that he picks up a rock to hit the boy who tripped him! But “how could he – a Gandhi – be so easy to anger?”
Arun runs tearfully to his grandfather, and is surprised to know that Gandhiji gets angry too. His grandfather then lovingly explains to him that anger is like electricity: destructive as lightning or constructive as a force that can be channelled to power lamps. “Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light,” he explains. And that’s how the remarkable man imparts a message that his grandson has chosen to live by to this day.
Striking collage-like visuals in watercolour, gouache, cut paper and fabric convey the story as expressively as the words, adding rich symbolic meaning to the book.
Grandfather Gandhi is a must-read picture book that weaves an extraordinary portrait of a man, a grandfather, and a mahatma.