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Monday, April 20, 2015

Grandfather Gandhi

Grandfather Gandhi

by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus
illustrated by Evan Turk
published by Simon and Schuster


Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi, gave a talk that Bethany Hegedus attended, just after she was trying to find her bearings post-9/11. She was immediately inspired by the stories, one in particular about channeling anger; she wanted to bring it to the kids. So, she wrote to Arun Gandhi and thus the literary collaboration was born to bring us this amazing book that offers multiple layers and lessons.

And, Evan Turk was only 12 years old when the collaboration began. By the time the book was acquired for publication about a decade later, Turk had fortuitously graduated from the Parsons School of Design in NYC and presented the winning sample that completed the book's visual presentation.

The story is set in Gandhiji's Sevagram where 12-year old Arun arrives for a visit. He is nervous about his much-revered grandfather and resents that the life there is without electricity or plumbing, and that the food is just bland boiled pumpkin. But most of all, he resents that he has to share his grandfather with so many people who always surround him.

When playing a soccer match with the local kids at the Sevagram, Arun is shoved by an older boy, making him miss the goal. An infuriated Arun picks up a rock with full intention of using it, to return the hurt that the older boy had inflicted, inadvertently or not. Arun imagines the puzzled stares of his fellow players wondering how, being Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, he could get so angry. This is the turning point in the story that leaves us with a lasting lesson.

When Arun finally gets to talk to Mahatma about this incident, full of guilt and shame, Gandhiji surprises him by saying that he gets angry too, and that anger is like electricity. "Anger can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two. Or it can be channeled, transformed. A switch can be flipped and it can shed light like a lamp." Arun is amazed at the realization that when his grandfather gets angry, he doesn't lash out but works to make lasting changes. "...anger can illuminate. It can turn darkness into light."

The illustrations are full of emotion, bold, raw, and complex, brilliantly complementing the story and bringing symbolic imagery. The mixed media collage uses fabric for clothing Gandhiji and Arun in the pictures- clean, white and simple; the communal eating scene has shiny foil for pitchers and plates and utensils; Arun's anger when he picks up the rock comes across as a tangled mass of black yarn, writhing, vicious. The page showing a fluffy strand of fiber being spun into yarn in a charka, with threads everywhere and people laying down, with the charka spokes making them look like the Vitruvian man is a favorite as well.

Both the seven and ten year old really liked this book and its message. "Why did Arun pick up that rock?" is a question they kept asking, not wanting to believe Arun was capable of hitting someone with it. "Why did they not have electricity? Why did they eat only pumpkin mush? Why did his dad have to clean everybody's toilet?" While they did not grow up with a reverence and affection for the Mahatma like I did, they have heard enough stories about him from me regarding Indian Independence Movement that they were happy to see the softer, familial side of this person who is larger-than-life even today.

[image source: http://www.grandfathergandhi.com/book/]

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