British born Indian author Sonal Sachdev Patel, a graduate from Cambridge University, aims to express her culture in a modern and relevant way through her work. A mother of two daughters, she believes that it is important to have a spiritual understanding from a young age. “I feel spirituality is a huge asset as it guides us to make good choices and gives us a connection with the universal spirit,” says Patel, the co-author of Gita: The Battle of the Worlds, published by Harper Collins. The book is a modern day retelling of the Bhagwad Gita written together with journalist Jemma Wayne-Kattan. We speak to Patel to find out more about their book:
Why did you choose to work with the theme of the Bhagwad Gita?
I watched my mother read the Gita every single day since I was born. I saw what a special relationship she had with this text. When I read Paramahansa Yogananda’s interpretation, it gave me a new insight into the Gita that really inspired me. I wanted my children to have a connection with this holy scripture and see the relevance of it to their modern-day lives. That was what led me to wanting to create this new story, and that’s when I approached my childhood friend Jemma Wayne Kattan to collaborate on this new work.
Can you describe the modern day setting of your book?
It is exactly this modern day setting that was important to us. This combined with the ancient truths of the Gita made for a unique story. Our story begins with a young boy named Dev, who is consumed by grief after the tragic loss of his father. He’s angry, he’s lost, he’s lashing out at those around him. Until he meets a sprite like being named Sanjay who claims the incredible — that there is a battle raging inside his body.
Sanjay, then persuades Dev, to let him go inside his body and up his spine. He begins in total darkness at the bottom of the spine, then travels on a perilous journey through the chakras, which in meditation are known as centres of energy in the body. But in our story they become magical realms full of all sorts of creatures and challenges.
His mission is to find the noble warrior Arjun, leader of the good tendencies, and urge him to fight the leader of the bad tendencies, in order to help bring peace to the struggling boy, Dev.
Eventually, Sanjay reaches the famous point in the Gita — Krishna and Arjun together on the battlefield with the impending war about to take place. Krishna resplendent on his chariot. Arjun strong, but hesitating.
Through these two parallel stories — the emotional turmoil of Dev’s life, and the adventure that is taking place within him — we see some of the important messages in the Gita play out, and also how the internal self and the external life, we inhabit are inextricably linked.
Why will the book appeal to kids and young adults?
The story of the book is engaging and interesting itself, regardless of whether the reader has an interest in the Bhagwad Gita. This was something that was important to us from the start, the story should be a compelling one that the children would choose to read. It had to be exciting in its own right and then we could weave the special messages of the Gita through the characters and the story itself.
On one level, it could be read as simply a magical adventure, but on another, it would introduce children to some of the concepts from the Gita. Children may not understand all of these ideas at once, but there would be a beginning, a basis for discussion with parents, and a chance to appreciate these ideas on deeper levels as the child grows.
Has working your book changed your view towards spirituality in any way?
I am so glad you use the word spirituality as that feels very universal, which is exactly the message that we wanted to bring out in this book.
Many of the core concepts in the Gita such as meditation, karma, duty are valuable for all humanity. It has been wonderful to see the interest in this book from people of all religions. I think a good story and a good message appeal to everyone regardless of whether they consider themselves religious or spiritual.