Indian Heritage to Combat “Enron Ethics”
Acclaimed author Robert Arnett's new series of richly illustrated children's books aims to sow a moral backbone with lessons harvested from his extensive travels in India.
Reviewed By Parthiv N. Parekh
By Robert Arnett
Illustrations by Smita Turakhia
Atman Press, Columbus, Georgia.
Our two-year-old cannot get enough of Finders Keepers? This otherwise restive child can loose himself consummately in the rich, colorful illustrations on every page. Gazing at the brilliant two-page spread of one such illustration of a temple on a hilltop, he joins his hands in the gesture of jai-jai or namaste.
If the book can do this for a toddler, imagine what it offers to an older child capable of reading as well. Finders Keepers? has a captivating story to go along with the magical pictures.
It is the first in a series of illustrated books called India Unveiled: Children's Series by Robert Arnett, a Georgia based writer and an Indophile who is widely recognized in the community for his award winning coffee-table classic, India Unveiled (reviewed in Khabar, April 2002).
Arnett's reverence for India's spiritual and cultural heritage shines through in his prior book and has been the impetus behind this children's series as well. Fed up with the "Enron Ethics" of contemporary times, he seeks with this series to instill a foundation of a moral backbone in children so that they can resist the temptations they are bombarded with in a materially driven media and corporate world.
In this aspect, the series promises to be no less engaging and central to Indian literature than the classic parables such as the Panchatantra and others. The only distinction though is that unlike the fictional source of the parables, Arnett's books will be based on his true-life experiences in India.
Finder's Keepers?, for example, is based on a defining experience that he had when in Rajasthan. While visiting a temple, he managed to lose his wallet at one of the roadside vendor's shops. Not yet aware of it, he was stopped by a young boy who had happened to find it and wanted to return it to him. Touched by his honesty in returning a wallet that contained more money than the boy could have dreamt of, Arnett proceeded to offer him a reward; but the boy refused ? conveying that he couldn't possibly accept a reward for returning what was not his to begin with.
The combination of narrative and illustrations is right on the mark in Arnett's book. A simple but profound message is conveyed so that it makes a deep impression on the young minds ? more so than a preachy statement admonishing them against keeping something that doesn't belong to them.
For Indian parents who hope to introduce India to their American born children, the book does even more. The central message is delivered in the midst of descriptive settings and details that bring out many nuances of the territory and its culture. Describing a scene while traveling by bus in Rajasthan, Arnett talks about a heavily mustached Rajasthani man who pulled out chapattis from his turban. "I had never seen anyone using a turban and his head as a lunchbox," says the author.
Needless to say, the book would be pale without Smita Turakhia's vivid illustrations that truly lend much character to it. My only jovial "criticism" is that Mr Arnett's picturization lacks verisimilitude. I wonder if Ms Turakhia was recruited on the condition of depicting him as someone who appears less than half his age.
Bound in hardcover with 34 original illustrations on acid-free archival paper, the production is impeccable. A glossary, pronunciation chart, self-help guide, and an index make this a user-friendly book for those not acquainted or barely acquainted with Indian nuances and terminology. n
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