Launching Vol III of Inni Kaur‘s "Journey With The Gurus" - Book Review by BANNO KAUR BAJAJ & GITIKA KAUR BAJAJ
A Review by Mother & Daughter
JOURNEY WITH THE GURUS, Volume 3, by Inni Kaur, Illustrated by Pardeep Singh, Edited by Manjyot Kaur. Sikh Educational and Cultural Foundation, USA, 2014. English, hardcover, colour illustrations.
A MOTHER-TEACHER’S REVIEW
Banno Kaur Bajaj
As a teacher I have always had a problem with the paucity of good quality material to bring into the classroom to teach the children about the lives of the Gurus.
The books I have found so far were either too complex and wordy, full of bombastic language and unrealistic portrayals, or others in which the text format was so dense that I would lose the attention of my class in a couple of minutes.
What is refreshing about Inni Kaur’s rendition of Guru Nanak’s journey is that the story is not only told simply and beautifully, it is also accompanied by wonderful (albeit old school ) illustrations. Through these the children can enter the world of the Guru.
A world which is otherwise very distant for them; removed not only by time but also physical space. Some of my Sikh students have never visited Punjab or India, and others have been there only once in their lives of ten years or so.
The illustrations help them visualize this strange and unfamiliar world. What Baba Nanak’s village might have looked like, what a sadhu might look like and what Guru Sahib himself might have looked like. The unfamiliar becomes more familiar, enabling a deeper comprehension of the import of the shabads.
The map with the foot prints at the start of the book is wonderful, as it not only provides opportunities to discuss the lay of the land and the extent of the travels but also is a stunning, albeit simple reminder that these travels were made on foot.
What I find most refreshing about this retelling is that Inni kaur’s book humanizes Guru Nanak. It portrays him not only as a son but also a husband, father, brother and friend.
And just like the Guru, other characters in the book are also portrayed in a more human, full bodied way. This makes them more real, more concrete and hence a lot more memorable. They are neither caricatures, nor flat characters who are there as mere backdrop, but relevant and essential to the story.
It is their interactions with the Guru that provides the canvas on which his bani is painted.
For example. the book narrates in some detail Pitaji Mehta Kalu’s growth and transition. It explores the difficulty he had in letting his only son go, and his hesitation in revisiting his own expectations from him.
As a daughter, I can hear in his voice resonances of my own father, and as a mother, I empathize deeply with his concerns.
His hope that his son will soon return home to stay, that he would tire of his travels and want to set roots is so palpable, so understandable, and yet I think this is the only time I have thought of how he might have felt.
It took Pitaji time to understand who his son truly was, accept the role he was to play in history and the sacrifices that it would entail.
Isn’t that only natural?
How come no one’s mentioned it before?
At the risk of repeating myself I must say, what I really appreciate about the book is that it provides a context for the bani of Guru Nanak. In its context, embedded deep in the fiber of the story, the bani becomes easy to understand, rich and relevant.
Inni kaur also provides the shabads, both in their original format and in simpler English than many translations that we currently have. Throughout the text she keeps in sight the needs of her audience.
For once, they are not simply being asked to learn these shabads but also to understand them.
By providing the context they were embedded in, Inni is asking the children not only to understand the words of the Guru but the Guru himself.
Finally, I must congratulate Inni on the wonderful work she is doing to keep our history alive in the minds of the young ones.
Journey With the Gurus, Vol III, is not a sermon but a story, and as a teacher I can testify to the power of story.
* * * * *
A DAUGHTER-STUDENT’S REVIEW
Gitika Kaur Bajaj, 14
Yet, Journey With The Gurus, Vol III is much more than a mere story. It is a spiritual adventure.
The author’s writing style evokes empathy towards the characters in the story. I felt like I had travelled back in time and was with Guru Sahib himself.
I felt like I got to experience everything he went through and everything he learnt. I witnessed what he discovered and better understood his teachings.
This was one of the things I absolutely loved about the book!
Besides it's spiritual aspect, I found the book very educational. I got a deeper understanding of who Guru Nanak was and where he traveled. I found the story easy to read and its content suitable for all ages.
One part in particular I enjoyed reading was the chapter when Guru Nanak returned home to his family after many years.
As his visit was unexpected, Nanak’s family members were extremely happy and surprised to see him. His Mataji and Pitaji wanted him to settle down at home permanently and be with his family, who he had left seven years earlier.
I felt sad when Guru Sahib said that he could not stay for very long and that he felt compelled to carry out the Hukam.
I also really enjoyed reading about the old, lonely leper who was gradually withering away without anyone by his side, and no human contact. He was exiled from the village and lived a very isolated life.
When Guru Nanak visits the leper’s hut looking for a place to stay, he is perhaps the only visitor the leper has had in a very long time. It was neither magic nor a miracle that the leper regained his health. Guru Sahib reinstalled in him the belief that life is beautiful and totally worth living, and that everyone should embrace the good and bad in their lives.
I particularly enjoyed the way the author wrote about how the leper's health improved by this positive interaction with Guru Sahib. It seemed to be the latter’s energy that helped the leper regain his confidence and strength and a renewed lease on his love of life.
Even when the leper was healthy again, he did not return to the village that he had been exiled from during the time of his sickness. That was when he needed the most help and positive energy, but the people in his life refused to support him. Later, even though the villagers invited the leper back to the village, the leper declined their offer and decided that he would stay in his own hut on the edge of the village.
However, it would always be open to all who needed help, regardless of their religion. I think this was because of Guru Sahib’s help with his recovery and his support.
While the other villagers would only take in either a Muslim or a Hindu to stay in their homes, there would be no segregation on the basis of religion in the leper’s home.
I relished how the author conveyed the story for what it was, with no personal opinion intruding in the narrative. The story was told simply and with class, which made it a pleasure to read.
After reading the story, one thing that really stood out for me was how Guru Sahib told people of every religion to believe in Ik Oankar -- which is the universe's energy, not just a deity or an entity in man’s own image. He told us to look at everything Ik Oankar has given us and be grateful for these blessings.
Also, I loved the translations from the Guru Granth Sahib.
The simple and clear English translations helped convey Guru Nanak’s message effectively. Without these translations, the book would have been just a story, with them It became a lesson in Sikhi as well. They make the book spiritual.
But I also think the story is so charming that it will also be of interest to someone who isn’t a practising Sikh, or who doesn’t know Gurmukhi.
While reading this story I found that some words weren't translated and I had a difficult time with their meanings. I had to infer some parts. I wish that there would have been foot notes for these translations instead of having only a few, select translations included in the text.
I would also have preferred to have had the discussion points at the end of the book because having them after every chapter made the book seem more like a text book or an activity book vs. a story to enjoy individually. It therefore came across more as a group project for something like literature circles, that we do in school.
Other than that, I found the book insightful and enjoyable and would like to read more by Inni Kaur.
Banno is a school teacher, and has taught Grade 5 students at the Khalsa Community School in Brampton, Ontario, Canada for ten years. Her daughter Gitika is a 14-year-old Grade 8 student in Mississauga, Ontario. Like most teenagers, she likes listening to music and if there's spare time she reads. She loves to travel and explore different cultures and their cuisines. Her Mama was the first to introduce her to books by Inni Kaur.
For more info on the “Journey With The Gurus” series of books, including the latest release (Vol III), or purchase them, please CLICK here.
July 8, 2014
Conversation about this article
1: Ek Ong Kaar Kaur (Espanola, New Mexico, USA), July 08, 2014, 10:49 PM.
Wow - what wonderful reviews. Congratulations, Inni Kaur, on publishing this third volume of Guru Nanak's stories. You are doing something so wonderful and valuable for the community, and it is great to read how audience members of all ages are enjoying the stories.
2: Jaspal Singh Kohli (Mumbai, India), July 09, 2014, 5:10 AM.
Inni ji's deep involvement in the subject and in Sikhi, makes her pleasantly different and so accessible to our young generation to understand our Guru Sahib and His simple, universal message for the welfare of all mankind ... which is the crying need of the time..
3: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), July 09, 2014, 11:16 AM.
I have said it many times before and I must repeat it. No Sikh household should let it be devoid of this precious collection. If a Sikh parent will find time to read these stories at bedtime to their children, they will give their children an everlasting friend, guide and refuge in Guru Nanak. Their children will be never be alone in life.
4: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), July 09, 2014, 11:17 AM.
PS: Thank you, Banno ji and Gitika, for excellent reviews.
5: Gurpal Singh Bhuller (Chester, Virginia, USA), July 09, 2014, 9:52 PM.
This book is an excellent addition to the previous two volumes. The stories are well laid out. There are relevant shabads with explanations and the little exercises at the end of each story help to focus the mind of the young reader. Inni is to be commended for all her efforts.
6: Navi (Pennsylvania, USA), July 09, 2014, 9:52 PM.
A great addition to a very well written and illustrated series! I believe these are precious gifts to the next generation of Sikhs. A must for every Sikh home. They make for thoughtful, loving gifts. Inni ji, you are doing incredible seva for Sikh youth! Please keep these coming.
7: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 10, 2014, 6:03 AM.
Inni jio, what a handsome book, a child in your lap and telling him/her the stories of Guru Nanak. Takes me back to my own childhood with me in my mother's lap, she telling me saakhis I did not understand much but for the bliss of my mother's lap. That was the cradle that I was to remember the rest of my life. I lost her some three or four years later. Luckily my elder sister, Bhenji Amar, took her place and never left my hand. Bless you for such a priceless gift.
8: Harinder Singh (Bridgewater, New Jersey, USA), July 10, 2014, 6:41 AM.
I read the first story from Vol 3 to my kids Gani Kaur (5) and Jodha Singh (7). Jodha goes: "How can a brahmin see heaven when he can't even see what's behind him?" Inni bhain ji's retelling saakhis not only works for the intended audience, it impresses upon the young mind wonderfully! For all those who are like this labor of love: buy, gift, and fund them so that publication of the next volumes is possible.
9: Vidya Bhaktavatsalam (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), December 15, 2014, 7:13 PM.
A lovely pair of reviews! As a non-Sikh, unfamiliar with the stories of Guru Nanak, these reviews make me want to learn more and read the book. Gitika, I loved your description of the story of the leper and the "renewed lease of life" that the ostracized leper got after coming in contact with the Guru. Keep writing!