Inni Kaur's Journey With The GurusA Book Review by RUBIN PAUL SINGH
JOURNEY WITH THE GURUS, by Inni Kaur. Illustrated by Pardeep Singh, Edited by Manjyot Kaur. Sikh Educational & Cultural Foundation, Norwalk, CT, U.S.A., 2010. Fulll-page color illustrations, hardover, pp 172, $28.95. ISBN # 978-0-9827224-0-4.
I've always been a history buff ... a Sikh history buff, that is!
I would take every opportunity I could to listen to a saakhi about our rich history. But as a child growing up in the US, I rarely found books that could truly reflect the wonder and beauty of the Gurus' lives. The history books I read were published in the early 70's, and although now I can appreciate what hard work it must have taken to translate Sikh history for children into a foreign language - at the time, I had no interest in reading these books. The stories were hard to understand, the dialogue seemed unrealistic, and for whatever reason ... they didn't speak to me.
Inni Kaur's Journey with the Gurus is a series of short stories about Guru Nanak's life, followed by discussion points where the author suggests ideas and principles to emphasize while reading with your child.
I've been blessed with an opportunity to preview Journey with the Gurus along with my family, and I can say for all of us ... this is a book that speaks to us!
It only took me a couple of stories for me to notice what was different about this book. Although the major events in these short stories have been told for centuries, the author however transports us to the time of the Guru, and lets us into the dialogue in between these events, as though we were sitting as witnesses, watching history unfold.
For example, we all know the saakhi where young Nanak refused to wear the Hindu janeu - a string band worn diagonally by Brahmins from the shoulder down - but what was going through his mind that morning while family and friends were gathering for the event to initiate him into the janeu?
We know the saakhi of Guru Nanak's disappearance for three days in the River Bein, but what were the locals thinking during those three days? How did Bebe Nanaki feel? Where did Bhai Mardana think his friend had gone?
And what was the mood like that early morning when Guru Sahib and Bhai Mardana left for their first udaasi (great journey)?
Journey with the Gurus takes us there and let's us experience history.
These stories introduce me to personalities I had heard of but never fully appreciated - the chief of Talwandi, Rai Bular; the Governor of Sultanpur, Nawab Daulat Khan Lodhi; and the close friendship Guru Nanak had with his brother-in-law, Jairam.
But of all these relationships, it was the one with his older sister, Bebe Nanaki, that I connected with the most. I've always heard that Guru Sahib and Bebe Nanaki were very close and she was a supporting and loving sister. And as per tradition, she is proudly known as the first Sikh of the Guru, but as much as she was an influence in his life, very little is written about her.
Journey with the Gurus does justice to this very special relationship by including her throughout the entire book. I especially enjoyed the dialogue they shared shortly after Guru Sahib came to stay with Nanaki and Jairam in Sultanpur, reminiscing about their childhood:
"Vir, do you remember the hopscotch game we always played?"
"Hopscotch game?" asked Jairam.
"Bhraa ji, you don't want to know all the things that she made me do. And to top it off, she always won at hopscotch," said Nanak, laughing and shaking his head.
In another conversation, Nanaki expresses concern over Guru Sahib going to the river by himself early in the mornings. After Jairam kindly suggests that Nanak should decide these things for himself, she replies:
"Yes, dearest, you are right. I sometimes forget that my little brother is all grown up now."
It was amazing to hear Guru Sahib and Bebe Nanaki interact in a way that a younger brother and protective older sister typically would ... something so many of us can relate to.
There were some other subtle messages I found quite powerful. Like when Lakhmi Das was born, Guru Nanak and Mata Sulakhani ji's second child, the author mentions how "Sulakhani's parents came as quickly as they could to see their new grandson." And how Mehta Kalu ji speaks so gently about his daughter-in-law, referring to her as a "kind and loving wife", and Mata Tripta ji chiming in: "I am so glad to see that Sulakhani is looking after her children very well."
I found the tone of these conversations refreshing and quite different from what I've read before or would have expected, given the cultural norms of the time.
Some may feel that Inni Kaur has taken some creative liberty with these stories, and may ask, "How do we know this all really happened?" To that, my response would be, "How do we know it did not?"
The major events in the stories have been retold in a creative way in modern language, but the facts as we traditionally know them are still intact. As for all the dialogue in between, I wonder why wouldn't Guru Sahib and Bebe Nanaki converse like any other brother and sister would? Why wouldn't Jairam facilitate Guru Sahib's move to Sultanpur to help his in-laws out, and re-unite his wife with her brother? And why wouldn't Mehta Kalu ji and Mata Tripta ji admire their daughter-in-law for being a good wife and mother?
I mean ... Guru Sahib was such a progressive thinker and way ahead of his time; he preached equality, kindness, compassion - and influenced the masses by doing so - why couldn't such conversations take place?
Reading such a different perspective to these saakhis is like reading Sikh history for the first time. I'm glad to see the book is labeled "Volume One", because I can't wait to read the discourse between Guru Nanak and Bhai Lehna, or the conversations between Bhai Gurdas and Guru Arjan on the bank of Ramsar while scribing the Guru Granth Sahib.
And, of course, the precious dialogue between Mata Gujri ji and her four grandsons.
What I appreciate most about this book is how engaged our children were while reading it - whether it was the beautiful illustrations that kept our little ones sneaking a peek into the next page or the discussions we had afterwards that would go on past bedtime.
It was that little personal connection they created with Guru Nanak that I found so special.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Thank you, Inni Kaur, for introducing us to the simple unfolding of our beautiful history. My children and I hungrily look forward to the next volume so we can continue our Journey with the Gurus ...
Watch the Homepage of sikhchic.com for the book-launch on October 15, 2010.
October 5, 2010
Conversation about this article
1: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), October 05, 2010, 11:53 AM.
Thank you, Rubin Paul Singh ji, for a wonderful review. As aptly described by you, this book transports the young and the old together to the time and space of the Guru Sahib. This work has been long awaited ... it fills the gaping hole of awe-inspiring bed time stories for Sikh children of the North American subcontinent ... nay, all the English speaking children of the world. Guaranteed to replace 'Disney's Bed Time Stories' in every Sikh home with children: your children are going to ask for it. The quality of content, illustrations and thought process it invokes makes it a masterpiece. It could be a perfect activity for your family time by the fireplace or a Sunday gurmat school story-telling session. I encourage all parents to get their copy for the upcoming gurpurab of Guru Nanak Sahib.
2: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), October 05, 2010, 12:03 PM.
Where can we buy this book? I have a four year old and can't wait to expose him to this wonderful tool for learning Sikh history. Rubin Paul Singh ji, just like you, I too grew up reading the Sikh History books by Hemkunt Press. Although since I was born and raised in India, I could probably relate to their idiom and cultural expressions better. Thank you for this wonderful review.
3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 05, 2010, 4:13 PM.
I have worked out precisely (well almost) when T. Sher Singh Ji would make new offerings on sikhchic.com. I wait in the wee hours and it never fails to work its magic. As a kid, I remember that whenever we were offered sweets, we would take bets among ourselves, who would be the one to make the sweet last the longest. I got transported back to those lovely childhood days once again. Inni, you have held my hand again to walk me on this lovely trip. There was another book that I foolishly lost. Since then, I have a short notice displayed in my libary: "I do not lend books as all these books have been borrowed from others." This particular book was published by Hemkunt Press, New Delhi on the life of Guru Nanak with beautiful pictures and short descriptions. It was published both in Punjabi and English. I was so taken by it that I wanted it turned into a slide presentation to be shown at the Youth Camps. Someone offered to help and I lost both the book and the friend. It never came back. Once again, Inni ji has answered that prayer. By way of blessings, may I share the shabad that immediately came to mind and would also serve as an incomparable review: "Taidee bandas mai ko-ay no dithaa too Nanak man bhaanaa/ Ghol ghummay-ee tis mittar vichololay jai mil kant pachaanaa" - [GGS:964.4] - "I have not seen any other like you. You alone are pleasing to Nanak's mind/ I am dedicated and a devoted sacrifice to that friend, that mediator, who leads me to recognize my Husband Lord." Bless you, Inni ji. (May I also nominate Sher ji, the incomparable editor for The Chic Sikh of the Year?) [Editor: T. Sher Singh is disqualified ... for many reasons.]
4: Juspreet Kaur (U.S.A.), October 06, 2010, 9:31 AM.
Great book review. I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to share this book with my family. You are so right that the books available to us as children were English translations of Punjabi texts, with awkward words and idiom and very little awe-inspiring spirit. The prospect of an entire book to dive into is very exciting indeed!
5: Jujhar Singh (Chandgarh, Punjab), October 06, 2010, 11:19 PM.
I have just heard the singing by Raveena on Guru Nanak. The rendering of the glory of Guru Nanak is simply beautiful. God bless her.
6: Parveen Kaur Dhillon (Redwood City, California, U.S.A.), October 07, 2010, 2:08 AM.
Excellent review, Rubin. I too am very impressed with the book - not just its content, but with the quality, literally from cover to cover. So often, I feel like we have lower quality expectations when it comes to books about Sikhi and our Sikh history. I applaud Inni Kaur for making sure that the book is not just amazing on the inside, but a book I can be proud to display around my house or share with my non-Sikh friends. I have three young kids and not only do I enjoy sitting with them and reading the book, I love discussing the talking points with them and associating the stories to our daily life today. Though I did read the stories to my kids myself, I wanted to point out that my oldest child - who is 8 - loves reading it on his own and completely comprehends what he is reading. "Journey with the Gurus" is a strong and attractive book, filled with amazing stories about our powerful history. Thank you for making a book for parents like me to share with my kids.
7: Harjeet Kaur Randhawa (Sydney, Australia ), October 07, 2010, 8:59 PM.
'Journey With The Gurus' is a great book which will be enjoyed not only by the children but also those adults who may want to recapture the magic moments of their childhood when an older relative related these awe-inspiring sakhis. Inni appears to have gone to great lengths to make sure that this book will especially appeal to young minds and I couldn't wait to get off the plane to show it to my grand-children. The sakhis have been related in a way that they will capture the imagination of the young ones with the dialogue, making them even more interesting. This book reminds me of the Bible stories we used to read at school and I remember being truly captivated by the illustrations. On my trips to India, I remember scouting around bookshops for suitable books on the lives of the Gurus but they never held the same appeal for them as Inni's 'Journey With The Gurus' because the terminology used was beyond the children's comprehension and illustrations didn't do much either. Good work, Inni. We will anxiously wait for the next one.
8: Jasmine Kaur (San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.), October 15, 2010, 11:19 AM.
I just received this book yesterday and read it in one sitting and it is FANTASTIC. As an educator, I would recommend all Gurmat and Punjabi/ Khalsa schools to have it in your classrooms. Not only is it good for reading to the kids, but some of the older kids would read it themselves and find it captivating. I am eagerly waiting for the next one. Wonderful job, Inni Bhainji!
9: Taavi Kaur (New York City, U.S.A.), October 15, 2010, 11:27 AM.
I just finished reading 'Journey With The Gurus' and thought the stories were told so well and the accompanying illustrations really put the book over the top. This is exactly the kind of book that I would have wanted as a kid and think it is a must for every household!
10: Amrit Kaur (New York, U.S.A.), October 15, 2010, 12:54 PM.
I recently received the book and read it cover to cover while smiling ear to ear. I, like most, have heard/ read the stories a thousand times. But never like this. The stories come alive so vividly, being so beautifully illustrated, so that kids can relate to them in a very real manner. I am a mother of three kids and would recommend it to everyone (Sikh or non-Sikh). I was overjoyed with the presentation (both content and illustrations). My seven-year-old reads it as a chapter book each day and puts it in her reading log. The younger one wants to bring it to 'show and tell'. It enables a dialogue with the younger ones with really helpful pointers and guidance. From my point of view, the Sikh community needs more books like this. My sincere compliments to Inni Kaur for sharing her talents with us all. We eagerly await Volume Two.
11: Narvin Anand (Westport, CT, U.S.A.), October 15, 2010, 7:30 PM.
When I saw the book 'Journey with the Gurus', my immediate reaction was very selfish: Why was not there a book like this when my children were growing up! But then I told myself it is not too late and I am thrilled it is available for our children now. I like the way Inni Bhainji has tried for children not only to read the book, but in fact have a journey with the Gurus. My children are grown up and are no longer at the "read to" stage. But I will read to them anyway and have my own journey with the Gurus. Inni Bhainji, proud of you. Great seva to the panth. Waiting for volume 2 eagerly.
12: Pritam Singh (San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.), October 16, 2010, 5:23 AM.
We just received Inni Kaur's 'Journey With The Guru'. My wife and I finished the book in one sitting. What we like most is the discussion points for parents/ kids and the Saakhi reader/ teller. Highly recommended. The paintings are very attractive. A great quality book. Congratulations to Inni for doing such a great job. We look forward to the next volume.
13: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), October 19, 2010, 12:00 PM.
Very nice book! Read it only yesterday ... I recommend it highly!
14: Ek Ong Kaar Khalsa (Espanola, New Mexico, U.S.A.), October 27, 2010, 12:33 PM.
This weekend, I had the chance to curl up on my couch with your book, 'Journey with the Gurus'. It is truly a beautiful work. The illustrations are gorgeous. I especially love the illustration with young Nanak and his sister Nanaki. You have created a world for your readers to enter, to feel the reality of the life that Guru Nanak must have lived. What struck me the most, though, is the tremendous kindness with which the people in the story treat each other. There is so much warmth, so much loving-kindness, so much tenderness. I remember Yogi Harbhajan Singh ji once saying that God lives in cozy homes. You have created such a cozy world with your telling that I feel a very Divine and uplifting presence in the stories. It is sweet and healing. It is the ethos of Guru Nanak pouring through your writing. Respect, love, family, taking care of each other, treating each other right, praying and meditating. The feeling that comes through your words is a lesson in what Sikhi is all about. Thank you for sharing this beautiful work with the world. I pray for your continued health and happiness, so that you may write many many more volumes just like this one.
15: Priya Advani (Atlanta,Georgia, U.S.A.), November 05, 2010, 1:31 PM.
What wonderful reviews! Where can I order two copies of this book for our family?
16: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), November 05, 2010, 6:40 PM.
Books can be ordered on www.journeywiththegurus.com
17: Palkin (Mumbai, India), December 20, 2010, 10:39 PM.
Very nice book. More than me, my Papa likes to read it everyday. Very helpful book for all ages.
18: Atamjit Singh (India), November 06, 2011, 11:20 AM.
Would like to do a review of the book for a publication.