Nanak: The Guru by Mala Dayal. Illustrations by Arpana Caur
Book review: Nanak: The Guru by Mala Dayal. Illustrations by Arpana Caur. Rupa. Pages 48. Rs 195. Distinctive strokes Punam Khaira Sidhu
Nanak: The Guru as a parent of one teenager and one tweenie (pre-teen), I am often concerned by their lack of interest in reading books. Television and video games dominate their leisure time. If this generation is to be weaned away from their plasma screens and I-pods, the subject has to be a visual treat strong enough to grab their eyeballs and the text has be pithy and brief.
Mala Dayal, the author who has been involved with developing, selecting, editing and writing material for children for over 30 years, has clearly imbibed this lesson well because, in this collaboration with Arpana Caur, the artist, she achieves near perfection. The Ardas offered by every Sikh is to invoke Lord’s blessings to bless him with the strength and the will to read and listen to the scriptures, "Bani padhan te sunan da bal bakhsho", which is indeed a fine introduction to the Guru’s legacy for a child.
In the space of 48 pages, most of the Janamsakhis associated with Guru Nanak Devji’s life find a place in this book in a language that is simple and lucid, yet conveys the essence of the Guru’s life and teachings through its simplicity. The prose is used as an effective medium for the Guru’s message.
The teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs who laid the foundation of the fine traditions of langar and exhorted people to rise above caste and material considerations because they were all children of one God, are as relevant today as they were when He composed the Japji Sahib, Asa di Var and Mul Mantra beneath the early morning sky in Kartarpur in the 1500s.
This is a book a child or an adult can read in one sitting, yet gain a pleasing insight into the life of a visionary and a leader of men of all faiths. The author puts it succinctly through the saying "Baba Nanak Shah Fakir, Hindu ka Guru, Musalman ka Pir".
Who is Mala Gayal?
Mala Dayal, who is publisher Ravi Dayal’s wife, has dedicated the book to her father, the celebrated author Khushwant Singh, for whom this was a surprise Baisakhi gift this year. Caur’s painting of the Guru Granth Sahib, protecting her grandfather and carrying his belongings in a sack from Pakistan in her "Partition Series" has always been a personal favourite.
The visuals in this book are in Caur’s trademark style of stocky figures with their strong folk motif underpinnings, the colours rich and textured to complement the elegant pared down text. The mala and khadava of the Guru have been used as a leitmotif throughout.
When I first browsed through Roopinder Singh’s Guru Nanak—His Life and Teachings, also by Rupa, my immediate reaction was: "Here’s a Collectors Edition at paperback prices". I remember buying several copies for NRI friends and family, who look forward to books, which will introduce their children to the Gurus and indeed to the Sikh faith and maryada.
Mala Dayal’s Guru Nanak is another book in the same genre, though for a younger audience. It has evocative illustrations. As a parent, it is my sincere hope that this collaboration of author and artist will not stop at this single volume.