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Today is International Day of Non-violence...



MARCHING TO FREEDOM
Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta
Illustrator: Tapas Guha
Publisher: Pratham Books, India


Age Group: 11-14 years

For today's children Gandhi is just a face on our currency note or a picture in a dull history book. But what he stood for is something that I feel all children should value —tolerance and non-violence. - Subhadra Sen Gupta

Ample reason to write a book on Mahatma Gandhi for children. And today seems adequate enough to review this book from Pratham Books.

The setting is the Sabarmati Ashram in the western state of Gujarat in India, which Gandhi and his followers called home during the Freedom Struggle in India. Dhani is a 9 year old boy being raised in the ashram by his Gandhian parents. Dhani also seems to be responsible for taking care of Binni, the goat, who is his incessant companion and whose milk seems to be a part of Gandhi's morning diet.

Dhani is portrayed as a cheery little boy skipping around the ashram premises, inquisitive, eager to know, and quizzical. Dhani senses a plan brewing in the ashram and the tale kicks off with his attempts to find out more about it. Persistent as he is, Dhani learns from his mother of a march near the sea and learns a lot more from Bindha, also a resident working in the garden. Bindha neatly lays out the details and discloses Gandhi's idea of walking across Gujarat with his men, to a coastal place called Dandi to make salt.

It is but natural for Dhani to innocently clarify "Why will they make salt? You can buy it in every shop! Walking for a month! Why don't they take a bus or train to Dandi instead?" Questions that children might echo.This is when Binda explains the salt tax and the restraint to make sea salt imposed by the British, and the purpose of the march as a form of non-violent protest.

Impressed by Gandhi's ideas and motivated by the unfairness of the issue, Dhani is eager to participate, eager enough to follow Gandhi during his morning walk the next day to get his permission to join him. The simple yet well-chosen explanation that Gandhi adopts in order to convince Dhani to happily stay home completes the fiction.

The two pages of simple facts on the Dandi March of 1930 that flagged off the Non Cooperation Movement in India probably makes the book appropriate for the 11-14 years age group as the book claims. The book itself was written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the event.

I talk a lot to children in schools and I found that though they like historical fiction, they dislike history!, shares the author who bears a reputation for creating historical fiction. Her resume includes a list of well-known publishers, and same is the case with the illustrator Tapas Guha. The sugar coated presentation of a piece of Indian history that teaches non-violence undoubtedly deserves our appreciation. This book also seems to be a part of a series called "Once upon an India".


I seem to be stumbling upon books on Mahatma Gandhi lately, and I think this post will be a befitting place to add pointers to them for it may help parents around the world to introduce to children the ideas of non-violence and tolerance. And needless to say, a great leader such as Mahatma Gandhi.

A man called Bapu also from Pratham Books
Picture Gandhi - Tulika Publishers

AND My Gandhi Scrapbook - Tulika Publishers, both available here