Mummy, Why did Rama send Sita to the forest if he loved her?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Like all good stories, the Ramayana is multi-valent, speaking on many levels and in many tongues. It also speaks directly to children, even without our interventions. What changes when we write for children? How self-conscious do we need to be? What are we afraid of when we write for them -- that they will understand too little or too much? What do children expect from a story and can we, as adults, deliver that? These and other concerns are foregrounded when one retells a beloved and complex tale like the Ramayana for younger readers. Given that the ownership of the Ramayana has been politicized in our times, it becomes critical to ensure that a new generation of Indians engages with this story that underpins the majority culture in India. Is children's literature an appropriate site to address issues of inclusion and exclusion? How do we negotiate our own anxieties and aspirations when we speak to children?

Arshia Sattar has a Ph.D. from the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. She has worked with the Valmiki Ramayana for 30 years. Her critically acclaimed translation of the Valmiki Ramayana is published as a Penguin Classic. Penguin also published her collection of essays, "Lost Loves: Exploring Rama's Anguish" which read the Ramayana as a tragic love story. Her translation of Valmiki's Uttara Kanda, "Uttara: The Book of Answers" will be published by Penguin in November. "The Ramayana for Children" is her fourth book for young readers and is published by Juggernaut.