Today I am honored to introduce to you author Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of India’s legendary spiritual and political leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi has written a children’s book, Grandfather Gandhi with co-author Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk.
I was so excited to be able to talk with Arun by email. He exemplifies the caring and wisdom of his grandfather. However, as he shares in his book, patience was not always his strong feature. As a child he had to compete for attention among the many people who daily surrounded his grandfather. Arun struggled with childhood things such as occasional fights with other boys on the playground and learning to write Gujarati. Life in India was different from South Africa where young Arun dreamed about Western movies.
Recently I have delved into the etiology of negative emotions such as anger and frustration. Why is violence so prevalent? One wonders how spiritual teachers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh could endure ridicule, hostility, even exile, yet be so unpretentious and truly peaceful.
The answer seems to lie within ourselves. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The interview is below:
SR: What made you want to write a book? Why a children’s book?
AG: I was twelve years old when I went to live with grandfather and some of the lessons he taught me were life changing. For more than 30 years I have been sharing these lessons with adults and they have always told me how important and inspiring these lessons have been. About 20 years ago I incorporated these lessons in a book for adults called Legacy of Love which was first published by a small time California publisher who went out of business so I took over the publication through my non-profit Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute. I sold over 50,000 copies of the book and the income is used to rescue and rehabilitate impoverished and exploited children in India.
I always felt these lessons should be shared with children but I don’t know how to write for children. Then 9/11 happened and the Unity Church in NYC invited me to come and speak and give New Yorkers a positive message. They had over 700 people packed in the auditorium, among them was a young lady called Bethany Hegedus. I shared the story of anger and how grandfather had always maintained that it was a good emotion to be used constructively rather than abuse it the way we do and cause grief. Bethany was impressed and some months later she wrote to me asking if I would consider working together on a book for children. I said yes. For 12 years we could not find a publisher then Simon and Schuster bought the manuscript and Grandfather Gandhi was born.
SR: I see that you are a journalist by training. How do you usually organize your material? Do you outline? Do you keep a personal journal? What is your writing process like?
AG: I am what people would call a disorganized writer. No, I don’t journal but I write from my heart which means I write and rewrite several times until I feel satisfied.
SR: You have been an established writer for many years: did having a “name” help in finding a publisher?
AG: No the name was not an advantage. If Grandfather Gandhi took 12 years, my biography of Grandmother: The Forgotten Woman, took more than 25 years. All the publishers wanted a manuscript on Grandfather but no one wanted to touch the book on Grandmother. Then in 1989 Ozark Mountain Publishers in Little Rock who specialized in spiritual books decided to take a chance on this one. It received no publicity nor reviews and so it was not available in book stores. Once again, I sold more than 50,000 copies over the year by selling them wherever I went to give a talk.
SR: What advice would you give to writers who are interested in publishing children’s books?
AG: I think a good artist is as important as a good manuscript. Publishers of children’s books like a book with a message but delivered in a subtle way without being preachy. The success of Grandfather Gandhi is shared by the artist Evan Turk. He was just 12 years old when we started writing the book and this book happened to be his first upon graduating from art school.
Thank you so much, Arun. Reading Grandfather Gandhi and speaking with you has been a privilege. I’m sure others will gain new insight into your grandfather’s life as well as yours. I feel that Grandfather Gandhi could be considered a spiritual memoir as well as a children’s book.
INFO: Arun Gandhi is president of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute and writes a blog for The Washington Post. He lives in Rochester, New York and travels the world doing speaking tours. You can listen to a wonderful talk by Mr. Gandhi here at the Cleveland City Club. I hope you will be as captivated and inspired by his true stories. I’m envisioning and holding an anger/resolution journaling class.
Bethany Hegedus lives in Austin, Texas and has a writing school called the Writer’s Barn. Artist Evan Turk lives in New York City, originally from Colorado. See his work at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
1) Try writing about your life in a format that would be suitable for a children’s book. How does this feel to you? What would you want to say to the world? Do you find writing from a child’s point of view is cathartic?
2) Do an interview with an author. Describe the process from beginning to end. Include all the details. Please don’t hesitate to share here. All are welcome!