At 144 pages, The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow, isn’t so little, but its bold colours, big, bright characters and goofy explanations will leave you and your child wanting more.
Its author, Sanjay Patel, knows how to captivate his audience through his art. As an animator for the successful Pixar Studios in California (where he worked on Monsters Inc., Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles, among others), Patel is well trained in creating captivating candy-coloured images “without selling [his] soul for cheap jokes”.
He began drawing images of Hindu gods as a response to his two-year-old nephew’s nursery: “His walls were covered with images of Winnie-the-Pooh, but I thought he should have something of his own culture. There was nothing cute and cuddly that could adorn his walls. So I started doodling.”
Soon, encouragement from his wife led to a self-published book. When American friends and co-workers, unfamiliar with the Hindu pantheon, started responding with curiosity, Patel felt encouraged to sign a contract with Plume Publishers and include more saffron, purple and green gods, and warriors and demons. Patel then trooped to his parents and the library for stories about the gods, and the happy result was 144 pages of Hindu deities.
For Patel, a California native, the book turned out to be more than an exercise in publishing—it became a way of learning about his heritage. He also appreciates the idea that he can contribute Indian images to the world that go beyond traditional stereotypes like Abu in The Simpsons.
Patel’s imagination transforms even the most hideous of gods into wide-eyed innocents, perfectly poised to segue into a Disney cartoon and be mass-marketed as cuddly, stuffed toys. Even the writing manages to maintain that fine balance between sickly-sweet cartoon-ese for the young—“Shiva has long hair, but he is not a girl. He just doesn’t like haircuts”—and smirking irony for the parents: “He’s still a responsible father aside from that time he cut off Ganesha’s head.”
Patel insists he’s content with just the book, but the gods, especially Ganesha and his requisite mice pals, beg to be made into a movie. Of course, a plot would be needed. Patel preferred to add just a short biography for each entry: “Just enough to serve as an appetizer,” he says.
And a delicious appetizer it is: a fun, light-hearted primer, perfect as a beginner’s course for children and a refresher course for parents.