This is a book parents have been waiting for, particularly Sikh parents raising their children in multicultural societies. Sakhi-Time with Nani ji creates a warm and intimate atmosphere, rendered deeply poignant, because we realize that these particular traditions of bedtime stories are imperceptibly fading away. The role of the grandmother, who used to be an integral part of a traditional household, is changing. Furthermore the oral storytelling tradition has been replaced by digital media – television, e-book on tablets and smart phones. Religious stories like the janamsakhis that recount the life of Guru Nanak – the founder of Sikhism and its first guru or teacher – seem anachronistic especially in an American setting. But that is precisely the value of this bilingual edition of Sakhi-Time with Nani ji.

Storybooks create a different world for children. An illustrated book like this provides a visual and linguistic space that eases the child into the ethical and religious foundations of Sikhism. The child, who might otherwise be surrounded by non-Sikhs, sees in these pages others in her or his image. Familial religious and cultural values are quietly transmitted through storytelling. The janamsakhis, including the ones recounted here, are hagiographies that instill moral values and are an important source of what we know about the life and travels of Guru Nanak. These well-loved stories help to initiate Sikh children into the guru’s life and his teachings. The book reiterates the core values of Sikhi through stories. Inni Kaur’s special touch is her non-judgmental recounting. For example, in one passage the grandchildren ask Nani (maternal grandmother) about the veracity of the tale in which a particular field was destroyed by the child Nanak’s meandering herds and then magically restored. The grandmother sagely responds that it could have been a divine miracle or it could have been that the owner of the field was simply blinded by his anger and saw what he wanted to see.

The rhythms of the nightly ritual of storytelling are reassuringly repetitive. At the end of each story, before wishing them good night with a “Guru rakha” (God protect you), Nani recites the evening prayer (Sohila) and the children repeat it with her. This is the way that children gradually learn the prayer as well. The prayer, a normal part of the warm and loving ritual, becomes the larger context of the moral framework of the stories themselves and it is seamlessly transmitted. The stories and prayers form a rich tapestry of the young children’s life in the story as they will also of the reader. Some readers might already be familiar with these stories and with Inni Kaur’s inimitably direct and ‘spoken’ writing style from her earlier three sakhi collections, Journey with the Gurus. But this volume stands out for the very different muted illustrations that are a wonderful mix of both abstract and figurative styles and the fact of being bilingual. As second and third generation Sikhs assimilate in mainstream life they tend to become unmoored from the religious and moral values of earlier generations. In a post-9/11 U.S. context and particularly in the wake of anti-Sikh hate crimes, there is a strong desire on the part of many Sikh writers, especially of this burgeoning genre of children’s stories, to revive knowledge of Sikh heritage, culture and language. This book will go a long way in familiarizing young children, and their parents, with the tenets of Sikhism and with the life of its founder, Guru Nanak. But also, and more importantly perhaps, it will help in explaining Sikhism to the larger community of which young Sikhs are a part.

Inni Kaur who is a teacher, painter, poet and author scatters seeds of Sikhi with generous abandon and with the conviction that many will take root and flower. Aesthetic treasures like this elegant book fill a deeply felt vacuum in the lives of the young who have access to other beautifully written and produced books but few that reflect their own culture and religious values.

Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Senior lecturer, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, Yale University, and Writer on Sikh Literature and Film