Home > News > Literature News

Dr. Spock goes 'desi' for Indian parents

Posted on Nov 03, 11:04AM | IANS

The booming English-reading market for books and lifestyle in India has given childcare guru Benjamin Spock a reason to re-invent his cult classic, "Dr Spock's Baby and Childcare" 66 years after he wrote it for young nuclear families in the west.

Written in 1945, the book is considered the bible of babycare around the world. It has been translated in 49 languages, including in Hindi in the early 1950s, and has sold more than 50 million copies.

The Indian regional edition, "Dr Spock's Baby and Childcare in India (Simon and Schuster)", has been made culture-specific by a team of new authors, Abdullah Ghori, a doctor of Indian origin, and Robert Needlman. The chapters have been revised to include Indian socio-economic scenarios, health and dietary habits - and how the traditional eastern babycare system can combine with the advance practices of the west to create a new model.

Illustrations of extended Indian families and babies - in traditional atmospheres at home - give the new Dr Spock a distinct "desi" flavour.

A Thiruvananthapuram-based doctor, Sheila Balakrishnan, has contributed to a new chapter on pregnancy and antenatal care with an eye of India and NRI readers, who have little idea of raising families.

"This is the first foreign edition of the book after 66 years for readers in India, Bangladesh, Sri lanka and Pakistan. The market of 1.2 billion people and millions of English readers in India made me realise that there was room for a regional edition three years ago when I visited India," Mary Morgan, Benjamin Spock's widow, told IANS. Morgan is in India to promote the book.

"Dr. Spock had never been to India in his lifetime. But the book has his blessings - it reflects his spirit," Morgan said.

Benjamin Spock did not come to India because it was hard for him to come to terms with the poverty in the country, his widow said. "He was afraid of what he might see - children living in poverty," Morgan said.

The idea to revise the book for India came to Morgan, who manages Dr. Spock's healthcare company and foundation, at a clinic for poor women in southern India where she met a young woman with a newborn.

"The mother wanted to feed the baby but her mother-in-law wanted her to go back to work. The hungry baby wailed. The mother was confused. I suddenly felt there was room for an Indian edition as I watched the young mother struggling to feed the baby from a bottle," Morgan recalled.

The book, which is now targeting English-speaking Indian readers in the metropolitan towns, will be taken up in portions for translations in vernacular Indian languages, Morgan said.

The challenge was to bridge the differences in perceptions of childcare, the co-authors said.

Pointing to the differences in bringing up children in the east - especially India - and the west, co-writer Abdullah Ghori said in India the models for the book were "family relationships, vegetarian diets and the fact that children walk to school".

"The family dynamics in India is different. The parents have a right over the child and at times, we take away the child's autonomy. What parents forget here is what the parents expect from the ward, the children expect from their parents as well. The children have a right on their parents... They often grow up in large families," Ghori told IANS.

The traditional toilet training habit of babies on their grandmother's legs has no parallels in the world, he said.

Babies sustain on vegetarian diets like wheat, rice, bran and fruits, he said.

"The new edition can be described as an Indian adaptation of the original. Every paragraph has been looked into and changed," he said. The book has also cut down on "explicit discussion on pornography" for the Indian audience and even talks about children in their late teens.

Ghori, who was educated in Kerala, met Needlman at Cleveland in Ohio where the two worked at the local hospital. Being an Indian, Ghori attracted a lot of Indians and began to discuss the idea of revising Dr. Spock with Needlman.

"Why not combine the best practices of childcare from the east and the west for the Indian sub-continent," Ghori told Needlman. Ghori put Mary Morgan in touch with several paediatricians when she came to India in 2009-10.

One of the limitations of the book is that it is meant for English-speaking people, said co-author Robert Needlman. "There are two Indias - rural and urban India. The two cultures are so different," Needlman said.

(Madhusree Chaterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)