Like many young Asian American parents, Sailaja Joshi wanted to share stories about her Indian culture with her own children. Fond memories of Amar Chitra Kathas and stories told to her by her grandfather formed her expectations. As a new mom in 2013, Joshi went in search of books that would share her love for Indian heritage in an age-appropriate manner with her then newborn daughter. Discovering a lack of adequate options, Joshi founded Bharat Babies with a mission to “design and produce developmentally appropriate books that tell the stories of India’s heritage for children from birth through elementary school.”
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Joshi is a graduate of Northeastern University (BSIB), the European School of Business, Harvard University, and Simmons College. She calls herself a “professional student,” but it is clear her passion for sharing the Indian culture combined with her unique vision will make her an entrepreneur to watch for years to come.
Learn more about what inspires this young entrepreneur and what’s in store for Bharat Babies.
Tell us a little bit about your career and how you came to be where you are today.
After graduating from Northeastern University, I spent about three years at the Adidas Group working for the Reebok division. After that, I began a career as a Consumer Anthropologist while nurturing my academic skills with the goal of gaining my PhD in Sociology. In 2013, about three weeks after the birth of my first daughter, I joined a PhD program in Sociology at Northeastern. After a year in the program, I realized that the world of academia and motherhood, as I envisioned it, were simply incompatible and made the big decision to leave my program. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make and quitting, especially as an Asian-Indian. But, as I’ve learned in the business, the important thing is to fail, to fail fast, and to learn from those mistakes.
How did Bharat Babies come about?
In the spring of 2013, I was on a mission to complete my baby registry in preparation for the arrival of my first child. Inline with a “library” themed baby shower, I went on the hunt to find books about Indian culture that I could share with my newborn daughter. Of the few books that spoke to my Indian heritage, I realized that none of these books took into account the developmental needs of my growing child. Recognizing this gap in children’s literature, the idea for Bharat Babies was born.
Harini is a lovely character – a curious and confident girl, one who will likely connect with many young readers. What or who was the inspiration behind this character?
I wish I could take credit for Harini, but she is in fact the brainchild of our amazing author, Amy McDonald Maranville. I met Amy through my mommy group, and when I told the group about my vision and the project, she was one of the first to support me. Amy has a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College, so she is really well prepared in understanding the developmental needs of a growing child.
In terms of Harini, the inspiration for her, according to Amy, was simple. She wanted an American girl who was full of confidence and childhood happiness whose background was Hindu. She saw that her parents were well educated, but worked hard to get there and were working to instill those values in her. They expected her to work hard, but at the same time, love the culture she came from. Amy, as she says, was inspired by people of Indian background who have filled her life and inspired her.
Your first book, Hanuman and the Orange Sun, is on pre-order now. When will it go to print, and will this book be a part of a series? What can readers expect next?
People are can pre-order our book and our limited edition print up until our book is available in print in May 2015. The book is the first in our Level II books, which are part of a classic children’s book series. We absolutely plan on having more books featuring both Harini and of course, Hanuman.
The illustrations in Hanuman and the Orange Sun are bold and colorful, yet also comforting. Did you have a vision for how Harini would look and just how you wanted the story portrayed visually?
Once Amy gave me the manuscript for Harini, I really did have a strong vision for her. I wanted her to have darker skin, shorter hair, and for some reason I saw her having a peter pan collar. I knew I wanted simple illustrations that attracted our young reader’s attention while also attracting a parent’s eye.
It was again, through my mommy group that I was introduced to Tim Palin and we are so thankful he is on our project. From the moment we saw his work and spoke, my creative director and I felt strongly that he was the perfect match. And once the art came back, it was clear that our illustrator, author, creative director and myself were all on the same page in terms of our vision.
Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?
I am so blessed to have the incredible support of so much of my family. My mother, despite the fact that I did not become an engineer, has always supported me in all of my ventures. Even when I told her I was going to leave my PhD program, a dream she had for herself, she told me that I had to do what was best for me and my family. My father, who is not only supportive, but here to do hard work, like driving an hour to my home so he can watch my daughter while I do an interview.
Ultimately though, I think it was my maternal grandfather who has provided me with my greatest inspiration and my love of books and reading. His passion for learning is something that guided his entire life and something I was always in awe of. He was the first person to treat me like an adult, and bought me my first complete set of Amar Chitra Kathas when I didn’t have enough saved up. Much of my vision of Bharat Babies, a goal of creating a love for Indian culture and heritage through reading, come from his conversations with me.
What are some of your favorite parenting resources – books, online magazines, or blogs? Do you have a daily must-read blog/website that keeps you grounded when it comes to the challenges of parenting in today’s world?
Our home is very much inspired by the Montessori method of parenting and teaching children. I believe whole-heartedly in trusting my daughter and providing her with the environment that allows her to succeed. Some of my favorite blogs for Montessori parenting guidance include Living Montessori Now and Montessori Works Blog.
For culturally related stuff, I love Masala Mammas, Chai Mammas, and Runway and Rattles. I’m also a huge fan of Gnaana Blog as well!
Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those who aspire to be entrepreneurs and follow their dreams?
Oh wisdom! First, remember that just because you fail, does not mean you are a failure. Realizing that a path is wrong for you is a success in my opinion, so trust yourself and don’t listen to anyone else. If I had continued on the path of doing my PhD, I would have been miserable, and my family life would have suffered. While I work hard now, I’m much happier knowing that I’m doing what I love and that it makes a real difference in my community.
I think the biggest thing is to trust yourself. For so long, we are given a clear path of what we are supposed to do. We are to do well in school. Go to Bal Vihar. Go to College. Grad School. Get Married. But sometimes, that is not our path. It is okay to just trust yourself.
About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.
Article appeared in Desh-Videsh January 2015.