Children’s book by mother, son comes to Alliance stage

Life doesn’t always go as planned, and sometimes that can be a blessing.

Ask Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal.

Kabir Sehgal, 33, was pursuing a well-thought-out career as vice president of emerging markets at a prominent New York investment house and was a producer on a Grammy-winning album. His mother, Surishtha, was working in higher education in Atlanta.

One day the two were talking. His mother had long nurtured a dream to write a children’s book.

Kabir Sehgal was already a published author. He co-authored “Walk in My Shoes: Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead” with Andrew Young and wrote the best-seller “Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us.”

Why not, they thought, work together?

That decision propelled them both on expanded career paths, which both say has been a blessing.

Their first collaboration was the best-selling children’s book “A Bucket of Blessings,” a tale about perseverance and positive thinking. The book, about a monkey’s pursuit of rain for his dry village, became the basis for a show now running at Alliance Theatre’s Theatre for the Very Young.

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The book is illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong with an afterword by author Maya Angelou.

“It brought us together on a different plane,” said Kabir Sehgal, who lives in New York but visits Atlanta frequently. “We talked late at night or early in the morning. There were drafts going back and forth over email. It was a great collaborative and interactive process.”

His mother was raised in India and knew a great deal about stories and traditions. He brought the perspective of someone raised in the United States. “Merging her knowledge and my translating ability, I think we make a great team.”

The obvious question is what was it like to flip the mother-son relationship into a writing partnership?

“It really hasn’t been a challenge,” said Surishtha Sehgal, founder of Campus Community Partnership Foundation, a nonprofit that encourages youths to stay in school. “We worked in harmony. My mothering was very similar. We talked. We listened to each other.”

Surishtha and Kabir Sehgal are the wife and son of prominent Atlanta businessman R.K. Sehgal, former commissioner of what was once known as the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

For the Sehgals, the blessings continue.

The best-seller has now been made into a stage play and is currently showing at the Alliance Theatre’s Kathy and Ken Bernhardt Theatre for the Very Young, which is designed to nurture creativity and engagement among children, for ages up to 5 years old, and their parents.

The play runs through Feb. 14.

One of the hallmarks of the program is exposure to different cultures and diversity.

Chris Moses, director of education and associate artistic director at the Alliance, instantly fell in love with the book after he was given it a couple of years ago by the Sehgals.

He saw it as a perfect vehicle for the kind of work that’s done at the Theatre for the Very Young.

“It’s a beautifully simple story about what a blessing is and how it can sometimes surprise you,” he said. The characters practically leaped off the page.

“It’s usually an agonizing decision about what we’re going to program, there are so many options,” Moses said, but this one was almost a no-brainer. The book was adapted into a play by a young Los Angeles playwright, Madhuri Shekar.

The play is directed by Rosemary Newcott.

The Sehgals have reunited, in a literary sense.

The two recently penned “The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk,” which takes young readers on a colorful ride through a town in India in a tuk tuk — or local taxi. The story is based on the familiar children’s nursery rhyme “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Sehgal remembers riding in a tuk tuk when he was a little boy when the family would visit relatives in India.

“It’s very exciting to be in Indian traffic because of the scenery,” Kabir Sehgal said. “There’s so much going on. There are cows sitting in the middle of the road. People selling fruits and vegetables. Everybody is jammed in the road and no one is staying in their lane. There’s so much intensity.”

For a young boy, the ride was an adventure and deep dive into Indian culture — a way of life he hopes to share with young readers through his books. He also hopes to inspire children to become more creative and curious about the world and other cultures.

He would like nothing more than to see other Kabir Sehgals.

It goes back, perhaps, to his first children’s book, “A Bucket of Blessings”:

“Sometimes you’re watering flowers and don’t even realize it.”

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