Priya Kumari, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was born and raised in India, surrounded by tea gardens and farms in the foothills of the Himalayas. So when she moved to the U.S. and had children, she wanted them to know about their culture and her experiences as a child. Her love of the written word (her father owned a bookstore in India) and encouragement from her mother-in-law inspired Priya to put her ideas into creative stories about Indian culture that felt authentic and appealed to kids in a way they could understand. The first book led to several, and today, she’s a published author and the founder of Eternal Tree Books, an award-winning independent publishing house focusing on Indic Culture with a mission promoting peace, compassion, and tolerance. We caught up with this East Brunswick mom of two boys, ages 7 and 3, to talk about how her third book, Leaf Talks Peace–Buddha’s Message of Harmony, came to be endorsed by the Dalai Lama, how her son’s curiosity gave her the idea for the book, and the state park with jungle-like trails her kids love to explore.
What is your background, and where do you live? I grew up in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains, where my father owned a bookstore, and it’s where my love of books and the written word began. My husband and I moved from Delhi, India, to the United States in 2014. We lived in Manhattan for six months before moving to Jersey City for more space for our growing family and then moving again for more space when our second child was due. We now live in East Brunswick, and one of the many reasons we love it is the excellent school system where my oldest son attends a charter school.
What led you to write books on Indian culture? By profession, I’m a certified public accountant, and I worked in auditing, but when I came to the US and my first son was born, I wanted to spend more time with him, so I kept my hand in it without doing it full time. Even though I also wrote training manuals and things like that while working as a CPA, I hadn’t been writing stories the way I had when I was growing up. I started to focus on writing creatively about Indian culture to teach my sons certain things I valued.
What was your biggest inspiration? My mother-in-law is an Indologist who studies the history, culture, languages, literature, and other areas of Indian society—she’s an expert in the field. She encouraged me to write children’s books with authentic content. It’s important to me to share my Indian culture with my children in a relevant way today. Still, the fact that I can also share this work with the world and help all children from all backgrounds live in harmony with nature and understand their global responsibility to respect those from different cultures, genders, colors, and ethnicities is a mission worth pursuing. My latest book, Leaf Talks Peace—Buddha’s Message of Harmony, is the first Indian author picture book to be endorsed by the Dalai Lama with his forward. Everyone loved the concept and how I approached it, so I submitted it to his office in India and was so surprised when I got a call back that he endorsed it and wrote a forward for it. I am so thankful for His words and blessings.
Where did your idea for this book come from? I was in a garden with my children, and my oldest asked me, “what is friendship?”—it reminded me of the episode of Buddha’s where Buddha is meditating under the Bodhi tree. In it, he looked at a leaf and saw the presence of the sun, soil, water, time, space, and even a mind in the leaf, which are all elements happily living together to give it life. He shared the message of interdependent origination of life–how different elements work together as a team to make life happen. This is how I explained the term ‘friendship’ to my son. I thought it was a beautiful and essential message for all children. By simply observing a natural phenomenon, like a leaf, one can learn to live in harmony with others and make friends to create a happier world. That night, I was inspired to write a poem about the episode. To make it interesting, I wrote it from the perspective of an imaginary character called Harmony, a leaf of the Bodhi tree that Buddha is looking at.
How are you getting the word out about your book? I decided to market the book by doing a Kickstarter campaign to spread the word and reach a broader community to raise compassionate and mindful children. I chose Kickstarter because it’s a great way to support an artist’s work since funds from these pre-orders help bring the product to life by getting the investment needed. The book is ready to go—I’m just waiting on pre-order numbers so that I can print and ship.
How has the pandemic affected your business? The publishing industry was hit badly, with shortages and delays from a printing and shipping point of view, and freight charges went up nearly five times their usual cost. Also, many people in the business of publishing-such as illustrators and editors, had family issues, so that we couldn’t control the timeline of anything. Things were out of our control. The takeaway message from this is you slow down when life tells you to slow down.
What do you hope your children learn from seeing you run your own company? I hope that they grow up to be good human beings who know the importance of taking care of themselves and do their duty to society and Mother Nature to make a positive difference in the world.
How supportive is your family? All Mompreneurs need a support system around them to do it all—it’s the only way. I couldn’t do what I did without the support of my husband. And my oldest son feels the importance of what I’m doing. He brags about me and tells everyone he knows that his mom writes children’s books.
What places do you like to go to in NJ with your family? Our favorite spot is Long Branch Beach. We stretch out on the sand, build sandcastles, dip our toes in the water, and have ice cream. And there are great shops and restaurants there, too. We also love Cheesequake State Park. There’s a children’s play area and many walking trails where you feel like you’re walking in a jungle. And we can spend hours at Liberty State Park. It overlooks the Hudson, has a fantastic view and is close to Liberty Science Center, another family favorite.
What are your favorite NJ businesses? Apple Montessori is a favorite because I like their child-centric approach to learning, which helps a child’s social and emotional development. Kulture Kool is an impressive Performing Arts center specializing in South Asian classes and workshops in music, languages, dance, musical theater, and more. And Surati, in Jersey City, is similar. They create and present programs and cultural experiences such as staged productions, arts, cultural festivals, and workshops.
What is your best piece of advice for a MOMpreneur just starting? Take it slow, and do not compare yourself to anyone else—everyone’s journey is different.
For more information on Priya Kumari and Eternal Tree Books, please see their website, Kickstarter campaign, Facebook and Instagram pages.