The Good Teacher and The Good Pupil - A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

Jawaharlal Nehuru sitting with his daughter Indira and niece Chanderlekha Pandit at

Anand Bhawan, Allahabad, 1925. Courtesy JMMI, New Delhi

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

Letters from a Father to His Daughter


Aspiration is the hallmark of a good pupil. Through the kindling of aspiration the flame of knowledge begins to burn in his mind and heart. The teacher's role is to uplift the aspiration of the pupil and to answer it not so much by instruction as by suggestion, example and influence. A good teacher is a guide, philosopher and friend who does not impose himself on the pupil, but communes with him in intimate understanding of his needs. He may commune in silence or through conversation, letters, even discourses, though he does not preach. He varies his method according to the pupil's age and psychological state.

All this is illustrated in Jawaharlal Nehru's letters to his daughter, Indira. We present in this selection two of these letters, "The Book of Nature" and "How Early History was Written ". Jawaharlal Nehru was not only a great political leader and world statesman but also a keen seeker, a loving father and a good teacher. A teacher does not necessarily have to hold classes and give lessons. A good teacher is in his very being an intimate friend of nature and lover of children. Parents, if they so choose, can become very good teachers. In fact, teaching should be regarded as the natural profession of every parent, and every parent should strive to cultivate the qualities of a good teacher. How a good father can be a good teacher is very well illustrated by Jawaharlal Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru began writing letters to Indira in the summer of 1928, when she was eight or nine years old. She was in the Himalayas at Mussoorie and he was on the plains below. One great secret of learning that Nehru reveals in these letters is to treat Nature as a book. Indeed, knowledge vibrates

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

everywhere and in everything. Books are not the only repositories of knowledge.

Knowledge is basically the result of an interaction between our consciousness and the objects of our experience. The process of knowing is a living process, and when knowledge is approached through direct contact and experience, it comes to us with all its freshness. A good pupil is not so much a reader of books as a seeker of experience. The best principle of learning is to grow from experience to experience, and to treat every encounter in life, with nature or creatures or people, as a field of experience and learning. It is thus that we find, in Shakespeare's words, "sermons in stones and books in running brooks ".

The letters were obviously addressed to a good pupil. In 1973, in her introductory notes to Letters from a Father to His Daughter, she wrote: "I was full of questions and this enabled him to tell me about the world, and the men and women who inhabited it and who have moved others by their ideas and actions, and through literature and art.... The letters in this book, written when I was eight or nine, deal with the beginnings of the earth and of man's awareness of himself. They were not merely letters to be read and put away. They brought afresh outlook and aroused a feeling of concern for people and interest in the world around. They taught one to treat nature as a book. I spent absorbing hours studying stones and plants, the lives of insects and at night, the stars. "

Just as there is a Book of Nature, there is also a hidden book in the deeper heart of our being. There is one question of supreme importance for each one of us, and the answer to it can be found in no book or library. It cannot be found even in the great Book of Nature. It can be found only when we begin to learn to read the book of our inner self. The question is, "What am I? " and "What is my role in the world?" In fact, the ideal answer to this question is found when we discover through experience the right relation between our inner self and the universe. Some of the greatest teachings of the world have revealed that both the self and the universe are equally vast and point to something beyond. It is in the knowledge of that "something" that our quest finds its resting-place.

Jawaharlal Nehru does not speak in his letters of this deeper dimension, but he reveals something of his own inner enquiry in another series of letters to his daughter, written between 1930 and 1933. These letters constitute his famous book, Glimpses of World History. Here again we meet a good teacher describing his encounters with the world and its long, mysterious and meaningful history. In this selection we present the first and the last letters from this book.

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

The Book of Nature

When you and I are together you often ask me questions about many things and I try to answer them. Now that you are at Mussoorie and I am in Allahabad we cannot have these talks. I am therefore going to write to you from time to time short accounts of the story of our earth and the many countries, great and small, into which it is divided. You have read a little about English history and Indian history. But England is only a little island and India, though a big country, is only a small part of the earth's surface. If we want to know something about the story of this world of ours we must think of all the countries and all the peoples that have inhabited it, and not merely of one little country where we may have been born.

 I am afraid I can only tell you very little in these letters of mine. But that little, I hope, will interest you and make you think of the world as a whole, and of other peoples in it as our brothers and sisters. When you grow up you will read about the story of the earth and her peoples in fat books and you will find it more interesting than any other story or novel that you may have read.

You know of course that our earth is very, very old — millions and millions of years old. And for a long long time there were no men or women living in it. Before the men came there were only animals, and before the animals there was a time when no kind of life existed on the earth. It is difficult to imagine this world of ours, which is so full today of all kinds of animals and men, to be without them. But scientists and those who have studied and thought a great deal about these matters tell us that there was a time when the earth was too hot for any living being to live on it. And if we read their books and study the rocks and the fossils (the remains of old animals) we can ourselves see that this must have been so.

You read history in books. But in old times when men did not exist surely no books could have been written. How then can we find out what happened then? We cannot merely sit down and imagine everything. This would be very interesting for we could imagine anything we wanted to and would thus make up the most beautiful fairy tales. But this need not be true as it would not be based on any facts that we had seen. But although we have no books written in those far-off days, fortunately we have some things which tell us a great deal as well almost as a book would. We have rocks and mountains and seas and stars and rivers and deserts and fossils of old animals. These and other like things are our books for the earth's early story. And the real way to understand this story is not merely to read about it in other people's

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

books but to go to the great Book of Nature itself. You will I hope soon begin to learn how to read this story from the rocks and mountains. Imagine how fascinating it is! Every little stone that you see lying in the road or on the mountain side may be a little page in nature's book and may be able to tell you something if you only knew how to read it. To be able to read any language, Hindi or Urdu or English, you have to learn its alphabet. So also you must learn the alphabet of nature before you can read her story in her books of stone and rock. Even now perhaps you know a little how to read this. If you see a little round shiny pebble, does it not tell you something? How did it get round and smooth and shiny without any corners or rough edges? If you break a big rock into small bits, each bit is rough and has corners and rough edges. It is not at all like a round smooth pebble. How then did the pebble become so round and smooth and shiny? It will tell you its story if you have good eyes to see and ears to hear it. It tells you that once upon a time, it may be long ago, it was a bit of a rock, just like the bit you may break from a big rock or stone with plenty of edges and corners. Probably it rested on some mountain side. Then came the rain and washed it down to the little valley where it found a mountain stream which pushed it on and on till it reached a little river. And the little river took it to the big river. And all the while it rolled at the bottom of the river and its edges were worn away and its rough surface made smooth and shiny. So it became the pebble that you see. Somehow the river left it behind and you found it. If the river had carried it on, it would have become smaller and smaller till at last it became a grain of sand and joined its brothers at the seaside to make a beautiful beach where little children can play and make castles out of the sand. If a little pebble can tell you so much, how much more could we learn from all the rocks and mountains and the many other things we see around us?1

How Early History was Written

In my letter to you yesterday, I pointed out that we have to study the early story of the earth from the book of nature. This book consists of everything that you see around you — the rocks and mountains and valleys and rivers and seas and volcanoes. This book is always open before us but how few of us pay any attention to it or try to read it! If we learnt how to read it and understand it, how many interesting stories it could tell us! The stories we would read about in its pages of stone would be more interesting than a fairy tale.

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

And so from this book of nature we would learn something of those far-off days I when no man or animal lived on this earth of ours. As we read on we shall see the" first animals appear and later more and more animals. And then will come man and woman, but they will be very different from the men and women we see today. They will be savages not very different from animals. Gradually they will gather experience and begin to think. The power of thought will make them really different from the animals. It will be a real power which will make them stronger than the biggest and fiercest animal. You see today a little man sit on top of a great big elephant and make him do what he wills. The elephant is big and strong, far stronger than the little mahaut sitting on his neck. But the mahaut can think, and because he can think he becomes the master and the elephant is his servant. So, as thought grew in man he became cleverer and wiser. He found out many things — how to make a fire, how to cultivate the land and grow his food, how to make cloth to wear and houses to live in. Many men and women used to live together and so we had the first cities. Before the cities were made men used to wander about from place to place, probably living in some kind of tents. They did not know then how to grow their food from the land. They had no rice therefore, nor did they have any wheat from which bread is made. There were no vegetables and most of the things you eat today were not known then. Perhaps there were some wild nuts and fruits which men ate but mostly they must have lived on animals which they killed.

As cities grew people learnt many beautiful arts. They also learnt how to write. But for a long time there was no paper to write on and people used to write on the bark of the Bhojpatra tree —I think this is called the birch in English — or they wrote on palm leaves. Even now you will find in some libraries whole books written in those far-off days on the leaves of the palm tree. Then came paper and it was : easier to write. But there were no printing presses and books could not be printed off in their thousands as is done today. A book could only be written once and then copied out by hand laboriously. Of course there could not be many books. You could not just go to a bookseller or a bookstall to buy a book. You had to get someone to copy it and this took a long time. But people in those days wrote beautifully and we have today many books in our libraries which were beautifully written by hand. In India we have specially books in Sanskrit and Persian and Urdu. Often the man who copied the book made flowers and drawings on the sides of the page.

With the growth of cities, gradually countries and nations were formed. People who lived near each other in one country naturally got to know each other better. They thought they were better than others who lived in other countries and, very

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

foolishly, they fought with these others. They did not realize, and people do not realize even now, that fighting and killing each other are about the most stupid things that people can do. It does good to nobody.

To learn the story of these early days of cities and countries we sometimes get old books. But there are not many of these. Other things help us. The kings and emperors of old times used to have accounts of their reigns written on stone tablets and pillars. Books cannot last long. Their paper rots away and gets moth-eaten. But stones last much longer. Perhaps you remember seeing the great stone pillar of Ashoka in the Allahabad Fort. On this is cut out in stone a proclamation of Ashoka who was a great king of India many hundreds of years ago. If you go to the museum in Lucknow you will find many stone tablets with words engraved on them.

In studying the old history of various countries we shall learn of the great things that were done in China and Egypt long ago when the countries of Europe were full of savage tribes. We shall learn also of the great days of India when the Ramayana and Mahabharata were written and India was a rich and powerful country. Today our country is very poor and a foreign people govern us. We are not free even in our own country and cannot do what we want. But this was not so always and perhaps if we try hard we may make our country free again, so that we may improve the lot of the poor, and make India as pleasant to live in as are some of the countries of Europe today.

In my next letter I shall begin this fascinating story of the earth from the very beginning.2

A New Year's Gift

New Year's Day, 1931

Do you remember the letters I wrote to you, more than two years ago, when you were at Mussoorie and I was at Allahabad? You liked them, you told me then, and I have often wondered if I should not continue that series and try to tell you something more about this world of ours. But I have hesitated to do so. It is very interesting to think of the past story of the world and of the great men and women and of the great deeds that it contains. To read history is good, but even more interesting and fascinating is to help in making history. And you know that history is being made in our country to-day. The past of India is a long, long one, lost in the

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

mists of antiquity; it has its sad and unhappy periods which make us feel ashamed and miserable, but on the whole it is a splendid past of which we may well be proud and think with pleasure. And yet to-day we have little leisure to think of the past. It is the future that fills our minds, the future that we are fashioning, and the present that absorbs all our time and energy.

I have had time enough here in Naini Prison to read or write what I wanted to. But my mind wanders and I think of the great struggle that is going on outside; of what others are doing and what I would do if I were with them. I am too full of the present and the future to think of the past. And yet I have felt that this was wrong of me. When I cannot take part in the work outside, why should I worry?

But the real reason — shall I whisper it to you? — why I put off writing was another one. I am beginning to doubt if I know enough to teach you! You are growing up so fast, and becoming such a wise little person, that all that I learnt at school and college and afterwards may not be enough for you, and at any rate may be rather stale. After some time, it may be that you will take up the role of teacher and teach me many new things! As I told you, in the letter I wrote to you on your last birthday, I am not at all like the Very Wise Man who went about with copper- plates round about him, so that he might not burst with excess of learning.

When you were at Mussoorie it was easy enough for me to write about the early days of the world. For the knowledge that we have of those days is vague and indefinite. But as we come out of those very ancient times, history gradually begins, and man begins his curious career in various parts of the world. And to follow man in this career, sometimes wise, more often mad and foolish, is no easy matter. With the help of books one might make an attempt. But Naini Prison does not provide a library. So I am afraid it is not possible for me to give you any connected account of world history, much as I should have liked to have done so. I dislike very much boys and girls learning the history of just one country, and that, too, very often through learning by heart some dates and a few facts. But history is one connected whole and you cannot understand even the history of any one country if you do not know what has happened in other parts of the world. I hope that you will not learn history in this narrow way, confining it to one or two countries, but will survey the whole world. Remember always that there is not so very much difference between various people as we seem to imagine. Maps and atlases show us countries in different colours. Undoubtedly people do differ from one another, but they resemble each other also a great deal, and it is well to keep this in mind and not be misled by the colours on the map or by national boundaries.

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

I cannot write for you the history of my choice. You will have to go to other books for it. But I shall write to you from time to time something about the past and about the people who lived in the days gone by, and who played a big part on the world's stage.

I do not know if my letters will interest you or awaken your curiosity. Indeed, I do not know when you will see them, or if you will see them at all. Strange that we should be so near and yet so far away! In Mussoorie you were several hundred miles away from me. Yet I could write to you as often as I wished, and run up to you when the desire to see you became strong. But here we are on either side of the Jumna river — not far from each other, yet the high walls of Naini Prison keep us effectively apart. One letter a fortnight I may write, and one letter a fortnight I may receive, and once a fortnight I may have a twenty-minute interview. And yet these restrictions are good. We seldom value anything which we can get cheaply, and I am beginning to believe that a period in prison is a very desirable part of one's education. Fortunately there are scores of thousands in our country who are having this course to-day!

I cannot say if you will like these letters when you see them. But I have decided to write them for my own pleasure. They bring you very near to me, and I feel almost that I have had a talk with you. Often enough I think of you, but to-day you have hardly been absent from my mind. To-day is New Year's Day. As I lay in bed, very early in the morning, watching the stars, I thought of the great year that was past, with all its hope and anguish and joy, and all the great and gallant deeds performed, And I thought of Bapuji, who has made our old country young and vigorous again by his magic touch, sitting in his prison cell in Yeravada. And I thought of Dadu3 and many others. And especially I thought of Mummie and you. Later in the morning came the news that Mummie had been arrested and taken to gaol. It was a pleasant New Year's gift for me. It had long been expected and I have no doubt that Mummie is thoroughly happy and contented.

But you must be rather lonely. Once a fortnight you may see Mummie and once a fortnight you may see me, and you will carry our messages to each other. But I shall sit down with pen and paper and I shall think of you. And then you will silently come near me and we shall talk of many things. And we shall dream of the past, and find our way to make the future greater than the past. So on this New Year's Day let us resolve that, by the time this year also grows old and dies, we shall have brought this bright future dream of ours nearer to the present, and given to India's past a shining page of history.4

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter


Jawaharlal Nehru with his daughter Indira Nehru and wife Kamala Nehru,1931

THE Last Letter

August 9, 1933

We have finished, my dear; the long story has ended. I need write no more, but the desire to end off with a kind of flourish induces me to write another letter the Last Letter!

It was time Ifinished, for the end of my two-year term draws near. In three and thirty day from to-day I should be discharged, if indeed I am not released sooner,

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

as the gaoler sometimes threatens to do. The full two years are not over yet, but I have received three and a half months' remission of my sentence, as all well-behaved prisoners do. For I am supposed to be a well-behaved prisoner, a reputation which I have certainly done nothing to deserve. So ends my sixth sentence, and I shall go out again into the wide world, but to what purpose? A quoi bon? When most of my friends and comrades lie in gaol and the whole country seems a vast prison.

What a mountain of letters I have written! And what a lot of good swadeshi5 ink I have spread out on swadeshi 5 paper. Was it worth while, I wonder? Will all this paper and ink convey any message to you that will interest you? You will say, yes, of course, for you will feel that any other answer might hurt me, and you are too partial to me to take such a risk. But whether you care for them or not, you cannot grudge me the joy of having written them, day after day, during these two long years. It was winter when I came. Winter gave place to our brief spring, slain all too soon by the summer heat; and then, when the ground was parched and dry and men and beasts panted for breath, came the monsoon, with its bountiful supply of fresh and cool rain-water. Autumn followed, and the sky was wonderfully clear and blue and the afternoons were pleasant. The year's cycle was over, and again it began: winter and spring and summer and the rainy season. I have sat here, writing to you and thinking of you, and watched the seasons go by, and listened to the pitapat of the rain on my barrack roof—

0 doux bruit de la pluie,

Par terre et sur les toits!

Pour un coeur qui s 'ennuie,

Oh! le chant de la pluie!

Benjamin Disraeli, the great English statesman of the nineteenth century, has written: "Other men condemned to exile and captivity, if they survive, despair; the man of letters may reckon those days as the sweetest of his life." He was writing about Hugo Grotius, a famous Dutch jurist and philosopher of the seventeenth century, who was condemned to imprisonment for life, but managed to escape after two years. He spent these two years in prison in philosophic and literary work. There have been many famous literary gaolbirds, the two best known perhaps being the Spaniard, Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote, and the Englishman, John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim's Progress.

I am not a man of letters, and I am not prepared to say that the many years I

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

have spent in gaol have been the sweetest in my life, but I must say that reading and writing have helped me wonderfully to get through them. I am not a literary man, and I am not a historian; what, indeed, am I? I find it difficult to answer that question. I have been a dabbler in many things; I began with science at college, and then took to the law, and, after developing various other interests in life, finally adopted the popular and widely practised profession of gaol-going in India!

You must not take what I have written in these letters as the final authority on any subject. A politician wants to have a say on every subject, and he always pretends to know much more than he actually does. He has to be watched carefully! These letters of mine are but superficial sketches joined together by a thin thread. I have rambled on, skipping centuries and many important happenings, and then pitching my tent for quite a long time on some event which interested me. As you will notice, my likes and dislikes are pretty obvious, and so also sometimes are my moods in gaol. I do not want you to take all this for granted; there may, indeed, be many errors in my accounts. A prison, with no libraries or reference books at hand, is not the most suitable place in which to write on historical subjects. I have had to rely very largely on the many note-books which I have accumulated since I began my visits to gaol twelve years ago. Many books have also come to me here; they have come and gone, for 1 could not collect a library here. I have shamelessly taken from these books facts and ideas; there is nothing original in what I have written. Perhaps occasionally you may find my letters difficult to follow; skip those parts, do not mind them. The grown- up in me got the better of me sometimes, and I wrote as I should not have done.

I have given you the barest outline; this is not history; they are just fleeting glimpses of our long past. If history interests you, if you feel some of the fascination of history, you will find your way to many books which will help you to unravel the threads of past ages. But reading books alone will not help. If you would know the past you must look upon it with sympathy and with understanding. To understand a person who lived long ago, you will have to understand his environment, the conditions under which he lived, the ideas that filled his mind. It is absurd for us to judge of past people as if they lived now and thought as we do. There is no one to defend slavery to-day, and yet the great Plato held that slavery was essential. Within recent times scores of thousands of lives were given in an effort to retain slavery in the United States. We cannot judge the past from the standards of the present. Every one will willingly admit this. But every one will not admit the equally absurd habit of judging the present by the standards of the past. The various religions have especially helped in petrifying old beliefs and faiths and customs, which may have had some use in the age and country

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

of their birth, but which are singularly unsuitable in our present age.

If, then, you look upon past history with the eye of sympathy, the dry bones-will fill up with flesh and blood, and you will see a mighty procession of living men and women and children in every age and every clime, different from us and yet very like us, with much the same human virtues and human failings. History is not a magic show, but there is plenty of magic in it for those who have eyes to see.

Innumerable pictures from the gallery of history crowd our minds. Egypt — Babylon — Nineveh — the old Indian civilizations — the coming of the Aryans to :India and their spreading out over Europe and Asia — the wonderful record of ; Chinese culture — Knossos and Greece — Imperial Rome and Byzantium — the I triumphant march of the Arabs across two continents — the renaissance of Indian I culture and its decay — the little-known Maya and Aztec civilizations of America — the vast conquests of the Mongols — the Middle Ages in Europe with their i wonderful Gothic cathedrals — the coming of Islam to India and the Moghal Empire — the Renaissance of learning and art in western Europe — the discovery of America and the sea-routes to the East — the beginnings of Western aggression in  the East — the coming of the big machine and the development of capitalism — the spread of industrialism and European domination and imperialism — and the ! wonders of science in the modern world.

Great empires have risen and fallen and been forgotten by man for thousands of years, till their remains were dug up again by patient explorers from under the ¦ sands that covered them. And yet many an idea, many a fancy, has survived and j proved stronger and more persistent than the empire.

Egypt's might is tumbled down,

Down a-down the deeps of thought;

Greece is fallen and Troy town,

Glorious Rome hath lost her crown,

Venice' pride is nought.

But the dreams their children dreamed,

Fleeting, unsubstantial, vain,

Shadowy as the shadows seemed,

Airy nothing, as they deemed,

These remain.

So sings Mary Coleridge.

The past brings us many gifts; indeed, all that we have to-day of culture,

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

civilization, science, or knowledge of some aspects of the truth, is a gift of the distant or recent past to us. It is right that we acknowledge our obligation to the past. But the past does not exhaust our duty or obligation. We owe a duty to the future also, and perhaps that obligation is even greater than the one we owe to the past. For the past is past and done with, we cannot change it; the future is yet to come, and perhaps we may be able to shape it a little. If the past has given us some part of the truth, the future also hides many aspects of the truth, and invites us to search for them. But often the past is jealous of the future and holds us in a terrible grip, and we have to struggle with it to get free to face and advance towards the future.

History, it is said, has many lessons to teach us; and there is another saying that history never repeats itself. Both are true, for we cannot learn anything from it by slavishly trying to copy it, or by expecting it to repeat itself or remain stagnant; but we can learn something from it by prying behind it and trying to discover the forces that move it. Even so, what we get is seldom a straight answer. "History," says Karl Marx, "has no other way of answering old questions than by putting new ones."

The old days were days of faith, blind, unquestioning faith. The wonderful temples and mosques and cathedrals of past centuries could never have been built but for the overpowering faith of the architects and builders and people generally. The very stones that they reverently put one on top of the other, or carved into beautiful designs, tell us of this faith. The old temple spire, the mosque with its slender minarets, the Gothic cathedral — all of them pointing upward with an amazing intensity of devotion, as if offering a prayer in stone or marble to the sky above — thrill us even now, though we may be lacking in that faith of old of which they are the embodiments. But the days of that faith are gone, and gone with them is that magic touch in stone. Thousands of temples and mosques and cathedrals continue to be built, but they lack the spirit that made them live during the Middle Ages. There is little difference between them and the commercial offices which are so representative of our age.

Our age is a different one; it is an age of disillusion, of doubt and uncertainty and questioning. We can no longer accept many of the ancient beliefs and customs;

we have no more faith in them, in Asia or in Europe or America. So we search for new ways, new aspects of the truth more in harmony with our environment. And we question each other and debate and quarrel and evolve any number of "isms" and philosophies. As in the days of Socrates, we live in an age of questioning, but that questioning is not confined to a city like Athens; it is world-wide.

Sometimes the injustice, the unhappiness, the brutality of the world oppress us

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

and darken our minds, and we see no way out. With Matthew Arnold, we feel that there is no hope in the world and that all we can do is to be true to one another.

For the world which seems

To lie before us, like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here, as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

And yet if we take such a dismal view we have not learnt aright the lesson of life or of history. For history teaches us of growth and progress and of the possibility of an infinite advance for man. And life is rich and varied, and though it has many swamps and marshes and muddy places, it has also the great sea, and the mountains, and snow, and glaciers, and wonderful starlit nights (especially in gaol!), and the love of family and friends, and the comradeship of workers in a common cause, and music, and books and the empire of ideas. So that each one of us may well say: —

Lord, though I lived on earth, the child of earth,

Yet was I fathered by the starry sky.

It is easy to admire the beauties of the universe and to live in a world of thought and imagination. But to try to escape in this way from the unhappiness of others, caring little what happens to them, is no sign of courage or fellow-feeling. Thought, in order to justify itself, must lead to action. "Action is the end of thought", says our friend Romain Rolland. "All thought which does not look towards action is an abortion and a treachery. If then we are the servants of thought we must be the servants of action."

People avoid action often because they are afraid of the consequences, for action means risk and danger. Danger seems terrible from a distance; it is not so bad if you have a close look at it. And often it is a pleasant companion, adding to the zest and delight of life. The ordinary course of life becomes dull at .times, and we take too many things for granted and have no joy in them. And yet how we appreciate these common things of life when we have lived without them for a while! Many people go up high mountains and risk life and limb for the joy of the climb and the

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

exhilaration that comes from a difficulty surmounted, a danger overcome; and because of the danger that hovers all around them, their perceptions get keener, their joy of the life which hangs by a thread, the more intense. 

All of us have our choice of living in the valleys below, with their unhealthy ¦ mists and fogs, but giving a measure of bodily security; or of climbing the high S mountains, with risk and danger for companions, to breathe the pure air above, and I take joy in the distant views, and welcome the rising sun. 

I have given you many quotations and extracts from-poets and others in this letter. I shall finish up with one more. It is from the Gitanjali; it is a poem, or prayer,

by Rabindranath Tagore: —

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening

thought and action —

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

We have finished, carissima, and this last letter ends. The last letter! Certainly not. I shall write you many more. But this series ends, and so

Tamam Shud!6


1. Jawaharlal Nehru, Letters From a Father to His Daughter (New Delhi: Children's Book Trust, 1987), pp. 7-8.

2. Ibid, pp. 9-11.

3. Indira's grandfather, Pandit Motilal Nehru.

4. Jawaharlal Nehru, Glimpses of World History (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1984), pp. 2-5.

5. Swadeshi means made in one's own country.

6. Nehru, Glimpses of World History, pp. 949-54.

A Few Letters From A Father To His Daughter

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