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Young World

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From dad with love

ANIMA BALAKRISHNAN

A father writes to his daughter and tells her about the wonderful world.



WISH: Nehru wanted his daughter Indira to have a sensitive perception of the world. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

All of us have sat through the rigours of the English composition class in school. Official and personal letters, from the one to the Police Commissioner about a stolen bag to another to granddad enquiring about his health, we have written them all.

For many of us those were perhaps the only letters we would ever write. As Internet Messaging, SMS and e-mail emerged, the art of letter writing paled into insignificance.

In the days gone by, hand-written letters were the norm. Often they were much more than mere correspondence between two persons.

Letters often survive the writers. And if they are the letters of eminent persons like poets and statesmen, they end up as historical documents and give rare glimpses of the people they were.

In India some of the most talked about letters are the ones written by a famous father to his 10-year-old daughter. Both went on to play a vital role in shaping the future and imagination of a young nation.

They are the letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi. Letters from a father to his daughter was written in the summer of 1928 when Nehru was in Allahabad and Indira at Mussoorie.

The letters are essentially lessons to a young girl and possibly answers to her questions. They touch upon history, geography, science, evolution, civilisation, and the epics.

Indira Gandhi says in her introduction, "They are not merely letters to be read and put away. They brought a fresh outlook and aroused a feeling of concern for people and interest in the world around," she writes.

Awareness initiative

Nehru's letters were aimed at creating awareness about the world his daughter lived in and beyond. What the textbooks told us, Nehru's letters tell Indira.

The letters are a series, where the father takes off from where he stopped in the previous letter. From the making of the earth to the first living things and when the animals appear, Nehru lucidly explains everything.

He also wrote to her about human evolution, of how the races were formed and why people look different. Nehru wanted Indira to have a sensitive perception of the world. And it is obvious in the way he tells his daughter why some people are dark and some are not.

"You have seen the Indian peasant working in the fields in the midday sun. He is too poor to have many clothes and has little on. His whole body is exposed to the sun and all his life is spent in this way. He is bound to get dark. So we find that people's complexion are the result of the climate they live in. They have nothing to do with the worthiness or goodness or beauty of the person," he writes.

He takes Indira through the beginnings of religion, the division of labour, the kings and the rulers.

He presents a worldview of the civilizations, the great cities of the ancient world as well as about the origin of languages.

And in the final letter he tells her why she should be reading the epics. These letters were meant to make up for the conversations the father and daughter could not have, as they were apart. And now, they have ended up being an encyclopaedia for other children of the world.

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Young World

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