The birthday of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which falls on November 14th is celebrated as Children’s Day throughout India, by different agencies in various ways.
It was Nehru’s great love for children that they called him ‘Chacha Nehru’; Nehru had done a lot for children of India. One fact that does not get the attention it deserves is that permanent and invaluable gift he gave them through the letters he wrote to his daughter Indira Gandhi.
After Gandhi’s return from South Africa, the country witnessed hectic activities and the fight for freedom got a new urgency. On the advice of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gandhi toured Allahabad; Anand Bhawan and Nehru family joined the movement with great enthusiasm.
Jawaharlal began to move from place to place to meet people, to share his views and to enthused people to join the forces of freedom. He was in and out several times.
Indira, who was 8-9 years old, was sent to Mussoorie for her studies, while Jawaharlal was at Allahabad. She missed her father badly and so did Nehru.
Jawaharlal found a novel way to keep in touch with Indira and at the same time to educate her. About these letters, she says that they tell us how the world originated, how men gradually began to learn about himself and his surroundings. These letters, she says are not to be just read and then put it aside, they provide a new insight into things.
They create a curiosity to learn what is happening around us, she adds that they tell us that we should treat nature as a book and study it closely. Indira began to spend hours to study pebbles, plants, trees and insects life and watch the sky at night.
In one of his letters, Nehru writes that there are so many things such as mountains, oceans, stars, rivers, forests, skeletons of dead animals and many such other things which tell us about the world. However, reading the book written by others is not the only way to learn about things. We should read the book like world ourselves. She hoped that by reading stones and mountains, she would be able to know about their conditions after a short time.
May be a small stone she sees lying on the road or near a mountain as a small page of the book of the world. She might learn something new from it.
The only condition is that she should learn to read it properly. The letters written in English have been translated in several languages. The titles of the 30 published letter reveal the topics discussed in them, such as world is the book, how was the earth formed, how did living objects originate, when did the animals originate, the origin of man, the early human being, why did different communities come into being, human communities and languages, inter relation between languages, what is civilization, beginning of religion and division of work, changes due to farming, how did the concept of head of family emerge, the head became the king, life in the beginning, big cities of the world, Egypt and Crete, China and India, Sea travel and business, language, script and counting, different status of man, the king, the temple and the priest, looking back, fossils and the old ruins, the coming of Aryans to India, how were Indian Aryas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharat.
The wide sweeps of topics covered in these letters, the lucid manner in which they have been discussed and the suitability of the language keeping with the reader’s mental age make them a powerful means for laying the foundation of good education. The nation would remain grateful to Nehru for this contribution to the development of Indian children through these letters.