Letters from a Father to His Daughter
Written by Jawaharlal Nehru
Published by Puffin Books India
Ages 8+ yrs
A father and his daughter. The bond has to be seen to be believed. When I see A and her father together, the affection is palpable. They often get into discussions about deep things- of late it has been religion, as we have friends of many faiths, and gender issues, especially those encountered at school!
By the nature of his work in the struggle for the freedom of India, Nehru was often away from his family, and his daughter was away at boarding school. Letters being the prime means of communication at the time, Nehru wrote these, which, according to the foreword written by him, were 'personal letters addressed to a little girl, ten years of age.' They, however, speak of many things. In the preface, written in 1973, Indira Gandhi writes, "they 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 taught one to treat nature as a book."
The letters speak of the beginnings of the universe, the formation of the earth and its landforms, of pre-history, the beginnings of mankind, the migration of human beings- he shows great learning and vision in his conclusions- "It may be that the German and the Negro are descended from different types of men, but some time or other they must have had the same ancestor. The differences must therefore have come in by the process of adaption to their surroundings...so we find that people's complexions are the result of the climate they live in. They have nothing to do with the worthiness or goodness or beauty of a person." Explained wonderfully in this vein in language easy enough for a 10 yr old to understand.
He goes on to speak of races, religion- early beliefs and faiths, religions as we know them now, languages- the beginnings of communication by making meaningful sounds, of making meaningful marks leading to writing, of the relationships of the different languages of the world. He speaks of civilisation, the division of labour - leading to the patriarch- which led later to kings and kingdoms. And of ancient civilisations all over the world. About trade and travel.
He speaks of the coming of the Aryans to India, and the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha- I loved the simple way in which he has explained the gist of these great epics- again, putting them in an interesting perspective.
Of the Ramayana, he says, "The Ramayana, as you know, is the story of Ramchandra and Sita against Ravana, king of Lanka, that is now Ceylon...it may be that the story of the Ramayana is really the story of the fights of the Aryans against the people of the South whose leader was Ravana."
And the Mahabharatha- "It tells of a great fight between Aryans and Aryans. But apart from the fight, it is a wonderful book, full of great ideas and noble stories. Above all, it is dear to all of us because of that jewel of a poem which it contains--the Bhagavad Gita."
The book comprises 30 letters in all, short, independent reads each, or read in a sequence. Each is a story lucidly told, a father's affection for his daughter coming across in each. These letters were written over the summer of 1928, and retain all of their freshness for every child who has the opportunity of reading them. They have to be, of course, read in the context of terminologies used in the early 1900s, some of which might not be politically correct today.
This 2004 edition by Puffin is hardcover, printed on crisp white paper, and an easy-on-the-eyes font. With a fresh foreword by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Nehru's great-grand-daughter.
A loved it.
A logical follow-up to this book would be Nehru's Glimpses of World History, which was written from October 1930 to August 1933, as letters addressed from prison to his 13-16 year old daughter, published much later.
Pic courtesy flipkart. Crossposted..