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1- 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 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.

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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 1 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.

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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 Dadu 1 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.

1 Indira’s grandfather, Pandit Motilal Nehru.

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