FOR INDIRA PRIYADARSHINI ON HER THIRTEENTH BIRTHDAY
Central Prison, Naini
October 26,1 1 930
ON your birthday you have been in the habit of receiving presents and good wishes. Good wishes you will still have in full measure, but what present can I send you from Naini Prison ? My presents cannot be very material or solid. They can only be of the air and of the mind and spirit, such as a good fairy might have bestowed on you—things that even the high walls of prison cannot stop.
You know, sweetheart, how I dislike sermonizing and doling out good advice. When I am tempted to do this I always think of the story of a ” very wise man ” I once read. Perhaps one day you will yourself read the book which contains this story. Thirteen hundred years ago there came
a great traveller from China to India in search of wisdom and knowledge. His name was Hiuen Tsang, and over the deserts and mountains of the north he came, braving many dangers, facing
and overcoming many obstacles, so great was his thirst for knowledge. And he spent many years in India learning himself and teaching others, especially at the great university of Nalanda, which existed then near the city that used to be called Pataliputra and is now known as Patna. Hiuen Tsang became very learned himself and he was given the title of ” Master of the Law “—the Law of the Buddha—and he journeyed all over India and saw and studied the people that lived in this great country in those far-off days. Later he wrote a book of his travels, and it is this book which contains the story that comes to my mind. It is about a man from South India who came to Karnasuvarna, which was a city somewhere near modern Bhagalpur in Bihar; and this man, it is
written, wore round his waist copper-plates, and on his head he carried a lighted torch. Staff in hand, with proud bearing and lofty steps, he wandered about in this strange attire. And when any one asked him the reason for his curious get-up, he told him that his wisdom was so great that he was afraid his belly would burst if he did not wear copper-plates round it; and because he was moved with pity for the ignorant people round about him, who lived in darkness, he carried the light on his head.
Well, I am quite sure that there is no danger of my ever bursting with too much wisdom and sothere is no need for me to wear copper-plates or armour. And in any event, I hope that my
1 Indira’s birthday takes place, according to the Gregorian Calendar, on November 19. It was observed, however, on October 20, according to the Samvat era.
wisdom, such of it as I possess, does not live in my belly. Wherever it may reside, there is plenty of room still for more of it and there is no chance of there being no room left. If I am so limited in wisdom, how can I pose as a wise man and distribute good advice to others? And so I have always thought that the best way to find out what is right and what is not right, what should be done and what should not be done, is not by giving a sermon, but by talking and discussing, and out of discussion sometimes a little bit of the truth comes out. I have liked my talks with you and we have discussed many things, but the world is wide and beyond our world lie other wonderful and mysterious worlds, so none of us need ever be bored or imagine, like the very foolish and
conceited person whose story Hiuen Tsang has told us, that we have learned everything worth learning and become very wise. And perhaps it is as well that we do not become very wise; for the very wise, if any such there are, must sometimes feel rather sad that there is nothing more to learn. They must miss the joy of discovery and of learning new things—the great adventure that all of us who care to may have.
I must not therefore sermonize. But what am I to do, then ? A letter can hardly take the place of a talk; at best it is a one-sided affair. So, if I say anything that sounds like good advice do not take it as if it were a bad pill to swallow. Imagine that I have made a suggestion to you for you to think over, as if we really were having a talk.
In history we read of great periods in the life of nations, of great men and women and great deeds performed, and sometimes in our dreams and reveries we imagine ourselves back in those times and doing brave deeds like the heroes and heroines of old. Do you remember how fascinated you were when you first read the story of Jeanne d’Arc, and how your ambition was to be something like her? Ordinary men and women are not usually heroic. They think of their daily bread and
butter, of their children, of their household worries and the like. But a time comes when a whole people become full of faith for a great cause, and then even simple, ordinary men and women become heroes, and history becomes stirring and epoch-making. Great leaders have something inthem which inspires a whole people and makes them do great deeds.
The year you were born in—1917—was one of the memorable years of history when a great leader, with a heart full of love and sympathy for the poor and suffering, made his people write a noble and never-to-be-forgotten chapter of history. In the very month in which you were born, Lenin started the great Revolution which has changed the face of Russia and Siberia. And to-day in India another great leader, also full of love for all who suffer and passionately eager to help them, has inspired our people to great endeavour and noble sacrifice, so that they may again be free and the starving and the poor and the oppressed may have their burdens removed from them. Bapuji 1 lies in prison, but the magic of his message
1 Mahatma Gandhi.
steals into the hearts of India’s millions, and men and women, and even little children, come out of their little shells and become India’s soldiers of freedom. In India to-day we are making history, and you and I are fortunate to see this happening before our eyes and to take some part
ourselves in this great drama.
How shall we bear ourselves in this great movement? What part shall we play in it ? I cannot say what part will fall to our lot; but, whatever it may be, let us remember that we can do nothing which may bring discredit to our cause or dishonour to our people. If we are to be India’s soldiers we have India’s honour in our keeping, and that honour is a sacred trust. Often we may be in doubt as to what to do. It is no easy matter to decide what is right and what is not. One little test I
shall ask you to apply whenever you are in doubt. It may help you. Never do anything in secret or anything that you would wish to hide. For the desire to hide anything means that you are afraid, and fear is a bad thing and unworthy of you. Be brave, and all the rest follows. If you are brave, you will not fear and will not do anything of which you are ashamed. You know that in our great Freedom Movement, under Bapuji’s leadership, there is no room for secrecy or hiding.
We have nothing to bide. We are not afraid of what we do and what we say. We work in the sun and in the light. Even so in our private lives let us make friends with the sun and work in the light and do nothing secretly or furtively. Privacy, of course, we may have and should have, but that is a very different thing from secrecy. And if you do so, my dear, you will grow up a child of the light, unafraid and serene and unruffled, whatever may happen.
I have written a very long letter to you. And yet there is so much I would like to tell you. How can a letter contain it ?
You are fortunate, I have said, in being a witness to this great straggle for freedom that is going on in our country. You are also very fortunate in having a very brave and wonderful little woman for your Mummie, and if you are ever in doubt or in trouble you cannot have a better friend.
Good-bye, little one, and may you grow up into a brave soldier in India’s service.
With all my love and good wishes