A Birthday Letter by Jawaharlal Nehru

Following text is from collection of "Letters from a Father to His Daughter" by Jawaharlal Nehru

Central Prison, Naini
October 26, 1930

My dear Indira,

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 be of the mind and spirit,…… Things that even the high walls of prison cannot stop.

You know sweetheart, how I dislike sermonising and doling out good advice …….. 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 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 …….. none of us need ever be bored or imagine …….. that we have learned everything worth learning and become very wise.

……. 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 …… 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 … 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 bread and butter, of their children, of their household worries and the like. But a time comes when a whole people become interested in a great cause. Then history helps even simple, ordinary men and women to become heroes. Great leaders have something in them which inspires a whole people and makes them do great deeds ……… In India a great leader, full of love for all who suffer and eager to help them, has inspired our people to great actions and noble sacrifice. He has helped to make the starving, the poor and the oppressed free and happy.

Bapuji is in prison, but the magic of his message has stolen the hearts of India’s millions. Men and women, and even little children, come out of their little shells and become India’s soldiers of freedom. In India today 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.

What part shall we play in it?

If we are to be India’s soldiers we have to respect India’s honour, and that honour is a sacred trust….. 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 …… 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 …. You know that in our great Freedom Movement, under Bapuji’s leadership, there is no room for secrecy or hiding. We have nothing to hide. We are not afraid of what we do or 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…… 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? Good-bye, little one, and may you grow up into a brave soldier in India’s service.

With all my love and good wishes.

Your loving father,
Jawaharlal Nehru


The present lesson is a letter written by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru from Naini Jail to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, on the latter’s thirteenth birthday. Through his letter Pandit Nehru tells Indira that one can get to the right answer only after discussion. We must not believe that since we have learned everything we have become wise.

Pandit Nehru goes on to tell her how Bapu ji motivated the common man to become a part of the struggle for freedom. He cited the example of how common men and women who generally cannot think beyond their household, rise above petty considerations to become heroes when they fight for a cause. Pandit Nehru also tells Indira about the importance of understanding and doing what is right. He says that fighting for freedom was the right thing to do. She should not fear of being part of the movement.

Pandit Nehru finally blesses Indira by saying that she may grow up into a brave soldier in the service of the nation.