Shankar asked me to write something for the Children's Number of his Weekly. In a weak moment, thinking more of the children than of the weekly, I promised to write. But I soon realised that I had made a rash promise. What was I to write about?
I like being with children and talking to them and, even more, playing with them. For a moment I forget that I am terribly old and that it is a very long time ago since I was a child. But when I sit down to write to you, I cannot forget my age and the distance that separates you from me. Old people have a habit of delivering sermons and good advice to the young. I remember that I disliked this very much long-long ago when I was a boy. So, I suppose you do not like it very much either. Grown-ups have also a habit of appearing to be very wise, even though very few of them possess much wisdom. I have not quite made up my mind yet whether I am wise or not. Sometimes, listening to others, I feel I must be very wise and brilliant and important. Then, looking at myself, I begin to doubt this. In any event, people who are Wise do not talk about their wisdom and do not behave as if they were very superior persons.
So, I must not give you a string of good advice as to what you should do and what you should not do. I suppose you have enough of this from your teachers and others. Nor must I presume to be a superior person.
What then shall I write about? If you were with me, I would love to talk to you about this beautiful world of ours, about flowers and trees and birds and animals and stars and mountains and glaciers and all the other wonderful things that surround us in this world. We have all this beauty around us and yet we, who are grow-n-ups, often forget about it and lose ourselves in our offices and imagine what we are doing very important work.
I hope you will be more sensible and open your eyes and ears to this beauty and life that surround you. Can you recognise the flowers by their names and the birds by their singing? How easy it is to make friends with them and with everything in nature, if you go to them affectionately and with friendship. You must have read many fairy tales and stories of long ago. But the world itself is the greatest fairy tale and story of adventure that has ever been written. Only, we must have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that opens out to the life and beauty of the world.
Grown-ups have a strange way of putting themselves in compartments and groups. They build up barriers and then they think that those outside their particular barrier are strangers whom they must dislike. There are barriers of region, of caste, of colour, of party, of nation, of province, of language, of custom and of wealth and poverty. Thus, they live in prisons of their own making. Fortunately, children do not know much about these barriers which separate. They play or work with one another and it is only when they grow up that they begin to learn about these barriers from their elders. I hope you will take a long time in growing up.
I have recently been to the United States of America, to Canada and to England. It was a long journey, right on the other side of the world. I found the children there very like the children here and so I easily made friends with them and, whenever I had the chance, I played with them a little. That was much more interesting than many of my talks with the grown-ups who imagine they are very different and deliberately make themselves so.
Some months ago, the children of Japan wrote to me and asked me to send them an elephant. I sent them a beautiful elephant on behalf of the children of India. This elephant came from Mysore and travelled all the way by sea to japan. When it reached Tokyo, thousands and thousands of children came to see it. Many of them had never seen an elephant. This noble animal thus became a symbol of lndia to them and a link between them and the children of India. I was very happy that this gift of ours gave so much joy to so many children of japan and made them think of our country. So, we must also think of their country and of the many other countries in the world and remember that everywhere there are children like you going to school and play, sometimes quarrelling but always making friends again. You can read about these countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.
You know that we had a very great man amongst us. He was called Mahatma Gandhi. But we used to call him affectionately Bapuji. He was very wise but he did net show off his wisdom. He was simple and child, like in many ways and he loved children, He was a friend of everybody and everybody, peasant or worker, poor man or rich man, came to him and found a friendly welcome. He was a friend not only to all the people of India but also to all the people in the rest of the world. He taught us not to hate anybody, not to quarrel but to play with one another and to co-operate in the service of our country. He taught us also not to be afraid of anything and to face the world cheerfully and with laughter.
Our country is a very big country and there is a great deal to be done by all of us. lf each one of us does his or her little bit, then all this mounts up and the country prospers and goes ahead fast.
l have tried to talk to you in this letter as if you were sitting near me and I have written more than I intended.
For the Children's Number of Shankar's Weekly, New Delhi, December 3, 1949