'My temperament and ideas are different --
from what the world accepts and understands'
Le Grand Hotel
4 March 1921
My beloved little child:
This is my last night in Europe, in this great foreign,
arrogant continent where through my song and speech and struggle
I have won a place for India. Now I am glad to set my face homewards
once more to serve India with speech and song and struggle: the
one poignant regret I have is that I leave you behind - alone.
You - with your brave, beautiful, rebellious, ignorant youth;
you - with your passionate, implacable temperament, so audaciously
sure of itself, its aims, its innocence, its lofty ideals and
lively desires and dreams, and yet so threatened with perils and
pitfalls, all the more to be feared because you are so fearless,
so impatient to tender counsel born of bitter experience...
My little girl, how I have tried to shield and guard you, to save
you from the suffering and disillusion arising out of your own
too eager, too exacting demands upon friendships and affections
and understandings, unused and unable to endure the strain of
such fury and insistent demands... When you have resented what
you thought was an attempt to curb and control and hamper you,
I assure you my darling there was nothing but the purest, most
deepest comprehending mother-love, trying to safeguard you from
the results of your own impetuous and vivid nature and impulses
- so harshly misjudged and misconstrued by even those who seemed
to you most of necessity to understand an appreciate... It is
because I want to protect you from suffering such as I had to
endure in my youth because my temperament and ideas were different
- they are different - from what the world accepts and understands
- that I tried to guide you... But as the French poet said,
"A chacun son infini" - and you must find and realise
your own soul in the infinity of its own loneliness, my child.
Only remember that you are an Indian girl and that puts upon you
a heavier burden than if you were an English girl born to a heritage
of freedom. Remember that you have to help India to be free and
the children of tomorrow to be free-born citizens of a free land
therefore - if you are true to your country's need you must recognise
the responsibility of your Indian womanhood. Nothing in your speech
or action should cause the progress of Indian women to suffer,
nothing in yourself should give room for wretched reactionary
slave - minds to say "This comes of giving too much education
and freedom to our women." Think over it my darling. You
are not free - one is - in the sense of being a law unto yourself
in defiance of all existing tradition in our country - for freedom
is the heaviest bondage in one sense - since it entails duties,
responsibilities and opportunities from which slaves are immune...
Noblesse oblige! and the ampler the liberty the narrower the right
to do as one pleases. And you my friend of delight... you must
shine as a foremost gem in the crown of India's freedom...
You have in you all the seeds of true greatness: be great my little
child, fulfill yourself nobly in accordance with all the profound
and beautiful impulses and ideals of your nature... but always
remembering that you are the symbol of India. And may God prosper
you in all things. I love you my baby. You will never know how
dearly, and with what anxious and yearning tenderness...
And now let me tell you of my holiday in Paris...
from the moment I left London till this moment when I sit in Marseille
with envy of the shore of the gay Provencal town,
it has been delightful. In my compartment in the London train
the lady who sat opposite me, married to a Romanian noble, had
many common friends including the Romanian poetess Helene Vacareco
-- the lady at my side turned out to be the wife of the famous
musician Landor Roland who is so anxious to compose some music
for my work -- on the boat a lady came and sat next to me who said,
"I can never forget you eyes -- you are the Indian poet"
and she turned out to be Countess Tolstoi, a niece of the great
writer Tolstoi. In Paris I spent 2 exquisite days revisiting all
my favourite places, churches, museums, parks, and palaces - I
went and paid my devotions to the statue of Joan of Arc in the
Pantheon where the great men of France are buried (the very first
speech I made at 11 years of age was on Joan of Arc!) I visited
the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt and saw the famous Guitry family
act -- what grace, what art, what distinction! I heard two unpublished
songs of mine which were sung by a man who has won fame in two Continents.
I wandered through old Paris, in the Latin Quarter famed in literature,
the haunt of students, artists, poets, beggars! And saw and even
took part in the blithe Mt Carmel festival that sends all Paris
mad! The mid-day procession I watched from an upper window - a
real mad-glad carnival of students and townsfolk, dressed in every
sort of fantastic costume and cars decorated in different ways
full of beautiful girls chosen from different parts of the city
dressed in wonderful clothes and music of course, mad and merry!
In the night I walked and walked and walked, pushed and jostled
by the gay crowds all drunk with high spirits and youth and springtime
gaiety. I was hit on the back with floral rods, clapped on the
head with a tambourine and chucked under the chin by a roguish
girl masquerading as sailor boy and I thoroughly enjoyed myself
even though my feet nearly fell off with fatigue.
Such a carnival is impossible in sombre and splendid
London! Paris is the source of gaiety, something in the air makes
one young and adventurous and full of joie de vivre. How you would
have loved the Mt Carmel and how glad I am to have had that brief,
happy interlude before I take upon myself the grave problems and
perplexities that await me in India.
Well, goodnight my little Papi and good bye!
You are the guardian of my Jewel of Delight...
Beware! Be faithful to your trust and keep the treasure of your
My boat sails at noon tomorrow.
This letter was written to Leilamani Naidu, her daughter
Two letters to Nehru
Excerpted from Sarojini Naidu: Selected Letters 1890s to 1940s, selected and edited by Makrand Paranjape, Kali for Women, 1996, Rs 400, with the publisher's permission. Readers interested in buying a copy of the
book may write to Kali for Women, B 1/8 Hauz Khas, New Delhi - 110 016.