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'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 soul incorruptible.



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.