While Gandhiji was the Father of the nation to millions, he was simply Bapu to the many children to whom he was friend, philosopher and guide. Many of these were the children of inmates of the Ashrams that Gandhji lived and worked from. Bapu always had time for the children—they would accompany him on his daily tasks, and he in turn would take them to task! Nothing was too trivial or beneath notice. Even when he was away from the Ashram, Bapu would include letters to the children, individual as well as collective, as part of his voluminous daily correspondence. No letter went unanswered, and every lack of response from a child was duly noted!
Here are just a few of the hundreds of letters that he wrote while he was detained in Yeravda jail in Pune in 1932, which reveal another side of Bapu as he fondly scolds, cajoles and motivates.
Dear Boys and Girls,
…Most of you cannot think what to write in a letter. …You should overcome this weakness. So many things happen every day around you that, if you properly observe them, you would be able to write enough to fill pages. Why then should you be unable to think of anything to write about when you sit down to write to me? One can write all that one did or saw and thought during a day. You can say in the letter why you felt happy or unhappy on that day as the case may be. You may also say what good or bad thoughts came to you on that day. It is possible that you are not sure whether you can write about these things in a letter. If so let me tell you that you need have no such doubts. You can write just as you would talk to me. Blessings from Bapu.
[Letter to Ashram Boys and Girls February 13, 1932]
Dear Boys and Girls,
All or most of you write to me on sheets taken out from exercise books. That is not right. It means waste of paper and slovenliness. You should use writing paper. …Those of you who feel sleepy during prayers should stand up without feeling shy. Even if you do a few pranayamas sitting down the sleepiness will go. One cannot sleep while doing pranayama. …A child may learn to read and write and still remain mentally dull. If you do not understand this fully ask me to explain again. Use your intelligence in doing everything you are asked to do. Even cleaning a lavatory requires intelligence. If you do not know how ask me. Bapu
[Letter to Ashram Boys and Girls June 24, 1932]
I got your letter. Your handwriting is improving now. For increasing your weight you should do exercise in open air and include sufficient milk and ghee in your diet. How much milk do you get? If I can say everything I wish to in a short letter why should I write a long one? Bapu
[Letter to Mahendra V Desai June 24 1932]
Dear Boys and Girls
…It seems that you have not still understood one special feature of the Ashram. It is that farm work, carpentry etc. are part of your education, and develop your intellect and some of the bodily senses. If these crafts are taught as part of your education they would do more good, as I have already explained in one of my previous letters to the Ashram than a purely literal education does. If you have forgotten what I said in that letter or cannot find that letter, let me know and I will write to you again about it, for the point deserves to be understood by all. Do not think that I say this because I wish to run down book learning. I fully understand its value. You will not come across many men who put such knowledge to better use than I do. My purpose in saying this is to put training in crafts on the same footing as education in letters. …If you understand this fully, all of you will be ready to take out the cattle for grazing. Bapu
[Letter to Ashram Boys and Girls December 17, 1932]
[Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi]
On a more personal note. On reading these letters I discovered that I myself had met some of of Bapu’s children, (as friends and relatives of my parents) when I was much younger, and they were much older. They have since, joined their Bapu, but it gives me a frisson of excitement to feel a tiny link to Bapu today!