Right now a huge hue and cry is being made by media and many parents of President Obama's speech to school children today. Some conservatives have urged schools and parents to boycott the address. At the behest of local political leaders many schools might not allow the students to hear the president's address. It cannot be imagined a parent who would not want the leader(s) of the country to provide such encouragement to their children. If these leaders truly had faith in what they profess to believe, if they really had the courage of their convictions, they would be happy to let the children hear the president speak. President Barack Obama wants to address children to encourage them to work hard and stay in school. Is this subversive? Is this a danger to society? Other presidents have done it. It is simply insecure cowardice. That is a very sad thing too. It's sad because it betrays a rank insecurity in the ability of students to think for themselves.
In contrast to all the controversy in the U.S. on President Obama's address to the school children, in India we can proudly look back on our own first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru's love for children and vice versa. Chacha Nehru, as the children fondly referred to him, was fond of both children and roses. In fact he often compared the two, saying that children were like the buds in a garden. They should be carefully and lovingly nurtured, as they were the future of the nation and the citizens of tomorrow. He felt that children are the real strength of a country and the very foundation of society. He was the ‘beloved’ of all the children who gave him the endearing name of ‘Chacha Nehru’. As a tribute to this great man and his love for the children, his birthday, November 14, is celebrated all over India as ‘CHILDREN’S DAY’. I still cherish how children, who had come to Delhi in response to an invitation by the Prime Minister, heartily enjoyed a reception given by him at the lawns of his residence, Teen Murti. Mr. Nehru who came to meet them in the evening after a strenuous four-hour meeting to select Congress candidates, was instantly refreshed seeing the little ones who sat in neat rows enjoying fruit drink and sweets. He went round, and made each of his little visitors feel completely at home, patting, caressing, saying kind words, making pleasant simple conversation and cracking jokes. When their host wanted to know what was the most wonderful thing they had seen in Delhi, back came their answer in a piped chorus, ``Chacha Nehru.''
Pandit Nehru was fond of writing letters. Here is Nehru's letter to children, which is relevant even today for children world over, especially for not only the children but also for parents and politicians in the U.S., who are protesting President Obama's address to school children:
I like being with children and talking to them and, even more, playing with them. If you were with me, I would love to talk to you about this beautiful world of ours, about flowers, trees, birds, animals, stars, mountains, glaciers and all the other beautiful things that surround us in the world. We have all this beauty all around us and yet we, who are grown-ups, often forget about it and lose ourselves in our arguments or in our quarrels. We sit in our offices and imagine that 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 surrounds you. Can you recognize 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.
Grown-ups have a strange way of putting themselves in compartments and groups. They build barriers... of religion, caste, colour, party, nation, province, language, customs and of rich and poor. Thus they live in prisons of their own making. Fortunately, children do not know much about these barriers, which separate. They play and work with each other 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...
You know we had a very great man amongst us. He was called Mahatma Gandhi. But we used to call him affectionately Bapuji. He was wise, but he did not show off his wisdom. He was simple and childlike in many ways and he loved children... he taught us 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. If each one of us does his or her little bit, then all this mounts up and the country prospers and goes ahead fast.
I have tried to talk to you in this letter as if you were sitting near me, and I have written more than I intended.
December 3, 1949
Indeed, in the context of leaders' interaction with children of their country, U.S. and India are poles apart.