(In this letter, Jawaharlal Nehru tells his daughter Indira which books to read and why He sent this letter from the district jail, Almora, on 22 February, 1935.)
You have accepted my suggestion that I should send you books from time to time… Most of the books I get here are reu books, just published. Some of them are good, and yet I wonder how many will survive after a few years. There was an old zule that was dinned into me when I was about your age: don’t read books less than fifty years old. The idea obviously was that a lapse of that period will sift the good from the bad and the indifferent, and if a book survived, it was likely to be worth reading. It was a good rule. It cannot of course apply is scientific, historical, political, economic and similar subjects, in which continuous research work is resulting in an addition of knowledge. In these subjects such rapid changes are being made nowadays that a book written a generation back it completely out of date, though it may be interesting and important from other points of view. But in pure literature it is perfectly true that the avalanche of books that is descending on us ir tele days is very largely trash and it is not easy to separate the chaff from the grain. It is for safer to read the famous classic old which have influenced thought and writing for so long With that background it is easier to exercise a wise choice in modern literature. We must not, of course, ignore modern books, for without them we cannot understand our own age and its inner conflicts.
Then, again, the reading of books depends so much on the individual and on his or her general tastes as well as special moods. To enjoy a book one must not be forced is read it as a duty. That is the surest way of disliking it as well as developing a prejudice against all reading. Our examinations and textbooks often have this result. Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe,Moliere, Victor Hugo, etc. become terrible bores because of this association with examinations. And yet, what wonderful stuff they have written!…
Why does one read books? To instruct oneself, amuse oneself, train one’s mind — certainly all this and much more. Ultimately, it is to understand life with its thousand facets and to learn how to live life. Our individual experiences are so narrow and limited, if we were to rely on them alone we would also remain narrow and limited. But books give us the experiences and thoughts of innumerable others, often the wisest of their generation, and lift us out of our narrow ruts. Gradually, as we go up the mountain sides, fresh vistas come into view, our vision extends further and further, and a sense of proportion comes to us. We are not overwhelmed by our petty and often transient loves and hates and we see them for what they are for petty and hardly noticeable ripples on the immense ocean of life. Jor all of us it is worthwhile to develop this larger vision for it enables us to see life whole and to live it well. But for those who cherish the thought of rising above the common herd of unthink ing humanity and playing a brave part in life’s journey, this vision and sense of proportion is essential to keep us on the right path and steady us when storms and heavy winds bear down on us….