Letter to My Daughter: The Quest of Man

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Here, you will find a summary and questions/answers to the chapter “Letter to my Daughter” by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru which is a part of Class 12 Alternative English syllabus for students studying under the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE).

Letter to my daughter

Summary: Nehru wrote “The Quest of Man” to his daughter Indira Priyadarshini from the Dehra Dun district jail. This letter’s subject matter is philosophical, but it has been written in a simple and elegant style. In his letter “The Quest of Man,” Nehru describes his current place of confinement and the sense of joy he feels when he is close to the mountains and greenery that surrounds his prison. There is no resentment about being confined to solitary confinement in a prison. On the contrary, the writer has the unusual ability to find joy even in the cool night air and the distant trees and mountains. Then he expresses doubt about the worth and value of his writings.

The author attempts to reconstruct the history of the world from prehistoric times to the present. Nehru claims that he began with a narrative about the discovery of fire and agriculture and then expanded his writings to include historical facts about empires and different civilizations. He wonders if Midway had lost sight of the greatest human challenge: unravelling the mystery of the universe. He has written about civilizations that have come and gone, but somewhere along the way, he missed delving into the human quest to understand the world through which man travels.

He follows a man on his long journey to learn about his world. Man’s greatest asset is his mind, which aids him in his quest. Nehru’s scepticism fades once he begins writing about man’s quest. When he writes, he feels as close to his daughter as if they were sitting together and talking. He discusses the two approaches to understanding the world: religion and science. Religion, according to Nehru, seeks to impose its own views based on faith and spiritual beliefs, whereas science seeks answers through experiment and reason. There can be no single answer to what man seeks because his quest has taken two distinct paths: understanding himself and understanding nature. Religion examines man’s inner nature, whereas science examines man’s outer nature. Both are important, but Nehru prefers the scientific approach because it is rational and open-minded, unlike religion, which is dogmatic. Man, on the other hand, is misusing science rather than harnessing its power, almost to the point of destroying the civilization that he has built.

Nehru used a simple, direct, and conversational style to present serious subject matter relating to the human quest for knowledge in his letter “The Quest of Man.” Nehru goes beyond dates and facts in this letter, focusing on man’s innate desire to know and understand the world around him. Despite the fact that Nehru’s letters were intended only for his daughter, they form a well-knit series of world history for every reader to savour.

Answer to the following questions briefly

1. Why was Nehru not taken to Bareilly station? 

Answer: Nehru was not taken to Bareilly station because he had become a Purdahnashin, a person who is supposed to remain hidden from the public behind a purdah or curtains. Instead, he and the other prisoners were taken to another small station in the wilderness. After many months of seclusion in the prison, he was relieved to feel the cold night air and see the phantom of trees, men, and animals rush by the semidarkness.

2. How did man make sense of his new surroundings?

Answer: In his letter, Nehru claims that when a man is introduced to a new environment, he becomes both confused and curious. Fearful of what he must do, he imagines that man must have looked and stared all around him, helplessly asking questions because there were no answers. However, he claims that man has a wonderful thing called a “mind,” and that it has assisted him in experiencing and learning slowly and painfully in his quest.

3. Why does Nehru see man’s story as being more important than those of other beings?

Answer: Nehru considers man’s story to be more important than that of other beings because, in his opinion, man is full of curiosity and quest, constantly following and fending new traces in his quest. In his search for an answer, man has considered religions, philosophy, and science, which has yielded a variety of results.

B. Explain the following lines with reference to the context.

1. So from the earliest times until today man’s quest has gone on, and he has found out many things, but many still remain, and as he advances on his trail, he discovers vast new tracts stretching out before him, which show to him how far he is still from the end of his quest-if there is such an end.

Answer: The text is an excerpt from Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter “Letter to My Daughter.” Through the text, the writer emphasises man’s search to discover the ultimate quest, though the writer does not provide a proper statement of man’s ultimate quest, instead, leaving it to his daughter’s imagination to decide. He claims that man has been on this quest since the beginning of time and believes that it will continue. He claims that different fields of thought have given man different types of answers, but he asserts that there are many questions that have yet to be answered. As mankind progresses in his thinking and becomes more advanced, he will discover new paths that will lead him directly to the answer he seeks. Though his statements leave us wondering if the writer is unsure of the final outcome himself, he is certain that the answer lies very far ahead and is optimistic about it because he believes in man’s curious mind, which has helped him come so far through civilization and the test of time.

2. It was delightful to feel the cool night air and to see the phantom trees and men and animals rush by in the semidarkness, after many months of seclusion.

Answer: The passage is an excerpt from Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter “Letter to My Daughter.” The statements refer to a time when he was being transferred from Barcilly Gaol to Dehradun through the wilderness to avoid public exposure because he had become Purdahnashins. They were being driven to a small station fifty miles away. The writer had been imprisoned for four months and missed the natural beauty of the countryside. He expresses his happiness and delight at having felt the cool night as they drove to the next prison. We can only imagine how the writer must have felt being locked in a secluded small room with no fresh air or natural view, so the drive was a way for him to refresh his mind while feeling the cool breeze. He also tells us about the phantom of trees, men, and animals rushing by as they drove by in the semi-darkness. The writer is fascinated by them and imagines them as phantoms because he cannot see them in their clear form, and perhaps the speed of the car caused them to sweep by so quickly that he feels they were rushing. His solitary confinement appears to have caused him to imagine all of this, which excites him as they drive by.

C. Answer the following questions in detail.

1. Why does Nehru say the gaol in Dehradun is better than the one in Bareilly?

Answer: Nehru stated that the Dehradun gaol is better compared to the one in Bareilly because the weather is more favourable in Dehradun, which does not reach 112 degrees like in Bareilly. The weather is mild, and the plants are greener than in the past. The narrator appears to enjoy the sight of mountains after mountains. The lights of Mussoorie twinkling in the distance entice onlookers at night.

2. What is the original path that Nehru intended to follow when writing the letters to his daughter?

Answer: While writing letters to his daughter, Nehru wishes to continue the path of educating his daughter about the quest of man and reflect back on the trails of how man has come this far. He expresses his nostalgic feelings for his daughter, saying that she has grown so much in the past years and that he wants to fill the gaps in their relationship by writing letters to her from prison.Though Nehru is concerned that his letters will become a burden to her, he claims that he is obligated to place vivid images of the past one after the other in order to understand how the world has changed. Which has evolved and progressed step by step, and appears to have regressed at times. He wants her to see something of the old civilization and how it has risen and fallen like the tides. He wants to take her back to the beginnings of human civilization and the human quest to comprehend the world around him.

3. Identify any two main themes discussed by Nehru in the letter.

Answer: Religion and science are the two main themes discussed by Nehru in the letter “Letter to My Daughter,” where the writer tells his daughter that these elements are some of the matter that tries to give an answer to some of the man’s quests. He is optimistic that it has answered man’s various quests in various ways; however, the writer explains the differences in its approach to answering some of the man’s questions. According to the author, religion has attempted to provide a complete and dogmatic answer and has frequently shown little regard for man’s inquisitive minds, seeking to impose obedience to its decisions catering to the spiritual needs of man’s quest and attempting to resolve man’s moral issues. Science, on the other hand, responds to man’s questions with scepticism and hesitancy. He claims that because science’s natural tendency is not to dogmatize, but to experiment, reason, and rely on man’s mind, it needs to confirm before proving the purest answer. According to the author, science has not been able to answer man’s quest with certainty, but he sees the quest taking two lines, by looking outside and inside himself, trying to understand nature and himself. He claims that science has primarily been used to provide man with terrible weapons to kill his brother and destroy the civilization he has worked so hard to build.

4. In your own words, write about the quest of man as described by Nehru.

Answer: According to Nehru, man’s quest is to comprehend the world around him. The more inquisitive a person is, the more he makes an effort to learn about the world around him gradually and thus progress. There is no such power in which one relies on one’s own imagination to perform a miracle. It is because of our doubts and ignorance that we go the extra mile to learn and investigate facts and signs that our companions may not be aware of. Thus, man’s quest has been the mind—the curious mind—with the desire to discover and learn since the dawn of time.

5. What are the two domains available to man in his exploration of nature?

Answer: In Nehru’s explanation of nature, the two main domains available to men are to look outside himself as well as inside himself, while attempting to understand nature and himself. He cites ancient Indian and Greek philosophers who spoke of Nature’s providence and the fact that man is a part of nature. These domains of nature’s accessibility to man have helped him to answer some of his questions. When a man looks within himself, he may find his answer to the unseen and explanations. This has assisted man in learning about the working principles of science and, as a result, understanding the ways in which nature behaves.Man has seen and comprehended the providence made available to him by nature by looking out of him. It is from this point that he begins to use and harness its power for his own benefit, gaining more power over it. The author is saddened that man has used nature’s harnessed power for evil purposes, such as creating weapons and killing his brothers. He also claims that in many cases, man has failed to make use of the new power because he does not fully comprehend it. He bemoans the misuse of nature’s powers, which has destroyed the civilization he has worked so hard to build the very best.

6. How has Nehru juxtaposed nature with science in his letter?

Answer: Science is regarded as a distinct domain of Nature. Man has been considered a part of Nature since time immemorial, and man has tried to understand Nature by looking outside himself as well as inside himself. Man’s quest is thus unique and straightforward because he was able to comprehend both himself and nature. After fulfilling man’s quest, science began to make great strides in nature by spreading its wings and collaborating with man and nature. The juxtaposition of nature and science inspires the man to look confidently up to the most distant stars, while also relating to us the wonderful little things of nature in constant motion and all the matters that exist on it.

D. Think and discuss.

1. Nehru writes about fulfilling a promise to his daughter. What do you think that promise might have been, and why was it made?

Answer: While Jawaharlal Nehru was imprisoned and his daughter Indira Gandhi was in Mussoorie, he wrote letters to Indira promising to educate her. He promised her that she would not be denied the proper upbringing that she deserved from her father. In his letters, Nehru informed his daughter about the moral values and life lessons that he would have taught her personally if he had been with her. Nehru must have been going through emotional turmoil, but we see his determination to keep writing to her as an influencing father through letters and words, in order to keep in touch and help his daughter grow up seeing him as a role model.

2. Why is Nehru afraid that his letter has no purpose?

Answer: Nehru was concerned that his letter would be meaningless because the letters he was writing to his daughter would burden her. In some ways, we can understand how Nehru, as a father, would have respected his daughter’s life decisions and would have wanted her to make her own. He explains why he is writing the letter, saying that the more he writes, the less he likes it. It is unclear why he feels this way, but he may have felt that he was influencing his daughter simply by his mindset and that the letters could be misinterpreted by her. We can see his hope, however, that he can influence his daughter to love humanity and understand the ways of man and nature. He wants her to learn about her countrymen’s rich heritage and perhaps instil a sense of patriotism in her.

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