60 yrs later, grandnephew follows Netaji's trail

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  1. ejazr

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    Oct 8, 2009
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    60 yrs later, grandnephew follows Netaji's trail - The Times of India

    CHENNAI: Though he never really spent too much in the south, most of revolutionary freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's civilian followers were Tamils. In Chennai for the launch of his book 'His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose And India's Struggle Against Empire', historian and author Sugata Bose says that among Netaji's achievements that are often overlooked was his ability to bring unity among India's diverse religious and linguistic groups.

    "The professional soldiers of the Indian National Army (INA) were Muslims, Pathans, Sikhs, but the civilian followers were largely South Indians, especially Tamils. He had the ability to reach out to even poor rubber plantation workers in Malaya. That's why he's still respected and remembered," said Bose, who is Netaji's grandnephew and professor of history at Harvard.

    Bose describes his book as the biography of an Indian anti-colonial nationalist set in the context of global history. "When you think of nationalists, you limit yourself to territorial borders but here was a man who embarked on a global odyssey," says Bose, who has written more than half-a-dozen books on history and economics. "Netaji was a warrior statesman with vision for the social and economic reconstruction of India after Independence."

    Bose undertook a global odyssey of his own to follow Netaji's trail for the book. "The source material was spread across the world. I travelled to wherever Netaji had worked - Germany, England, Austria, Japan, Singapore," he says. Bose started work at the Netaji Research Bureau Archives in Kolkata, and used letters Netaji and his Austrian wife Emilie Schenkl wrote.

    He also made trips to places where he knew there would be no documents, like the Austrian hill station of Bad Gastein, which Netaji loved. "In Austria, I visited his favourite cafe, the inn he stayed at. All that adds in intangible ways to a book you are writing. I wanted to address the intertwining of the political and the personal. So, following his trail was a challenge but also rewarding," says Bose.

    Though Bose describes being related to Netaji as an "accident of birth", the family connection did have advantages. Bose remembers former INA members visiting his parents, hearing stories of his father driving Netaji out of Calcutta during the escape from India in 1941, of life in Singapore from Netaji's publicity minister SA Iyer, about the submarine voyage from Germany to Japan from his secretary Abid Hasan, about the women's wing from Lakshmi Sehgal. "All this helped me capture the atmosphere and flavour of the times," Bose says.

    The actual writing of the book took Bose just a year, sitting in the Netaji Research Archives in Kolkata. "But it's almost a lifetime of research," he says.

    Bose also had to investigate the mystery surrounding Netaji's death in a place crash on August 18, 1945. "Some of the false trails are so palpably preposterous that you dismiss them. I had decided to focus on his life but since I was writing a biography, I had to investigate the question his mortal end as well," says Bose.

    So Bose sifted through material, including transcripts of six of the seven witnesses to the crash, and is convinced he died. "Anyone who says anything to the contrary detracts from the greatness of a front-rank leader of the freedom struggle who gave his life on the battlefield. I hope the younger generation at least will be mature enough to come to terms with his mortal end," he says.

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