Subhas Chandra Bose’s courage and compassion live through his letters

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s courage and compassion live through his letters

Subhas Chandra Bose’s courage and compassion live through his letters vienna from jail azad hind fouj nephew amiya 30 stades

Letters written by an individual are often a reflection of his or her personality. It is not surprising then that the letters written by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose give glimpses into the indomitable spirit of the great leader who was one of the pioneering figures of the Indian Independence Movement. The Government has announced January 23, Netaji’s birth anniversary, to be observed as ‘Parakram Diwas’ or Valour Day.

The magnitude of Netaji’s courage, as well as compassion, shines forth through the inspiring words written over the years in letters he exchanged with friends, family and followers.

Letters that tell more than words

An example is a letter he penned down addressing the soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj, recognised as the first Indian army which was formed by Netaji. “My Dear Boys,” he wrote, “On the eve of taking off from this soil, I want to send you my love and all good wishes for the success of your work. I have no son of my own – but you are to me more than my sons – because you have dedicated your lives to the cause which is the only fact of my life – the freedom of ‘Bharat Mata’.”

Letter written by Netaji on January 14, 1940
Letter written by Netaji on January 14, 1940, while travelling by train from Calcutta to Bombay (now Kolkata and Mumbai) to his nephew Amiya Nath Bose. Netaji writes about his book and that the British may not allow its English edition to be published. Pic: courtesy Madhuri Bose

The letter, which was analysed by certified hand-writing expert Devanshu Ballabh, on January 23, 2020, which coincides with the World Hand-writing Day, is among what could be hundreds of letters that Netaji left behind before his permanent disappearance in August 1945.

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According to at least one theory, he died in a plane crash.

Several other theories surround the mysterious disappearance of India’s lost hero, including that Netaji lived on beyond the alleged plane crash; that he travelled to the Soviet Union where he had been imprisoned by Stalin and another which suggests that he returned to India in the guise of a hermit who was called Gumnami Baba, a theory which has been completely dismissed as “preposterous” by most of Netaji’s descendants and extended family.

“Netaji was a larger-than-life personality who dedicated his life to the service of his countrymen and led from the front. He would not hide behind a secret identity and remain idle,” says Netaji’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose.

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Netaji married Austrian Emilie Schenkl. Their daughter Anita Bose Pfaff, who now lives in Europe with her family, was an year old at the time of his disappearance.

Netaji with his wife Emilie Schenkl and nephew Amiya Nath Bose
Netaji with his wife Emilie Schenkl and nephew Amiya Nath Bose. This photo is from the collection of Madhuri Bose.

Inheritors of the letter legacy

Among those to have inherited a large collection of Netaji’s private and political letters is Chandra’s sister Madhuri Bose. Chandra and Madhuri are the children of Netaji’s nephew Amiya Nath Bose. “My father carefully preserved every letter that his beloved uncle sent to him,” says Madhuri.

Many of these letters were written during the long periods of time when Netaji was imprisoned by the British colonial rulers. They are stored in ten large trunks in the Netaji family house in Kolkata.

A number of them were published in the book ‘The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account’ written by Madhuri and published by Sage India.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose
There are multiple theories around the disappearance of Netaji in August 1945. Pic: Flickr

These letters also include exchanges between Netaji and his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, who adored his younger brother and was among the most ardent supporters of his politics. “The letters between my father Amiya, my granduncle Subhas and my grandfather Sarat provide a glimpse not just into their politics and their personalities but also documents one of the most important phases of India’s history,” points out Madhuri.

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One letter dated February 6, 1935, and written by Netaji from Vienna to Amiya who was in Calcutta then, for instance, points out to his nephew that in India there was a dearth of good books that discussed the topic of nationalism.

And, therefore, he had undertaken to write books on the subject. He also mentions that his books, which though are well received in the West, would not be allowed by the British rulers in India.

On a personal touch, he enquires about the health and wellbeing of his family members, thanks him for sending photos of them and urges him to send more.

Written in Bengali, on a light, lavender piece of paper, the letter from Madhuri’s collection is a quintessential example of Subhas’ ability to traverse the spectrum of the political and the personal in equal measure.

The freedom fighter inspired by Swami Vivekanand

Journalist Rajeev Mani, in one of his articles written on January 23, 2020, pointed out that a freshly discovered collection of four of Netaji’s letters dated between 1915 and 1935, written to a former classmate, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, when the latter had moved from Kolkata to Allahabad for studies, revealed that Netaji was deeply influenced by the teachings of the great saints.

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Netaji's letter
Netaji’s letter from Vienna dated February 6, 1935 to his nephew Amiya Nath Bose in Kolkata. Pic: from the collection of Madhuri Bose. 

“When one goes through the content of the letters, one finds that Bose was highly inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the thought of leading the nation and to come out from the influence of the British was propagated by him even in the young age of early 20s,” writes Mani.

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In one of these letters, dated March 17, 1920, and written in Bengali from Cambridge University, where Bose was studying at the time, he reflects on the divinity and peacefulness of their motherland.

Among the most inspiring pieces of communication is a letter which Subhas wrote to his elder brother Sarat after resigning from the Indian Civil Services in 1920. He had secured a high ranking and subsequently a lucrative position but he quit to pursue his dream of joining the freedom movement.

“Only on the soil of sacrifice and suffering can we raise our national edifice,” he wrote to Sarat.

In his resignation letter, found in declassified files, he wrote, “Sir, I desire to have my name removed from the list of probationers in the Indian Civil Service. I may state in this connection that I was selected as a result of an open competitive examination held in August 1920.”

In 1921 he returned to India. A hundred years later, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s letters bring alive the spirit of a man, a leader, who lived to die for his country.

(Dola Mitra is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of ‘Decoding Didi’. She is the Editor of digital news portal Cuckoo News)

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