By Madhuri Bose.
Editor’s note: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the visionary who was among the foremost pioneers of India’s freedom struggle, may have written hundreds of letters during his lifetime, both personal and political. The common thread that runs through each and every one of them, whether addressed to friends, family or followers, however, is a rare combination of courage and compassion. Netaji’s grandniece, Madhuri Bose, inherited a large collection of his letters, some of them written to her father, Amiya Nath Bose, son of Sarat Chandra Bose, another stalwart of the Indian Independence movement and Netaji’s elder brother. Preserved in their family home in ten trunks, a few of them were brought out by Madhuri in her book, “The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account” published by Sage India. In this article for Cuckoo News, on the occasion of Netaji’s 125th birth anniversary on January 23, 2021, she reveals the circumstances under which Netaji often wrote the letters, many of them penned while he was languishing in jail and had to pass the scrutiny of his British incarcerators.
Letters and Photos from the Bose family archives, courtesy of Madhuri Bose.
“You must endeavour to reach the heights of the greatest people. A very difficult exercise, I know. But you must achieve success through hard work. Have the highest ambition in life – but not a selfish ambition. The ambition should be to serve others and to die for others …” wrote Subhas Chandra Bose to his dear nephew Amiya from Nice on 30 November 1933 during his involuntary exile in Europe.
This letter (in original Bengali) together with many others of both a private and political nature from the Bose Brothers – Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose – to their family, friends and political colleagues were preserved by my father Amiya Nath Bose with loving care for future generations. Among these letters were many written to him by his father Sarat and uncle Subhas. Most of them were written from jail or during the period of enforced exile of uncle Subhas from 1933 to 1935. These letters speak of love, high ideals and also practical guidance in education to a nephew who was growing up in a large extended family in the heart of Calcutta (Kolkata), but sadly often with his father Sarat far away from home under detention by the colonial authorities.
When I embarked on a book to document and share my father’s reminiscences on growing up in the enchanted environment of the Bose Brothers, and later his own political involvement under the inspiration of father Sarat and uncle Subhas, it became clear to me early on that these precious letters should be shared with the people and in particular the youth of India.
Both Sarat andj Subhas were repeatedly arrested and detained by the British colonial authorities under so-called emergency laws. These specifically allowed for ‘preventive’ detention without trial, and at no time were any specific charges brought against them. Thus the Bose Brothers individually spent almost 8 years of their active political lives under detention which spanned the years from the early 1920s till the 1940s. Subhas also spent a number of years in Europe under enforced exile.
Sarat was arrested and jailed from February 1932 to July 1935 with some of that time under ‘house arrest’ in his own bungalow in the hill town of Kurseong near Darjeeling. In December 1941, Sarat was again arrested and subsequently detained in faraway Coonoor in southern India in the state of Tamil Nadu. He was released only in September 1945.
For his part, Subhas was arrested and incarcerated on eleven separate occasions over the period 1921 to 1941. His longest detention was from 1924 – 1927 with much of that time spent under onerous conditions in Mandalay Jail in Burma. It was here that Subhas’s health took a serious downturn from which he never really recovered. What is remarkable is that even under such circumstances, Subhas continued to write to his close family and friends, fought in a local election in Calcutta and won, and wrote a book which he called Pebbles on the Seashore. Sadly, Subhas never got around to publishing this his first book, excerpts of which were finally published in The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account (Madhuri Bose, SAGE India, 2016).
What is most remarkable is how the Bose Brothers wrote as many letters as they did from detention. A range of constraints was enforced during such episodes, including restrictions on the number of letters they could write to family and friends, how often they could write and what they could write. All had to pass by the eagle eye of the censor, and I have found letters which have been simply ‘monstered’ by scissors and pen marks! Also, certain letters never reached their destination. We have found the evidence as and when the classified files were released by successive Indian governments. Despite such onerous conditions, the ingenuity of the Boses was not to be denied and sometimes ways were found to ‘smuggle out’ letters during family visits.
Indeed, it was clearly during the periods of forced internment that the Bose Brothers were able to read, write and reflect to an extent that they were unable to do in the midst of their hectic political schedules. The wealth of correspondence from the Bose Brothers preserved in family trunks for a century or more, and bequeathed to future generations, provides an insight into the minds of two great men, their vision and their hopes for the new generations growing up in Independent India.
(Photographs: Top panel: 1. letter from Subhas to Amiya dated 6.2.35, Vienna; 2. first page of letter written by Subhas as president of the political party Forward Bloc, dated January 14, 1940; 3. second page of the letter.
Bottom panel: 1.Sarat and wife Bivabati Bose with their son Amiya and daughter-in-law Jyotsna Bose at their home in Calcutta in 1948; 2. Amiya with his uncle Subhas and Subhas’ then secretary and later wife, Emile Schenkle in December 1937
All photographs courtesy of Madhuri Bose.)