Excerpt: “Hindustan Azad Hoga,” Said Netaji Post Fatal Plane Crash
If you grew up in Bengal – or any place, really, with a Bengali grandparent who was alive at the time that Subhas Chandra Bose was – chances are, you will have heard a series of legends about one of India’s most beloved heroes. My personal favourite was that Netaji, ‘undead’ in the plane crash of August 1945, returned to the country as a rather large, robed-and-swathed sadhu called ‘Gumnami Baba’. Another cousin I grew up with insisted he “never actually got on the plane, but fled to another country” (he usually went suspiciously quiet when I pressed – “but, what country?”).
Of course, as veteran journalist Ashis Ray will tell you in his book Laid to Rest: The Controversy Over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death, it is time such a “tsunami of falsehoods” were laid to rest, once and for all.
This book is the ultimate and unapologetic guide to everything you wanted to know about Netaji’s death – the period right before, the moment of the plane crash and every possible witness testimony since (doctors and nurses who tended to him, his aide-de-camp Habibur Rehman who carried him to hospital, the priest who preserved his ashes, etc.)
Here are a few powerful excerpts from the book:
On Bose and Schenkl’s Relationship...
Bose was human. He had developed a deep attachment for the lady he had left behind in Vienna and was, as a result, torn between his first love – his country – and the love of his life – Schenkl, an Austrian Catholic. Before embarking on his voyage home, he emotionally wrote to her. ‘Maybe, I shall spend my life in prison, may be, I shall be shot or hanged. But whatever happens, I shall think of you and convey my gratitude to you in silence for your love for me… you will always live in my heart, in my thoughts and in my dreams. If fate should separate us in this life – I shall long for you in my next life.’
Interestingly, upon his return to India and while still in detention, Bose, corresponding with Schenkl, hoped India would ‘be able to retain the championship in hockey at least’ in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Spearheaded by the peerless wizard of the sport, Dhyan Chand, India duly completed a hat-trick of gold medals in successive Olympiads. Even Hitler was persuaded to overcome his racial prejudice. He was suitably impressed despite the Indians thrashing the Germans 81!
In November 1937, Bose returned to Europe; and was for a few months re-united with Schenkl. He began writing An Indian Pilgrim, intending to encapsulate in the book his life up to the end of that year, but this was not accomplished. The incomplete manuscript was published in 1948 three years after his death.
There are conflicting perceptions about when precisely they exchanged vows. Schenkl told both Gordon and Sugata Bose, a Harvard professor of history and author of a highly authoritative biography on Bose, His Majesty’s Opponent, they got married secretly in Badgastein – a romantic Alpine resort in the Salzburg region of Austria and often their preferred getaway – in December 1937. Sugata believes Bose clandestinely married Schenkl on Boxing Day, also her birthday, in 1937. He revealed in his book they exchanged watches as wedding gifts before he left for India.
Other writers – for no fault of theirs – have been under the impression that either 1941 or 1942 was the year of the betrothal. Arathil (ACN) Nambiar, Bose’s deputy in Europe during the Second World War, communicated to Gordon, ‘I can imagine the marriage having been a very informal one with publicity well avoided.’ In 1977, he told me he was among the select few who were taken into confidence about it. Weddings between Aryans and non-Aryans were forbidden by the Nazis. Whatever the exactitude, the couple were unable to maintain the continuity, openness and togetherness customary between partners. Until she wrote to Sarat after the end of the War, the Bose family were completely in the dark about this thrilling aspect of Subhas’ life.
On Bose’s Last Words...
Rehman had earlier narrated he felt cold during the flight from Tourane to Taihoku. So, during the halt at Taihoku, Rehman changed into a warm serge uniform of a bush-coat, breeches and top-boots. He asked Bose if he wanted the same, but the former replied he hadn’t felt cold. Nevertheless, Rehman did hand him a pullover. ‘He was not wearing the sweater,’ Rehman said, when he reached him after escaping from the plane, ‘he was wearing khaki drill.’ In any case, fuel from the plane’s tank had splashed all over him, thereby rendering his attire highly inflammable.
Rehman further stated:
He went on to narrate:
When I laid Netaji on the ground, I myself lay by his side. I was feeling acute pain and felt exhausted… Just then, Netaji enquired from me in Hindustani: “Aap ko ziada to nahin lagi?” (Hope you have not been badly hurt?). I replied: “I feel I will be all right.” About himself he said that he felt that he would not survive. I replied: “Oh! No, God will spare you. I am sure you will be all right.” He said: “No, I don’t think so.”
Rehman expanded that lying on the ground in a critical state near a blazing, disintegrated plane, Bose told him:
‘Jab apney mulk wapis jayen, to mulki bhaiyon ko batana ki mein akhri dam tak mulk ki azadi ke liyay larta raha hoon; woh jangi azadi ko jari rakhen. Hindustan zaroor azad hoga, oos ko koi gulam nahin rakh sakta.’ (When you go back to India, tell our countrymen that up to the last breath I have been fighting for the liberation of India; they should continue the struggle. I am sure India will be free before long. Nobody can keep India in bondage.)
(‘Laid to Rest: The Controversy Over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death’ has been written by Ashis Ray and published by Roli Books. It is priced at Rs 595.)