Netaji Subhas Bose’s 125th Birth Anniversary

Sri Subhas Chandra Bose, popularly known as “Netaji”, was born 124 years ago in Cuttack, Orrisa on Jan 23rd in 1897[1]. Netaji is considered by a significant portion of Indians to have been instrumental — more than M. K. Gandhi MHRH — in getting the British to give up India. Be that as it may, it is undeniable that he was one of the greatest leaders of India in the last century.

His biography is quite well researched and generally known. There’s also an unfinished autobiography which covers the period from his birth to 1921 which Bose titled “An Indian Pilgrim.”[2]

But his disappearance and death is shrouded in mystery, conspiracy and intrigue. There’s a veritable cottage industry that thrives on the idea that he did not really die in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945 but that he lived in India for decades as a recluse ascetic.

I don’t know much at all about Bose but I suspect that he did indeed die in 1945. Why? Two reasons. First, he was dedicated to India’s freedom and self-rule. So when India did get free of the British (even though Indians are still not free of the British Raj to this day), why would he not show up and at least be part of the Indian leadership of post-1947 India? He was more suited for that task than was the playboy-retard Nehru.

Did Bose get a knock on his head that turned him stupid? I reject that.

The second reason is that he had a family. A small family but a family nevertheless. And from his autobiography it is clear that he valued family immensely. He must have cared for his German wife, Emilie Schenkl, and his daughter Anita (click on image on the left for her wiki bio) whom he last saw when she was just two months old. Surely, after the end of the 2nd World War, he would have joined his family. He was not the kind of man who would shirk his duty toward his family any more than he would shirk his duty toward his nation.

Alright, moving on. As can only be expected from Indian government officials in India and abroad, they make a huge tamasha of celebrating popular heroes. Modi is the past master of that sort of song and dance. Check out his over-the-top gushing tweets about it all.

The Consulate General of India in Munich posted a couple of videos of Anita Pfaff née Schenkl’s message to Indians.[4] She appears to be a kindly person.

Well then, happy 125th birthday, Netaji Bose. You were one of a kind. Indians have much to learn from your life and work.


[1] When he was born, he already had eight siblings — three sisters and five brothers. His mother, Prabhavati Bose née Dutt, was 14 years old when she had her first child and went on to have 13 children in all.

[2] Here’s a pdf copy of “An Indian Pilgrim“. Click to open in new tab or right-click to save as.
{Hat tip: my younger brother for forwarding me that pdf.} 

Bose writes quite well. Here’s a sample from chapter 1, “Birth, Parentage and Early Environment”:

And for the grown-ups it was difficult to discern whom father loved more, so strictly impartial he appeared to be, whatever his inner feelings might have been. And my mother? Though she was more humane and it was not impossible at times to detect her bias, she was also held in awe by most of her children. No doubt she ruled the roost and, where family affairs were concerned, hers was usually the last word. She had a strong will, and, when one added to that a keen sense of reality and sound common-sense, it is easy to understand how she could dominate the domestic scene. In spite of all the respect I cherished for my parents since my early years, I did yearn for a more intimate contact with them and could not help envying those children who were lucky enough to be on friendly terms with their parents. This desire presumably arose out of a sensitive and emotional temperament.

But to be overawed by my parents was not the only tragedy. The presence of so many elder brothers and sisters seemed to relegate me into utter insignificance. That was perhaps all to the good. I started life with a sense of diffidence—with a feeling that I should live upto the level already attained by those who had preceded me. For good or for ill, I was free from overconfidence or cocksureness. I lacked innate genius but had no tendency to shirk hard work. I had, I believe, a subconscious feeling that for mediocre men industry and good behaviour are the sole passports to success.

To be a member of a large family is, in many ways, a drawback. One does not get the individual attention which is often necessary in childhood. Moreover, one is lost in a crowd as it were, and the growth of personality suffers in consequence. On the other hand, one develops sociability and overcomes self-centredness and angularity. From infancy I was accustomed to living not merely in the midst of a large number of sisters and brothers, but also with uncles and cousins. The denotation of the word ‘family’ was therefore automatically enlarged. What is more, our house had always an open door for distant relatives hailing from our ancestral village. And, in accordance with a long-standing Indian custom, any visitors to the town of Cuttack who bore the stamp of respectability could—with or without an introduction — drive to our house and expect to be put up there. Where the hotel—system is not so much in vogue and decent hotels are lacking, society has some how to provide for a social need.

[4] Subhas Bose’s daughter Anita speaking on the occasion of her father’s birthday.


Author: Atanu Dey


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