Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s letters were released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his 125th anniversary on 23 January 2021.
The therapeutic value of reading has long been established by neuroscientists and psychologists. Books are good for the brain. And their benefits are particularly vital now. Books expand our world and our vision, providing novelty, surprise and excitement which boost dopamine. They broaden our perspective and help us emphathize with others. In the words of Ursula K. Leguin, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real and imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” One such book is the recently released title “Letters of Netaji’’ (from 1926 to 1938) published by Sahitya Akademi — the National Akademi of letters and released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji on 23 January 2021 on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The book is a collection of 154 letters written by Netaji to his nephew Asoke Nath Bose from various locations across the world which reveal not just different facets of his personality but is a reflection of the political churning and the socio-economic ethos of the time. The foreword to the book has been penned by the Culture Secretary of India, Raghvendra Singh, who lucidly explains that this major publication on Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century provides a fascinating perspective on how political legacies co-exist with intellectual and socio-cultural legacies as bequeathed by him. Netaji as he is endearingly referred to by millions of his followers does not belong only to India or to undivided Bengal of the previous century. He truly belongs to the whole world. His legacy has withstood the test of time and has transcended geographical space making Netaji a timeless icon for several generations of Indians living all over the world. Subhas Chandra bose is a ‘living legacy’ that continues to grow with time.
While a hundred and twenty years seem like an enormous time-span, there continue to be many generations and major events which were directly influenced by Netaji and his followers. Through the prism of his living legacy he appears to be a real and incredibly inspiring human being who took upon himself causes much greater than his own life and personal ambitions. In the pages of this publication the readers come to be acquainted with the Subhas Chandra Bose from the years between 1926 to 1938. The letters which he continued to write to his nephew despite his own ill-health and confinement reflect his sharp mind, his clarity of thoughts and strength of purpose.
The letters cover a wide range of subjects that range from the mundane and monotonous to the mighty and magnificient. Forever the patriot, in one letter while advising his nephew on studying chemical technology in Germany, he surmises that in order to make the choice he will have to consult not just his own taste but the possibilities of future industrial development of India. He added, “do not forget Indian conditions. You will not find ready –made factories in India on your return where you can work as an expert. You will have to create new factories. Many of our foreign trained experts fail to do anything on their return home because they forget this significant fact. Our foreign trained experts have therefore to be industrial pioneers as well – if they want to be successful in life.’’ the content of this letter dated 1932 is so pertinent. He advises his nephew to continue to use the spinning wheel (the charkha). In another letter he bemoans the exorbitant rates of the airmail. It is interesting to note that the high rates for airmail often compelled people to use very thin paper for writing their letters, like oilskin paper which Bose also purchases. In another letter dated 28.5.33 he writes that the London Indians have elected him as the president of the Indian political conference to be held in June that year. He further added that he went to the British consulate to get a passport which they declined and that he has asked friends in London to try and procure one for him. All through his letters we get a glimpse of Netaji as a very focused, stimulated and articulate individual. He continuously writes about books, journals, newspapers and magazines to his nephew often asking him to procure some for him and encourages him to read and also to learn German. It is the writing of a mind that is continuously at work, germinating with ideas and fertile with possibilities of what lay ahead. He attended the India conference in Geneva in 1933 which was a fair success. He then asks his nephew to read a Nazi newspaper because an essay on India had been published in it. We see a Subhash Chandra Bose who is as much invested in his larger family as he is in the country. He often asks about the health of his family members, talks about possible cures, doctors and at one occasion directs his nephew to give his (NETAJI’S) belt –used at the waist- for back issues – to a female relative with a similar problem. And despite the fact that he has abdomen issues with slow recovery. It is an amazing insight into the tenacious mind of Netaji. He mentions his multiple health issues but his spirit never seems to be broken or overwhelmed by them. In one letter dated 1934 he writes “carelessness is a serious crime in my eyes.’’ We can gauge how disciplined he was. He planned and wrote a book and in 1935 gifted a copy of his book to Mussolini. In the same year, he gave a lecture in Vienna on the subject –“the place of Indian women in the Indian freedom movement’’. He was also savoured Indian music. When Vienna Radio started a programme on Indian music from 10 pm to 10 45 p.m. once a month with the condition that they would continue it if people like it, he promptly tells his nephew and his friends to write letters praising the programme so that Vienna Radio could have one Indian evening every month. During his travels, Bose was continuously reaching out to student organizations, he gave innumerable speeches and sought the company of great minds. He was acutely aware of global events and their impact on colonial rule in Asia. The ability to understand and absorb new ideas, learn from rapidly changing political scenarios can best be seen in the Subhash Bose of this era.
This publication has valuable photographs from National Library, Kolkata will add immense value to the literature available on Bose and will also encourage new generations of scholars to research on this iconic personality. All in all the book provides comfort, consolation, chuckles and companionship in equal measure and there lies its success.
The writer is an author and translator based at Delhi.