Another day passes without a letter from Papa. It is possible that the plane carrying his letter has crashed into the depths of the ocean, unknown to us. April has gone and so has May; we received one letter in March, but, since then, nothing. Rama Murti Kaka, the head of the Indian Independence League (IIL) in Tokyo, shares news from the south: the Indians who had left from Kobe and Tokyo are busy setting up base for the Indian National Army (INA) in Bangkok and Shonan. Following Japan’s stormy invasion, Singapore has been renamed Shonan, meaning ‘Light of the South’, and they say it is only a matter of time before Burma gains freedom.
Papa and Rash Behari Bose met some Japanese officers several months ago and convinced them that Japan and India had to fight together against colonisation. As a consequence, the Japanese have freed hundreds of imprisoned Indian soldiers of the British Army under the condition that they join the INA. The soldiers of the INA will fight alongside the Japanese in Burma. Together means no hierarchy, no inferiority.
In his last letter, Papa wrote that we must take delight in our obligations and instructed us to take care of Ma to the best of our abilities. Her body is not as strong as it used to be. Let’s see when his next letter arrives. Satya Kaka is on tour, sometimes in Yokohama, sometimes in Kobe.
Sunday, 13 June 1943
Satya Kaka returns from Kobe. We make plans of going to Yokohama with him for an excursion. But as soon as we reach Tokyo station, we spot a newspaper. Printed in bold letters: ‘Subhas Bose Arrives on Submarine.’ We immediately return home.
Hearing the news, Ma becomes ecstatic. She turns to Kaka and says: ‘Satto, let’s go to Imperial Hotel immediately.’ ‘Arre, Bhauji, at this time? Let’s wait till the morning.’ Ma relents, but her excitement is contagious and spreads among us. We spend the night talking about Netaji.
Monday, 14 June 1943
Warm rays of hope envelope us this morning, dissipating the numbness of the previous months. We reach Imperial Hotel at about ten in the morning. While we are waiting in the gallery, we hear a stir. I look up and see Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose descending the stairs with his personal secretary, Abid Hasan. Ma greets him by touching his feet and we follow her example.
Netaji says: ‘What is this, Sati? What have you taught the children? Do we still have to bow our heads in front of others? And touch their feet, too? Is slavery still around?’
Netaji asks in a softer tone: ‘Is everything alright? You aren’t facing any difficulties with money, are you?’
As if Ma is one to admit defeat; there is no chance she will share her sufferings. Standing up straight, she says: ‘Everything is fine.’ She then turns to Satya Kaka and introduces him to Netaji, who immediately pulls him closer and proceeds to embrace him.
‘Subhas Da, please take him as well,’ Ma says. Netaji consents. Who would not be excited to find a warrior like Satya Kaka? I look towards my young uncle, and see his face glowing with happiness and pride. He will now live as a shadow of Netaji.
Kaka secretly came to Japan from India when he was nineteen years old. He began living with us, assisting Ma and Papa in all manners. While Papa may have been his mentor, Ma was his first guide – it is from her he received the affection and consciousness that made him a patriot. For us, he quickly became an ideal; we both revered and adored him.
Kaka enjoys drawing, even though his art often causes us to break into peals of laughter. On one occasion, he was drawing a girl with a long nose, enormous eyes, wide lips and long hair,and we burst out laughing. Kaka acted shocked and said: ‘Arre, I’ve drawn something so beautiful and you all are laughing!’ We learnt freehand in school, and to watch him measure and draw made us uncomfortable.
Once, a long time ago, Tulu was wrestling with Kaka. Ma observed them for a while, a curious expression on her face. She then laughed and said: ‘Satto, if you go to Purani Sarai and wrestle with a girl, then I’ll understand.’
In school, our classmates teased us about Kaka, calling him ‘a burnt omelette’ or as ‘black as coal’. They asked us if he permed his hair. While we felt irritated, we said nothing because he did have curly hair. When we returned home, we grumbled to Kaka. But he was not one to complain, nor did he ever lack friends. He retorted by saying: ‘Yes, it is because I am dark that I am surrounded by crowds of friends.’
I must confess I did not care much for most of his friends; they made us feel Kaka belonged to them and not to us. I used to be most irritated by Tamura-san, who teased me a lot. But I really liked Midori One-san.
Well, Kaka now belongs to no one but Netaji.
Excerpted with permission from The War Diary of Asha-san: From Tokyo to Netaji’s Indian National Army, by Lt Bharati ‘Asha’ Sahay, translated from the Japanese by Tanvi Srivastava, Harper Collins.