Rashbehari Bose and the woman who saved him   

This article has been authored by Saswati Sarkar, Jeck Joy, Shanmukh and Dikgaj.

 |   Long-form |   11-04-2016
  • ---
    Total Shares

After the failure of his first major attempt to oust British power from Indian soil, which is now known officially as Hindu German Conspiracy [8], Rashbehari Bose was forced to flee the country to Japan in the guise of PN Thakur, a relative of the great poet, Rabindranath Thakur [7]. He attempted to send arms and ammunition to his revolutionary comrades from Singapore, but his plots were unearthed by the British and failed. The British forced the Japanese to issue a deportation order on Rashbehari, yet he managed to dodge the Japanese police with the help of Toyama Mitsuru and the Soma family of Nakamuraya [8]. 

In this piece, we shall attempt to chronicle Rashbehari's continued struggle from the shores of Japan, starting from when Japan lifted the deportation order on him, but he was still not safe owing to hot pursuit by detective agencies hired by the British in Japan with the express purpose of kidnapping or assassinating him. It was a Japanese lady, indeed the eldest daughter of his host the Soma family, who stood as a human shield between Rashbehari Bose and the British hot pursuit.  The young girl, Tosiko Soma, married him, ignoring the contemporary social values that frowned upon marriage with foreigners, so as to be able to accompany him all the time. She could thereby make his stay less conspicuous as he could now choose how much to mingle with locals even for his daily needs. Both survived through the ordeal of several years of constant hide and seek with the British agencies, and Rashbehari got naturalised and could afford the safety of a permanent home for the first time. But, immediately came the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which destroyed this home. The nation Rashbehari fought for deserted him in the resulting financial woes and desperation, save and except eminent exceptions such as then destitute Rashbehari’s childhood friend Srish Chandra Ghosh who was an eminent revolutionary himself (read about him in [9]), and the poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore. But, yet again, it would be Japan who would extend India’s revolutionary a helping hand.  Tosiko Soma shortly succumbed to the persistent persecutions, after Rashbehari became relatively safe.

Personal tragedy or not, Rashbehari was not one to relinquish his missions. He would go on to lay the foundation stones of the Indian Independence League and the glorious legacy of the Azad Hind Fauj of Netaji. Eventually the Azad Hind Fauj played the most significant role in weakening the British administrative hold on India, as was accepted by the erstwhile British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. That tale is however for another day. This piece is as much Tosiko’s story as that of Rashbehari’s – a tribute to the foreign woman India is yet to honor, but owes much to.   

rash-behari-bose-emb_041116122717.jpg Rashbehari Bose and Tosiko Soma. 

Section A: Marriage with Tosiko Soma

Owing to the hot pursuit by the British, ensuring the safety of Rashbehari Bose was becoming more challenging by the day for his Japanese protectors, Mitsuru Toyama and the Somas. As Ohsawa notes: “But it was difficult to keep Bose always in contact. Who can carry messages from Mr Toyoma? His personnel could not do it for obvious reasons. There must be someone of proved faithfulness, and very clever to give the slip to the detectives and suspicious unknown persons. Who could fulfill this most difficult work? That worried Mr Toyoma very much. …Bose might have been assassinated any moment. Soma thought one must be always with him as the pursuit of the British Embassy became pressing day by day. Mr Toyoma could not solve this problem”; pp. 12-13, [3]. As Mrs Soma also writes: “We were very anxious how to protect him against the British Embassy. We were at a loss to decide upon our course of action.” (From “Bose and Tosiko”, by Mrs Kokkoh Soma, p. 33, [5]).

A creative solution was however found. We continue with the narrative of Mrs Kokkoh Soma: “One day Mr Toyoma proposed to marry my eldest daughter Tosiko to Mr Bose.

At first we were upset at the unexpected proposal.

We had to think it over for many days. We loved Mr Bose as our son. He called us father and mother. Our affection towards Mr Bose was something extraordinary. We had deep respect for him. But we had never imagined about his marriage with our Tosiko. Never even in our wildest dream.

But how could we ask Tosiko? It was too delicate a matter to ask her. Moreover it was too great a speculation for a young girl still attending school.

But we realized there was no other way to take. The pursuit of detectives paid by the British Embassy was becoming more and more severe, Mr Bose was in danger.

We prayed, Tosiko could accept this risky – may be dangerous mission for the sake of four hundred millions of people of India…

At last, I talked to Tosiko about Mr Toyama’s suggestion. "Tosiko, couldn’t you save Mr Bose? …It is too big a mission for you ….But there is no one else who can do it?”

She replied: "Let me think it over, please mother for a time.”

Since that day, she became taciturn. She was thinking very seriously day in and day out…

After one month, the day came when I had to give a reply to Mr Toyama. I called Tosiko to my room and asked her about her decision. Worrying very deeply and soliciting that she could speak without ignoring her free will, controlling myself quietly I awaited her reply.

She replied steadily: "Mother, please let me go to Mr Bose, and allow me to be his flesh-shield. I am determined.”

I was struck by her noble resolve. She was my daughter. I could not decide if I was happy or unhappy. I asked in tears ``You say, please let me go but you know, this will not be a joyful and hopeful marriage…Really you can unify yourself with Mr Bose? Really can you protect Mr Bose at all cost?”

I explained the situation again and again.

She was determined.

So we asked Mr Bose if he would marry Tosiko and if he was unmarried for we had been told that one marries very early in India.

“No, I am not married. I was determined at the age of fifteen to devote my all for the independence of India, I had never thought about marriage since my boyhood. I never visited my parents since then as I was afraid that they might be tortured after my departure….. Much more how could I imagine of a married life? But if it is Mr Toyama’s intention and it is Miss Tosiko, I could but obey…”

Mr Toyama was very much pleased when he heard that they are both determined. He said "Well, well, then I will do my best to protect both.”

Thus, Tosiko was married to Mr Bose through Mr Toyama and the ceremony was presided over by him, too. But it was all in secret. I made my son Tikako (then 19) make preparations for the marriage. I was always in bed. All baggages etc. were dispatched secretly and the day of the marriage ceremony came. Tosiko went out only accompanied by her father.

What a solitary departure for the eldest daughter of the family of Soma!

I could not go with her. I saw her off from bedroom upstairs through the window as I had seen off Mr Bose a few months ago.” (From “Bose and Tosiko”, by Mrs Kokkoh Soma, pp. 34-36, [5]).

Sabarwal has written that Rashbehari had sent for him one evening to get his consent for his marriage p. 551, [5].

To understand the significance of the decision of the Somas, to marry their eldest daughter to Rashbehari, some clarity on the social values of contemporary Japanese society is of essence. In the eloquent description of Ohsawa: “The Japanese hated all international marriages. They were extremely nationalistic and orthodox at that time. All girls married to Westerners, however rich or kind or intelligent or powerful, were considered the most detestable creatures in the world. The case was worse for the Indian, the Chinese, or the Indonesian. To marry Miss Tosiko, the eldest daughter of Nakamuraya, one of the biggest and most honorable bakers in Tokyo to an Indian in exile and under the shadow of death was unimaginable and considered to be impossible…. A pure girl like a white lily, how she could make up her mind to devote her life to a poor exile in retreat in a country where a girl married to a foreigner was considered detestable. She gave up all pleasures in social life to save one Indian penniless and threatened with death every moment! She had to live always as a social outcast. A young and beautiful girl of a rich family (there was no one who does not know Nakamuraya in Tokyo) who might have married any intelligent and rich young man of the land, gave up her all for Bose. There were no girls however poor and ugly who would marry a foreigner, much more a black Indian. I can assure you the more the girl was educated, the less was the chance of her marrying a foreigner. The Japanese were 100 per cent nationalists, too proud of nationalism to marry a foreigner. Women are more conservative than men, and the Japanese were very traditional and conservative when they were highly educated. They are proud of the purity of their blood. It is not racial hatred at all. All Japanese people loved foreigners and admired their culture and objects. All refugees from Korea and China, who were so large in numbers were always welcome since thousands of years, even in any remote village. The Japanese people offered all facilities and all kinds of hospitality to any foreigner. They regarded foreigners and beggars honorable messengers sent by God. But never would they offer nor allow their girls to be brides to foreigners – never at all cost. It was a national vow – not ethnic hatred. If no Westerner can understand this, all my Indian friends can easily understand me.

Tosiko devoted her unique life and soul to the wellbeing of the poor fugitive in exile, nay she devoted her pure, noble lily-like body and spirit for the love of the Great Mother India! It was a little like that noblest love that made the young Chinese researcher of Truth undertake a long travel of 17 years from Peking to Patna via great detour (he went by the North side of the Himalayas westward to the western extremity of the mountains and turned south to enter into India) 1300 years ago.

Tosiko married instead of a bright, rich and hopeful Japanese of a rich family a dark, poor and harassed Indian. What a noble soul she was!”   pp. 13-17, [3].

Regardless of whether we agree with the social values of then Japan, it becomes apparent that the Somas had substantially sacrificed their social stature by giving in their daughter in marriage to an unknown foreigner. The decision was completely selfless, and motivated purely by altruism, chivalry and affection – as Rashbehari had nothing tangible to offer in return. Ohsawa attributes this selfless choice to the spirit of the Samurai that lived in the Somas; Aizo Soma was indeed the son of a Samurai. Interestingly, Ohsawa writes: “Some historians say that the Japanese people were a group of Indians following the story that the Shamva, the son of Lord Krishna sailed eastwards thousands of years ago from India to settle in the Land of the Rising Sun. India is the mother of all oriental civilisations. Samurais are the descendants of Krishna the God of justice, and Shamva was the origin of the Samurais.” p. 14, [3].

So, Tosiko married Rashbehari in July 1918, p. 15, [3].

Was it however only the call of duty that motivated Tosiko to the substantial commitment of acting as the human-shield for a foreign revolutionary, and agreeing to a marriage that would be anything but domestic bliss? Or had affection developed between the unlikely couple? Vikram Agrawal who has lived in Tokyo for the last few years, has shared with us an anecdote that  he had heard from a Sindhi merchant, Jagmohan Chandrani,  who has been living in Tokyo for the last 33 years. The locals aver that the Soma family had their daughter serve food to Rashbehari Bose in their atelier, as they could not trust thee servants given the joint British and Japanese pursuit at that time, and an affection had indeed developed between the couple during that time. Sabarwal, who Rashbehari had consulted with before his marriage, has corroborated that Tosiko indeed used to carry food to the atelier where Rashbehari and Herambalal took refuge p. 551, [5].

Either way, perhaps by coincidence, Rashbehari Bose, shares another attribute with yet another revolutionary, Subhas Chandra Bose, their patriotism did not come in the way of personal attachments  developed in far off countries.    

Section B: Life after marriage

Rashbehari and Tosiko were blessed with a son in 1919 p. 17, [3], who was given a Japanese and an Indian name, Masahide and Bharatchandra respectively p. 131, [4]; a daughter, Tetsu, shortly followed. But peace, stability and comfort remained elusive throughout their conjugal life as hounded by the British detectives they could never stay at the same place for long. As Ohsawa avers, “He could not stay in one place. He stayed here and there, one day or a few nights, sometimes a few months, sometime one year at a place.” p. 12, [3] During 1915-23, bulk of which was spent with Tosiko, Rashbehari changed home for more than seventeen times (“Bose and Tosiko” by Mrs Kokkoh Soma, p. 36, [5]). On occasions, due to want of adequate finances,  the couple had to live in a dark room where sun could not be seen in day time p. 589, [5]. Despite all that, Rashbehari had started teaching Tosiko Bengali, as we learn from a letter he wrote to Sachindranath Sanyal (read about him in [7]) on July 9, 1922, from Tokyo p. 133, [4]. Rashbehari had also introduced the Soma family to Bengali culture as there is a picture of Mrs Kokkoh Soma and Tosiko Bose in Indian saris, worn in traditional Bengali style p. 16, [3]. Incidentally, Rashbehari won over the two expert detectives the Japanese police employed to chase him, enough to eventually serve as his most loyal and faithful guards. There is a picture of the detectives attending a birthday party of his son in 1920 pp. 528-529 [5].    

Rashbehari also traveled across Japan to deliver lectures, and he taught English at the Kokuhikan School at Setagaya, and advised his pupils to translate works from Japanese to English; he himself spent hours in so doing, as recalled by his former pupil, Mr Zen-ichi Suzuki p. 45, [5]. He bonded well with his students, as we learn from Mr Suzuki: “When I was a student of Kokuhikan school at Setagaya, Tokyo, the late Mr Rashbehari Bose was our teacher and after I graduated from the above school, I had continually received his kind advice and teaching up to the time of his death. It is sad that he died without seeing the accomplishment of Independence of his Fatherland-India. Under the influence of his instructions and his teachings, I am proud that I have been able to devote myself to the national movement of Asia and Japan for 35 years until today”, p. 45, [5]. Suzuki used to stay at Rashbehari’s home at nights while he traveled on his lecture tours, to ensure the safety of women and children living there. 

Many Indian revolutionaries visited Rashbehari too, from across the world. His former pupil Zen-Ichi Suzuki writes: “At that time, Mr Bishan Singh and Shamsher Singh and three or four other Indian friends who were members of Indian Independence Party, called Ghadar Party, came to Japan from America and visited Mr Bose. They lived at an apartment house called Ebisu Club at Ebisu, Tokyo. Mr Bose ordered me to teach Japanese language to Mr Shamsher Singh, about sixteen years old, and to others. I met every day these Indians and taught them Japanese language and they all solemnly promised to co-operate with us to accomplish Indian independence and also do their best for the revival of Asia.” p. 46, [5].

***

Even during this period of concealment, while he was constantly on the run, without the luxury of staying at the same place for a prolonged duration, Rashbehari was keeping himself abreast of the political developments in India and the international situation, in part through correspondences with close revolutionary friends like Srish Chandra Ghosh and Sachindranath Sannyal. 

Srish Chandra Ghosh wrote as follows in The Standard Bearer (Weekly), Vol 1, No. 22 (30-1-21): “I owe a bit of apology to the public for having conveyed in my friendly anxiety a rather hasty pronouncement, liable to misinterpretation, about the present views of Shri Rashbehari Bose on politics. The letter being a private one and not meant for the Press, the writer had naturally jotted it down without the necessary caution and sufficient clearness of expression and I on my part should have published it after a more careful appreciation and consideration. My friend has therefore asked me in a subsequent letter to correct it and come out with a clear explanation of his position. And as, in justice to my great friend’s responsible position and real attitude, I can in no better terms clear up the matter than, in my own words, I forward his latest correspondence on the subject for publication.

My dear Srish Chandra

Your letter to hand…. The publication of my letter has been a bit premature, I think. Besides I didn’t think that you would publish in thus and almost in toto. The letter was a personal one. You should have made necessary additions and alterations before giving it to the Press. The postscript about politics, you should have omitted, because it was specially meant for you. Then it was not my intention to mean politics of every kind. What I wanted to mean was secret revolutionary conspiracy. This I have eschewed. Perhaps it was my fault that I could not make myself quite clear and properly understood. The politics meant, so-called politics, without any spiritual basis. You must know, and I think you already know, that my whole existence and Sadhana are for the sole purpose of the political, social, moral and economic regeneration of India on a spiritual foundation. I think that the postscript might give rise to misunderstanding. Can you correct it over another letter in your own name? For in my last letter, I meant politics as hitherto practiced by us and not politics of every type. Our activities must be open and above-board. Secret conspiracies cannot bring in salvation. Whatever we got to say or do, we must say or do it openly. I hope now you understand me correctly.

With love,

Your affly,

Rash Behari

pp. 576-577, [5].

  

We learn from Rashbehari that he had decided to eschew secret revolutionary conspiracies. The most plausible reason for that would be that he had inferred that he would not be able to secure India’s freedom in that manner given how his repeated prior attempts had ended in failures causing death and life sentences to his trusted comrades. His own organisation ceased to operate after his departure owing to the arrests of those he had entrusted his organisation to, namely Sachin Sanyal and Girija Babu (both were arrested shortly after his departure). Probably he also wanted the British apparatus off his back while he could recoup. But, he never disowned the road of violence. He would shortly found the Indian Independence League that would lead to the Indian National Army, which would declare war on Britain and America under the leadership of his successor, Subhas Chandra Bose. Shortly before that, we learn from the prominent Malayan barrister and the head of the Malayan Indian independence league, Nedyam Raghavan, who had closely interacted with Rashbehari in 1942:  He (Rashbehari) was, I am sorry to say, no believer in non-violence, and on more occasions than one he reiterated his conviction that violence and non-violence should go hand in hand in the liberation of our country. To him, both were legitimate means to achieve a legitimate end.” p. 438, [5]. It may well be that as early as 1921 he was envisioning a open battle with the British, rather than concealed conspiracies of insurrection, and was biding his time for an opportunity – for the times to change. 

We would next reproduce two letters Rashbehari had written to Sachindranath Sanyal during this period, after the latter’s release from the Cellular jail.

Rashbehari had written to Sachindranath Sanyal on April 12, 1922 from Tokyo: “…The idea that I could not protect….all from the inhuman…they were subjected to make restless. Of course I consoled myself with the fact that by passing through the agony of fire …have come out a better and purer soul. But I did not like the tone of permission that pervaded some parts of…letter. There is eternal life, so work is eternal. You need not be anxious about impurity even if there is any…. Of course there is no necessity of secret work, and I quite agree with you. Hitherto our knowledge of international situation was very meagre. We mostly confined our attention to India. But now I have come to understand a bit of international politics. This has greatly altered my formal ideas. Please remember that we shall have to…rather we are destined to…tackle the problem of the world.. It is India’s mission to usher in a new era of real peace and happiness in the world. India’s freedom is but a means to this end, it is not an end in itself…” p. 132, [4]

Again, on July 9, 1922, Rashbehari had written to Sachindranath from Tokyo as follows: “Your letter… reached me yesterday. What did you wish me to write? And what was your heart’s desire? I think I was sufficiently clear in my letter. Of course there are many things, which I cannot write in letters for obvious reasons and your curiosity about them must remain unsatisfied till we meet again. The most noteworthy thing, however, has been that my whole outlook has been broadened and I have given you a hint in this connection in my last letter. Independence India must have. Because her independence is essential for the regeneration of the whole world. It is not the end in itself but it is means to an end and that end is the destruction of Imperialism and Militarism and creation of a better world for all to live in. It is India’s mission and therefore your and my mission…. I like Japan and I have come to adore her, because I am convinced that she will stand for Asian independence when time comes. When I came here first, the Japanese had little knowledge in the state of affairs in India. It is chiefly through our efforts and sacrifices that today every Japanese is closely following the trend of event in India. I have got many Japanese friends, from the cabinet ministers down to lawyers, MPs, journalists and students. Many books in Japanese about Gandhi and Indian movements have been published, and the papers and magazines are regularly carrying articles on India. This month a professor in the Tokyo Imperial University, published a voluminous book in Japanese on India. Next month I am engaged to deliver lectures on Indian situation for three days… Today, most of the young men here are staunch advocates of Asian independence. Even older men and responsible officials are in sympathy with the new awakening noticed from Persia to China. The most remarkable national (trait) here is patriotism. And the people are ready to reverse and love those who have the same characteristics. This is the reason that we are given protection, But for Japanese sympathy and love, I would have been dead long ago…About going back to India well brother, I do not want to return till India is free…Your Bowdidi is learning Bengali.” pp. 132-133 [4].

We learn from this letter that Rashbehari was befriending prominent Japanese like cabinet ministers, members of parliament, lawyers, journalists and was even delivering lectures on India in Japan. On September 21, 1922, Rashbehari also wrote a letter to the editor of Young India, a periodical started by Mohandas Gandhi, where he argued for Congress demanding complete freedom rather than Dominion Status, which the Gandhians were wont to request of the British empire at that point (we will reproduce this letter in a separate section). The letter was published in Young India, which sparked off a debate between Gandhi and the revolutionaries a few years later.

So domestic attachments could naturally not satiate a revolutionary like Rashbehari Bose, and very likely Tosiko shouldered most of the domestic responsibilities while Rashbehari pursued his overpowering passion, that of liberating India, with single-minded devotion. 

***

Finally, there was a flicker of light at the end of the dark tunnel of concealment. Ohsawa notes, “Mr Toyama had planned for the naturalization of Bose in secret. It was in 1923 July 2 that the Indian fugitive outcast was naturalized”; p. 18, [3]. There is a law in Japan that any one staying there continually for seven years could claim Japanese citizenship. But since Rashbehari stayed as a fugitive from the law, there was no official record certifying his stay. But Mitsuru Toyama certified to that effect and his statement was accepted as official record p. 559, [5].  Keshoram Sabarwal, who had worked as a secretary of Lala Lajpat Rai, and who had escaped to Japan and continued to live there to work with Rashbehari has written that Rashbehari had applied for naturalization to legalise the status of his children, and only after a long correspondence with him p. 551 [5]. Mrs Soma has written: “When Mr Bose was naturalised after those long eight years of solitary life in concealment changing home more than seventeen times to escape the hands of assassins or kidnappers, he and Tosiko cold have a small home for the first time.” (“Bose and Tosiko”, by Mrs Kokkoh Soma, p. 36, [5]). Yet, even that small home would not last long courtesy the Kanto earthquake on September 1, 1923, as we shall shortly see. Ohsawa notes, “Anyhow he could survive eight years after deportation order and disappear. This was due to Toyama’s faithfulness – characteristic of the Samurai.” p. 18, [3]. Japanese government left Rashbehari alone after his naturalisation, and did not circumvent any of his activities, though they remained indifferent to his cause, until 1933, due to friendly relations with England p. 560 [5]. But, even after the naturalisation, British agents continued to pursue Rashbehari as long as they could. They attempted at least twice to kidnap him in 1926 and 1932-33; both were frustrated by Rashbehari’s Japanese friends like Mr Toyama p. 145 [2].

Rashbehari clearly kept his close friends in India abreast about the important developments of his life in Japan, for Srish Chandra Ghosh has written around this time: But I was delighted to receive another news. He (Rashbehari) has written – “You will perhaps be glad to know that I have got myself naturalised here. This will enable me to travel in any part of the world except the British possessions… Before the naturalization I was practically cooped up in a cage. I could not even travel inside Japan freely, not to speak of visiting Korea, China or Russia. The British were all along keeping their eyes on me. But now I am beyond their control and jurisdiction and they can’t do anything legally.” This news is very new.  But about the same Rashbehari, a few years back, even the Englishman (newspaper) spread several rumors about Bolshevik and Afghan conspiracies. How many colors they paint such a renowned man in? Many such strange perceptions exist about Rashbehari in India.” pp. 57-58  [1]

Sachindranath Sanyal has written about Rashbehari’s life in Japan, some time between mid 1923 to mid 1925 (when Sanyal was arrested again): “Rashbehari is now in Japan. There he teaches the Japanese, English, edits the monthly periodical, Asian Review, lectures about India, etc., in different places in Japan, and writes articles in different periodicals. He would have been captured by the English long back in Japan, but he was saved from that danger due to the special efforts and care of a high-ranking Japanese official. Now he has married a high-born Japanese lady. He has been blessed with a son and a gem of a daughter. The name of his son is Bharatchandra. Our sister-in-law has probably by now learned Bengali. Rashbehari is now a citizen of Japan. The articles that Rashbehari has now sent from Japan to Young India and other periodicals are known to many. From these a lot can be learned about his current opinion. In addition, he has written letters to some of his friends.” pp. 131-132 [4]. It is only from Sanyal’s account that we come to know of Bharatchandra, the Indian name of Rashbehari’s Masahide.         

Section C: The 1923 great Kanto earthquake in Japan

The earthquake in 1923 had devastated Tokyo. Rashbehari lost his home then. He had a wife and two infant children to support. So he requested his childhood friend and fellow revolutionary Srish Chandra Ghosh for an assistance of 1000 rupees.  Srish was then penniless himself, and  barely subsisted on charity. He publicised Rashbehari’s appeal. Let us hear in Srish’s own words what followed next (he used to address Rashbehari as Ras):

                                                                          Ras’ plight

Everyone knows Rashbehari Bose. His plight is India’s plight, his deprivation is India’s deprivation, not sure if I had published his letters thinking the same. But when he wrote to send him at least 1,000 rupees by wire, his writing brought home to me the pain and suffering of Japan. I could visualise Ras staring vacantly at an unknown future with his wife and little children next to the havoc wrought by the earthquake.

It is but impossible to ignore this appeal. But where do I have money? I don’t have anything to send him.

So I called upon the nation. I read Ras’s appeal to the nation in his own words – Ras wants only thousand rupees, will you give him?

How many love Ras as a servant of his motherland? Only a handful. But Ras is well known, his name acts as a magic in many cases, many find his name inspirational. So in the sudden disaster that has confronted him, even without knowing the details, that Ras is in danger, this information would generate empathy and affection for him in the country, this is perhaps what I believed in, else why would I publish his letters?

But I did not have the ability or could not see a conducive environment to collect money publishing the letters.

I could have taken the name of Prabartak Sangha, but Rashbehari of Delhi-Lahore-Benaras conspiracy, the man who repeatedly deceived police, was also a source of fear in the nation – I knew this very well. So I was troubled by the question as to who I could ask.

Rather than approaching specific individuals, I approached those not affiliated with the government who were collecting donations from individuals for assisting Japan – I wrote to Shri Rabindranath Tagore, Pandit Madanmohan Malaviya, these two men. I did not leave out the Bengal Congress Committee either. I had hoped that the effort would be fruitful, but by when was not clear.

The newspapers published Rashbehari’s letters. It was mentioned there that donations could be sent to me or to Rashbehari.

I received fifteen rupees, Ras has written that he has received 1 rupee through money-order.

He had requested assistance from me on a personal level, he was displeased that I made his appeal public. The displeasure was because of nothing else, it appeared that he wanted to say: “no one has seen my heart, that I have given it all to my country, has any one seen this? Perhaps they see that I operate with bombs, pistols and conspiracies! How would they know me? Unless they wake up, how would they know me? Why should they be asked for money?”

I understand it all. So I maintained silence after publishing the letters. But I could not desert the hope of receiving collective assistance on the occasions of assistance to Japan. “Send me thousand rupees” – this appeal from Rashbehari had stirred me – I kept thinking, could we not send him thousand rupees?

The Statesman once wrote about sending the assistance for Japan to Mr Bose, but again rescinded knowing that he was a notorious revolutionary. We have responded to the rescission. Ras has written about this: “…What Statesman has written is right from its point of view. Your first mistake was to appeal through this newspaper. There is no need to fight on what has happened.”

But I did not volunteer to publish his letters in the Statesman. Their reporter had come after reading Servant. Upon his request, out of courtesy, I am giving the letters to the editor – I gave the letters writing this.

There was a variety in all this, a mystery too, but I was pained at not being able to send any money. My friend’s letter had said – “I will keep fighting, do not be so afraid”, but I could not be satisfied.

Around this time, I saw that Rabindranath Tagore sent (us) the total collection of 621 rupees in Shantiniketan’s Japan assistance fund. This was then sent to Rashbehari. Then I was reminded more about thousand rupees. I had earlier informed Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai, I wrote two more letters to them. I have now informed my readers of such inconsequential issues concerning Rashbehari, but these are the only issues of consequence to me now.” pp. 56-57 [1].

It is worthwhile to note that Rabindranath himself believed that India needed to be liberated without any violence, yet he stood by revolutionaries like Rashbehari and later Subhas Bose in their darkest hours, when neither was in any position to return the favor through any tangible benefits. This speaks volumes of the core human values of the poet laureate. 

Although other than a few eminent exceptions, India deserted Rashbehari in his hour of need, his Japanese friends stood by him. His pupil Zen-Ichi Suzuki has written about this period: “When the great earthquake in the Tokyo districts took place on twelfth year of Taisho (1923), there was shortage of food in Tokyo and relief rice etc. had arrived in Shibaura from various parts of Japan by ships. It was my duty at that time to be in charge of carrying rice and potatoes by hand-cart from Shibaura to Kokushikan School (the school where Rashbehari taught and Suzuki was a student) at Setagaya at a distance of about 12.5 miles and deliver them to Mr Bose’s home at Sendagaya, near Shinjuku station.” p. 46, [5]. 

Rashbehari pulled through the earthquake, and as he had written to Srish, he kept on fighting. In 1924 poet Rabindranath Tagore visited Rashbehari at his home in Tokyo; there exists a picture of Rashbehari, his wife, children and parents in law along with the poet p. 32, [5]. The poet clearly returned deeply impressed with Rashbehari – we learn from Uma Mukherjee that “Binode Behari Mukherjee, before he set out for Japan, was advised by Rabindranath Tagore to seek help from Rashbehari Bose in his difficulties and to show respects to him in the same way as he did to the poet”; p. 146, [2]. 

But Rashbehari’s predicaments were far from over. 

Section D: The death of Tosiko

In 1925, disaster struck, again. At the age of 28, Tosiko passed away, on March 4, 1925, leaving behind a son and a daughter in the care of Rashbehari p. 18, [3].  Her mother has written on her bereavement: “But then, Tosiko collapsed because of her nervous strain. She was gone at the age of 28, without enjoying a happy married life and leaving only a son and a daughter. Poor and short was her life. We took charge of Mr Bose’s children so that he could devote all his activities for the independence of his native country.” (From “Bose and Tosiko”, by Mrs Kokkoh Soma, p. 36, [5]). In addition, two Japanese sisters, Mrs Niwa-ko Sasayama and Mrs Shizue Watanabe, who used to help with household work at Rashbehari’s home, and also did his office work, “were so devoted to the family that after the expiry of Mrs Bose they did their best to bring up his two children. Without their loving care, the two kids could not have been brought up smoothly.” (Rashbehari’s former student, Zen-ichi Suzuki, p. 47, [5]). Rashbehari’s life-long friend, Tatusjiro Machida, President, Kokoshai, Denshin, Denwa Co. Ltd ., has reminisced: “To pick up his warm affection towards his children, a boy and a girl who had been left behind Mrs Bose were brought up by the hands of their grand-parents Mr and Mrs Soma. He made every effort to educate his children; it was his custom to invite them to his house at Onden every Saturday in order to dine together; the father and children threw off all restraint and talked quite freely with each-other; thus they had a really nice evening at weekend”; p. 60, [5]. Rashbehari could not however teach his children Bengali, his daughter had a strong command over contemporary and ancient Japanese literature pp. 572-573 [5]. Although Rashbehari used to teach other Japanese students English, he probably did not have enough time to impart lessons to his children as his daughter could only speak broken English pp. 572-573 [5].  After Rashbehari’s death, Dakshina Ranjan Bose, who was part of a committee for commemorating his memory in India, had visited his daughter, then Mrs Higuchi, in Japan. When Dakshina Ranjan offered to teach her father-tongue, Bengali, “she virtually ran into their drawing room and hurried back with paper and pen.” And Daskshina Ranjan had the privilege to impart her the first lesson in Bengali!   p. 573, [5].   

Rashbehari had shared a few reminiscences of his late wife in an article entitled “Memories of my wife Tosiko” in a periodical: “The mentality of the Samurai that is quite incomprehensible to the Westerners is as follows. I asked Tosiko one day soon after our secret marriage. ‘Tosiko, you married me as you really loved me?’ Tosiko did not answer. ‘If so, let me see a sign of your true love. Could you, for example, if I ask you to jump into the sea by that window?’

Tosiko was silent. Tears flittering in her eyes. Suddenly she stood up and ran to the window…I was surprised and upset. I don’t remember how I could run up to her and stop….” p. 19, [3]    

Mrs Soma has narrated the kind of bonding Rashbehari and Tosiko shared.  :

Ten years later, I spoke to Mr Bose, ‘You should now enter into a new life. We can take charge of Masahide and Tetuko without any difficulties. They are all grown up.’

Indeed there had been more than one Japanese girl who struck by Mr Bose’s noble spirit were willing to marry him and help him in his great mission.

But he laughed at the idea of another marriage.

‘Mother, it is impossible to find Tosiko’s love again… it is painful for me even to think of such a thing. I have my dear mother and father. That is more than enough. I am happy. Tosiko is always with me as she was during my lovely eight years in concealment. Moreover my life is not mine, it is offered to my native country. I was and am satisfied to have had eight years with Tosiko. That is more than enough.’

Hearing this, I said to my daughter living in my memory:

‘Tosiko, what a happy girl you are! Mr Bose is truly a big man. He is a little too big for you. Is it not so? You are quite happy, are you not?’” (From “Bose and Tosiko”, by Mrs Kokkoh Soma, pp. 36-37, [5]).

By all accounts, India is hugely indebted to Tosiko and the other Somas, for selflessly nurturing Rashbehari in the hour of his desperate need. Yet, has free India sought to recognise their contributions to India’s freedom struggle in any way? That is a tale for another day.

References

[1] Rash Beharir Atma-katha O dushprapya Rachana, edited by Amal Kumar Mitra

[2] Uma Mukherjee, “Two Great Indian Revolutionaries – Rash Behari Bose and Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee”

[3] JG Ohsawa, “The Two Great Indians in Japan”

[4] Sachindranath Sanyal, “Bandi Jiban”

[5] Rash Behari Basu – His Struggle for India’s Independence, Editor-in-chief, Radhanath Rath, Editor Sabitri Prasanna Chatterjee, Biplabi Mahanayak Rash Behari Basu Smarak Samiti

[6] Sailendra Nath Sen Chandernagore – From Bondage to Freedom, 1900-1925

[7] Saswati Sarkar, Jeck Joy, Shanmukh, Dikgaj: Rashbehari Bose’s second war from East Asia – battleground Japan and Singapore /politics/rashbehari-bose-sachindranath-sanyal-japan-revolutionary-china-indian-freedom-struggle-second-world-war/story/1/9745.html

[8] Jeck Joy, Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj: The legend of Rashbehari Bose and the forgotten Hindu-German conspiracy /politics/rashbehari-bose-hindu-muslim-riots-partition-1947-mahatma-gandhi-independence-hindu-german-conspiracy-ina/story/1/8230.html

[9] Colleagues and sources of information on Rashbehari Bose, https://sringeribelur.wordpress.com/sources-of-information-on-rash-behari-bose/

Writer

DailyO DailyO @dailyo_

Online opinion, analysis and blog platform from the India Today Group.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.