Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Shillong (June 12, 1927)
By Wandell Passah
The 125th birth anniversary of Subhash Chandra Bose was commemorated on January 23, 2022. It is thus time to retrospect on his Shillong connection as collected from excerpts of history books.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was once closely connected to Shillong, the then capital of Assam and earned enormous popularity among the people here irrespective of tribe, caste and religion. His tremendous influence on the youth of Shillong ignited their spirit of patriotism to join the freedom struggle. Many joined the Azad Hind Fauz led by Netaji.
It was June 12, 1927 when Subhas Chandra Bose first came to Shillong to convalesce from an illness. He was sent to Shillong from Mandalay jail as his weight had abnormally reduced. He was under the supervision of Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy who later became the first Chief Minister of West Bengal in independent India.
Netaji stayed in ‘Kelsal Lodge’ in the European Ward (at present known as Oakland), and was there until October 18, 1927. He was under the medical supervision of Dr Pulin Bihari Dev, the only MBBS of Shillong at that time. Dr BC Roy used to come from Calcutta to Shillong to visit Bose in ‘Kelsal Lodge’.
During that long stay, though Netaji had no interaction with the people of Shillong, he was not deprived of the love and affection of the then Shillongites. Nabin Bordoloi and Tarunram Phukon, two young political leaders from Assam, occasionally gave him company. Some kind-hearted ladies would send him home-made food. Among them, two prominent names were Begum Akhtar-un-Nessa, wife of Haji Mowla Bux of Rockwood Cottage and Kusum Kumari Gupta, wife of Binode Gupta of Kench’s Trace.
In September 1938, Netaji came to Shillong as the President of the Congress party and stayed in ‘Asely Hall’ (near Earl Sanatorium, adjacent to Ward’s Lake). It was a critical time for Assam as Sir Sadullah was determined to form the Muslim League Ministry in Assam. But Netaji came as a saviour and vehemently objected to the decision. Despite various political activities, Netaji had close interaction with the people of Shillong. He was cordially invited by many organisations and delivered patriotic speeches in Polo (near Matri Mandir), Opera Hall, Khasi Durbar Hall, Jail Road field, Hari Sabha in Laban and Hindu Mission, Anath Ashram Complex, Lower Mawprem.
In the Opera Hall gathering, Jorjina Hazarika, a student of Lady Keane Girls’ College, felicitated Netaji. In the Khasi Durbar Hall gathering, Netaji was felicitated by Khasi leader Rev JJM Nichols Roy and others. In his speeches Netaji lauded the patriotic spirit of the people of Shillong and encouraged them to gear up to struggle for freedom. (Ref:- শিলং-এর বাঙািল সমাজের অবদান by Prof. Shyamadas Bhattacharjee).
A little girl then, Kalpana Barua, of Laban Assamese Girls’ High School, was so excited to hear of Netaji’s visit to Shillong (1938) that she started dreaming of how to meet and greet him. She managed to collect Rs 75 from relatives and friends to offer to the great leader. Rs 75 was a big amount at that time. Kalpana accompanied her father to the Hindu Mission Complex gathering to meet Netaji. When she offered the bag to him, he eagerly asked her what to do with that money. The little girl replied promptly, “Spend on the service of Mother India”. Netaji was so impressed that he remained speechless for some time. He patted her with warm affection and encouraged her to be a brave girl. She was none other than Kalpana Gupta (Barua), the first lady journalist of Assam.
Another remarkable and exceptional reception was offered by St. Edmund’s College. It is learnt from the description of Brother Viera, the college principal of the 60s that, other than the students and faculty members, some distinguished British Officers were also present in that meeting. In that gathering Netaji said, “Yes, I am a patriot, I love my country. If patriotism and terrorism are synonymous, then I would never object to be abused as a terrorist. My only question is: why should our country remain under the yoke of a foreign rule? Freedom is the birth-right of an individual. So, as soon as possible, the British should quit our country. We will rule our country ourselves. Even if we have to take up arms and plunge into the fight against British rule, we will do it. I reiterate, we do not have any animosity against the British. They can stay in our country at ease but not as rulers.”
Everyone was mesmerised by Bose’s magnetic personality and outstanding oratory; even the British Officers were highly impressed. The Edmundians greeted Bose with a beautiful garland made of ‘Forget-Me-Not’ that carried the message, ‘We shall never forget you’. The humble present of Rs 75 from a school girl and the garland of Forget-Me-Nots, to the greatest son of India, the only freedom fighter who was sacrificed at the altar of martyrdom from Shillong, must be cherished with humble pride.
The Government of India has stated that henceforth January 23 should be merged with the Republic Day celebrations. A hologram of Netaji is now kept in the canopy that once housed the statue of King George V (Opposite India Gate. The statue was removed in 1960).
January 23 last was a momentous occasion as we learnt of Netaji through his great grand-nephew, Professor Sugata Bose, a renowned historian. Through the virtual interview of Vishnu Som, NDTV at the time of unveiling the statue by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we were told the story of Netaji’s great escape from house arrest in Calcutta on December 5,1940. In the escape drama that shook the British, a car driven by Prof Sugata Bose’s father took Netaji to Dhanbad then to Gamoh from where they took a train to Peshawar. There Netaji disguised himself as Md. Ziauddin, an insurance man.
Netaji’s death in a plane crash on August 18, 1945 is shrouded in mystery. His submarine voyage to Berlin in dangerous waters infested with British ships and submarines saw Netaji unmoved. He, in fact fumed at the nervous reporters who missed his military instruction to the Nazis in the battlefields (as told by Captain Moozerberg).
The most remarkable ending to the interview were the words of Prof Sugata Bose who said, “Yes holograms with or without the mortal remains are immaterial. On Netaji’s birthday, we ought to celebrate his life, his services, sufferings and sacrifice. And from history we learn that Netaji laid down his life at the altar of the freedom struggle on August 18, 1945.”
Today we must set aside all controversies and unite people of different religious and linguistic groups to ensure equality among all. Let us not just adore Netaji in holograms of gold or granite, but more importantly let us do away with hate speeches and actions emanating from different platforms that are hurting the nation. Let us rebuild the legacy of India which Netaji had always dreamt of.
In these horrifying times when history is being distorted for political gains and unsavoury fears of bygone colonization where even symbols are not spared; where even the history curriculum in schools is in danger of distortion, the dreams of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose must be fulfilled. This will perhaps be the best hologram ever that India can award to our hero.
(The writer is Ex-HOD, Electronics Department St. Edmund’s College, Shillong)