Fighting for the truth – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

The beggar woman was still sitting at the same spot — under the lamp-post.

Every time he passed her on his way to Presidency College in Calcutta where he was a student, Subhas Chandra Bose,was struck by a fresh wave of sympathy for her. She looked more decrepit and hungry every passing day. Her sad eyes and tattered clothes that hung about her wasted body pained him. He looked down guiltily at his own clean clothes.

‘What right do I have to live in a three-storied house when this miserable beggar doesn’t have a roof over her head?’ he thought. He felt as if he had committed some crime because he had things she didn’t have and felt angry at the social system that made them unequal. He wanted to help her in some unobtrusive way.

He touched the money in his pocket — the tram-fare to college. Of course! He could save that by walking and use it for charity. From that day onwards, he walked back from college, and on days he left early, he walked to it too — a distance of over three miles either way. Though the beggar still remained poor, Subhas felt a little less guilty.

Subhas Chandra Bose was a sensitive person, who felt deeply concerned about social issues. Being interested in philosophy and religion, he avidly read the works of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Aurobindo Ghosh, and Swami Vivekananda. However, it was Viveknanda’s exhortation to the youth to serve the poor of the country that struck a chord in his heart. With a few like-minded friends, he went out to do his bit for the poor and needy, which included even nursing cholera patients.

It was during these expeditions to the poorer quarters, that he came face to face with the crushing poverty, illiteracy and disease that afflicted the rural population of India. Though he was socially conscious, he didn’t take a keen interest in political matters. Neither Gandhiji’s non-violent protest against the British, nor the revolutionary activities that were discussed in the Presidency College hostel, held any particular attraction for him.

However, about the time when World War I broke out, Bose fell ill. Lying on his sick bed, he had ample time to reflect about the plight of India. While following the course of the War, he came to the conclusion that if India had to be liberated, it had to be done on all fronts — civil and military. Only the country that had military power could remain free.

There were other things that began disturbing him too. In Cuttack, where he had lived earlier, he had had no occasion to personally come in contact with racial discrimination practised by the British. He had only heard that Indians in high positions like High Court Judges and the like, were refused entry into to the upper class compartments of trains.  But in Calcutta, he saw daily scenes of  common Indians being humiliated by the British — in tram-cars, on the streets, even in the college, where British professors were needlessly rude to the Indian students.

Once while Bose was travelling by tram, he saw an Englishman sitting with his feet up on the seat in front of him, where an Indian gentleman was sitting. The latter who was obviously a poor clerk, squirmed uncomfortably, but silently bore the insult.

Bose couldn’t keep quiet, however. “Please put your foot down. You are soiling the clothes of the gentleman in front of you,” he told the Englishman.

“Then let him get up from the seat,” retorted the latter arrogantly. This infuriated Bose and he answered back angrily. Seeing him stand up to him, others joined in berating the Englishman. However, the Indian who had been insulted, quietly got down from the tram to avoid more ugly scenes, much to the despair of Subhas Chandra.

Bose noticed that whenever the Indians reacted to such insults, and stood up to them, the Englishmen became subdued. He understood that all it required for the Indians to be free of the British was to stand up to their atrocities and retaliate in kind.

One day, he heard about an English professor, Mr.F.E.Oaten,  manhandling some students in his college. Apparently the professor was annoyed by the disturbance caused by some students passing outside his lecture room. Angry, he had come out and violently shoved the boys. Subhas Chandra Bose, who was the class representative, went along to see what the matter was. He then told the Principal about the incident.

“Sir, I think Professor, Mr.F.E.Oaten should apologise to the students,” said Bose.

“Mr.F.E.Oaten belongs to the Indian Educational Service and I don’t have the power to make him tender an apology. Moreover, he did not manhandle anyone, but only took them by their arm. I don’t think that constitutes an insult to the students,” replied the Principal defensively.

Bose tried to reason with him, but the Principal was quite adamant in his opinion. The students were incensed and the next day, there was a general strike in the college to protest against the incident. Since Presidency College was a prestigious one in Calcutta, the news of the strike sent shockwaves through the city. The Principal tried all sorts of persuasive and coercive tactics to break the strike, but didn’t succeed. Bose was singled out as the instigator of the entire event. The Principal also levied a fine on all the students who were absent.

Subhash Chandra Bose during his student days

Subhash Chandra Bose during his student days

One of the professor, who was fond of Bose felt concerned about the consequences of such a strike on his career. He called Bose. “Are you aware of what you are letting yourself in for?” he asked.

“Yes Sir. I am,” replied Bose.

“In that case, I have nothing more to say,” said the professor, with a look of sympathy.

Contrary to his professor’s fears, nothing untoward happened. By the end of the second day, Mr.F.E.Oaten was persuaded by the college authorities to settle the dispute amicably and the issue was resolved.

However, even after the students began attending classes from the next day, the Principal refused to withdraw the fine he had imposed earlier. All appeals by the students and the professors to the Principal were in vain. The students fumed in silence.

However, a month later, the same professor was involved in another such incident. This time, the students decided to take the matter in their own hands instead of resorting to strike and inviting more punishments and fines and some of the students beat up the professor in retaliation. Immediately after this, the Government of Bengal issued a notification that a committee of enquiry would be appointed to probe the continued disturbance of Presidency College and also closed the College.

The infuriated the Principal, who felt insulted because the notification had been issued without consulting him, created a scene at the office of the Member who was in charge of Education. The next day, the Principal was suspended for having insulted the Honourable Member.

Not to be cowed down, he decided to exercise his authority before it was taken away and sent for the students he had earlier blacklisted, including Bose. He gave them a look of contempt and addressed Bose.

“Bose, you the most troublesome man in the college. I suspend you,” he snarled.

“Thank you,” replied Bose and went home.  All the philosophy he had read, seemed meaningless in the face of such injustice.

Soon after, the Governing Body of the College met and confirmed the Principal’s order. Bose was even denied permission to study in any other college. He was effectively rusticated from the University.

The Committee of Enquiry, headed by Sir Ashutosh Mukehrji summoned the concerned parties for questioning. Bose was one of those representing the students.

“Was the attack on Mr.F.E.Oaten justified?” asked Sir.Mukherji.

“It was not justified, but the students had acted under extreme provocation. Moreover, this is not an isolated case of discrimination against Indian students,“ replied Bose and proceeded to chronicle the incidents. The Committee listened silently.

“Had you condemned the assault on Mr.F.E.Oaten, your suspension would have been lifted,” said some friends.

“But how could I say something that I don’t believe in? I did the right thing and I don’t care about its effects on my career,” said Bose.

When the Committee gave its report, Bose’s name was singled out as the most unfavourable.  After waiting in vain for something to happen that would reinstate him in the University, Bose left for Cuttack. A chapter seemed to have ended and another one about to begin in his eventful life.

As he lay on his bunk in the train en route to Cuttack, he felt curiously satisfied and happy despite his bleak future. He had done the right thing, and that was what mattered.

This incident gave Subhas Chandra Bose the courage to stand up to any crisis, regardless of the personal gains or losses it entailed. Above all, it made him confident of his leadership and aware of the martyrdom attached to it. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this incident paved the way for his future role as the leader of the Indian National Army and his contribution to the Freedom Struggle of India.

(Adapted from the original, published in The Children’s World by Thangamani)Images courtesy: This page: www.hindujagruti.org

69 comments

  1. So much we don’t know about the great men and women of our land! Thanks Zephyr for writing this informative post and for highlighting some of the highlights from the early life of this great son of Mother India, incidents that gave a definitive direction to his work and life that had great impact on our history!

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    1. Yes, histories of great leaders and empire builders have been either ignored or glossed over, or should I say ‘glazed over’ by the achievements of our conquerors? So we know more about a Mountbatten than about a Subhas Bose. As I told Dagny, this series had involved hundreds of hours of diligent research to unearth unknown and some less known anecdotes from their lives. I knew you’d like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally loved this post! You made the events come alive with your powerful words. As I tead, I became Bose myself. I lay on my sick bed worrying about my country; I told the Principal to go boil his silly head and I showed the Englishman in the tram what I thought of him.

    I knew of none of these incidents. Blast Gandhi n Nehru for burying his name all these decades. But truth will out, sooner or later.

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    1. I had done a whole series for Children’s World and have shared Bhagat Singh amd Vallabhbhai Patel’s stories too. So much research and all at Teen Murti Library. That one holds so much treasure but open only to ‘intellectuals’ and research scholars. I had to get a letter from the editor of the magazine for a non-renewable 3 month membership!

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  3. Thank you for this inspiring post. I am so happy to read about Subhas Chandra Bose today.

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    1. You are welcome, KP. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. Sir Ashutosh Mukherji, head of the Enquiry Commitee, referred to in this piece was the father of Shyama Prasad Mukherji, who later founded the Jan Sangh, the previous name of the BJP.

    Atal Behari Vajpayee was the foremost assistant to Shyama Prasad Mukherji, son of Ashutosh Mukherjee.

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    1. Thank you for the information, Deepseek. I was not aware of it.

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    2. I didn’t know that either Dilip!

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  5. […] A blog dedicated to Subhas Chandra Bose Works Fighting for the truth – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose […]

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  6. A wonderful tribute to Netaji. Thanks for sharing these amazing anecdotes from his student days. What an inspiration!

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    1. Thank you for reading and liking the post, Beloo. I had done a series on Indian leaders and pioneers for Children’s World many years ago. This is from that series.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was happy to see this post regarding one of India´s charismatic and brave figures. We often forget (especially in these times) what it took to stand up for what one believed in. Figures like Bose, Bhagat Singh and his comrades, Veer Savarkar are often forgotten in this age of sycophancy. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar risked his life, freedom and reputation for love of his country and his ideals of a free, independent India.
    His name has been all but erased from our Independence struggle history, like so many others who gave it their all but are dismissed today. Makes one wonder…what would he and Bose think about our current political class?
    Here is a website dedicated to keeping Savarkar´s name alive in memory:
    http://www.savarkar.org/en/veer-savarkar

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    1. Thank you for the comment Nima. I will visit the site. Yes, it is the age of sycophancy and back scratching and we only have such leaders. Really makes one feel so disgusted at times. And what is worse, each party is worse than the other. So do we have a choice that we had even a decade or two ago?

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  8. i read a lot on mr bose but never this, i always feel all these ‘sir’s’ during english rule are the same one’s driving mercedes and big cars now because of the wealth they acquired but maybe thats just me.

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    1. Not to speak of all the ‘sirs’ who continue driving Ferraris and Rolls today. At the end of the day the only fact that remains is that we have failed to keep the memories of these great men alive for posterity.

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  9. How many of us are willing to sacrifice our future for the sake of our ideals? It takes courage to believe in your principles and stand by them.

    Here’s another anecdote that my MIL shared with me on the occasion Netaji’s birthday. When he was still a young boy his teacher put forth a question in the class – What is the difference between a station master and a school master.

    And do you know what he said?

    A school teacher trains minds, while a station master minds trains!

    Imagine a boy of 10 coming up with such an answer!

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    1. Courage is one thing that is lacking in most of us — to stand up for our convictions, to speak our minds and even own up our mistakes. And we ignore such great men for the cardboard heroes we worship today. Isn’t it about time we collected the nuggets from these great lives and give our children?

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  10. very well written. very well expressed

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    1. Thank you G 🙂

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  11. It’s a great post and a lovely tribute to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. It’s quite a touching story. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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    1. It is gratifying to know that you have heard of the hero our own country has almost forgotten! Yes, he was a great hero in the real sense, one who is born out of compassion.

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  12. The tram incident is very interesting. If it was a train journey in South Africa that changed the course of Gandhi’s life, I think, it’s this tram journey that is the most defining moment in Bose’s life. It’s these kind of unexpected incidents/experiences that defined many legends’ lives. Buddha, Marx, Theresa, Martin Luther King, Lincoln, Che Guevara… everyone has had such a defining moment in their lives. It’s as important to bring out these incidents as bringing out their histories/biographies for that is what helps us common men and women to relate to uncommon people like them. Very good narration!

    By the way, my grandfather was a freedom fighter and an ardent follower of Bose. He even named my father after Bose. I still carry that surname with me. Needless to say, I am proud about it, too. 🙂

    I have written a detailed account (as always, more detailed than required) on my grandfather here – http://bharchive.blogspot.com/2011/03/comrade-rv-freedom-fighter.html. Please check out when you find some time.

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    1. Of course! How could I have missed it? Bose!! Thank god your grandfather admired this great man, for I have heard other names of personalities whom i might not have been so proud to be friends with 🙂 I have even heard of a Hitler in T’veli district.

      As I replied to Umashankar, we all have a duty to bring out these incidents for the benefit of our children and grandchildren so that they would know of the greatness of these men and women before someone bans them 😀

      I will definitely read the post you have given the link to, detailed or not 🙂

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  13. I feel grateful to you for bringing to light these glimpses from the life of one of the noblest of the leaders we’ll ever have. How ironic and unforunate it is that the finer details of a pioneering life have been consigned to obscurity. Of course, it has been delivered in your hallmark style: compact and potent.

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    1. We should all do this for the sake of our children. Our generation and the one after it is perhaps going to be the last to even hear of these nuggets. So it is about time to spread them. Who knows what will get banned in the future?

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  14. A Man of principles.. Wonderful! His sensitivity towards the poor woman was really touching. There is so much to take back from such instances that remain buried deep in some history sheets and books. Thanks so much for bringing it out and sharing it here in this wonderful post 🙂

    I am back from my trip, but still not completely back to blogging. Felt really good getting nagged on return! 😀

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    1. My pleasure, Arti, nagging you, that is 😀 Our leaders were all one greater than the other but except for the selected few, the rest have been buried in obscurity and now it looks like they will remain buried. If you manage to get some nuggets like this, do share with everyone.

      I read the guest post on your blog and left a comment too. 🙂

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  15. These are events I’ve not heard of.I know only Netaji of INA but not as a student.Thank you Akka for sharing this.

    ““But how could I say something that I don’t believe in? I did the right thing and I don’t care about its effects on my career,” said Bose.”

    Very inspiring statement and it takes a lot of courage to stick with it.

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    1. The more I see the comments on this post, the sadder I feel. How these gems have been hidden away carefully in books which are beyond the reach of the common man. Are they classified tomes? Someone should bring them out and publish them.

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  16. He may not succeeded in securing his reinstatement. But he stood up to the crisis. That’s what matters ultimately. Also he had this realisation at the young age.
    Very inspiring event.

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    1. You’d have heard the Tamil saying ‘aindhil vilayadadhu aimbathil vilayuma? Unless principles are imbibed at an early age, they can’t be imbibed later. Case in point, the present day crop of politicians.

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  17. Wonderful and inspiring post! I always tell people its not just Gandhi who got us freedom but a collective generation of leaders and people. Sadly, politics of selective nurturing, made many of the freedom fighters fade into oblivion. With due respect to Gandhi but I strongly disagree that he alone should be credited as the “father of the nation”. As a nation, we have marginalized many freedom fighters and “god”ified selected few.

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    1. But Lakshmi, we have gone too far from these heroes and now it looks as if a massive upheaval of conscience and memory is the only way they can be resurrected and restored to their due place in the hall of fame. Why Bose’ portrait was absent from the Central Hall of Parliament till 1978 when the Janata Dal government installed it there. Speaks volumes doesn’t it?

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  18. thank you for sharing this grt incident from the life of such a prodigious hero , the great human patriot , the true Indian Son ,a fitting tribute to this hero. 🙂

    do read my patriotic poem :

    http://campbuzzz.blogspot.com/2012/01/anthem.html

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    1. Glad you liked it Saikat 🙂

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  19. a beautiful tribute to a man who inspired so many! the incidents you narrated here i wasn’t aware & it moved me to read them. the little we read in history is truly “little”

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    1. There are such hidden gems about our great leaders, those who have been relegated to obscurity by our great political masters. It was this that prompted me to publish it. Glad you liked it.

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  20. Such amazing anecdotes. What can I say! Thank you for sharing these. I also feel that Subhash Chandra Bose got a raw deal with history probably because his views clashed with Gandhi’s.

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    1. you are welcome Rachna. It is our duty to share these things about our leaders who would otherwise be forgotten forever.

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  21. This post is amazing not just for the content but the remarkable power of conviction with which leaders of Nataji’s caliber conducted themselves! Lot of soul searching now needs to be done…

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    1. Courage of conviction comes from altruistic motives and not selfish motives. It is when you think of the best for others that your best comes out. Bose was a case in point.

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  22. I didn’t know this story as many others and was touched… Such little nuggets need to be told (and re-told) as these will be otherwise lost to the future generations, as the ones with the power to do will never do this. How many of us read about Bose, Bhagat Singh and the ilks in school these days; they are reduced to a foot note at best. How sad that we are not honoring and respecting our true leaders; goes to show why the country is in the sad state that it is today…

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    1. You have putit so aptly A-Kay. They are just footnotes of history. My fear is that they don’t disappear from that status too. And yes, when we selectively worship leaders, we are bound to suffer. It is no better than the zamindari system of masters and slaves.

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  23. As we say he was the man. I am of the beleif that you don’t get anything by begging which is gandhian philosophy according to me right or wrong I don’t know.
    But leaders like subhash chander Bose gave us Indians our integrity back. We need such firebrand leaders to lead us and make our nation great once again.
    Sadly the Gandhi clan and the rest of the lot have taken us downhill.

    I admire the way freedom fighters fought. I am sorry but I did not like the word terrorist written , these were the people who have their life for the good of the nation they are martyrs and freedom fighters who dis more and gave up more then the ones whom we worship in our country.

    Today is the time again when we need shubhash chander Bose to take birth again and lead us to get rid of the current rulers once again and throw them out of the country as they did with British.

    I respect this great man and you have given an excellent account. I hope and prey the youth learns from the great man.
    I salute AMD hope he is also recognized and given his due much more then the leaders we keep worshipping.

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    1. Let us not downplay Gandhi’s methods or philosophy because they were instrumental in the Independence of our country. But they had political undertones, which probably were required. Who are we to say? But of course, this should not wipe out the contributions and sacrifices of other great leaders like Bose and Bhagat Singh who gave their lives for their country. We might never get a Bose because we are too intent on our personal advancement and believe that economic development will bring in prosperity and greatness, little realising that it will only bring more inequality.

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  24. Rashmi Shetty · · Reply

    I just did not know of these stories!!..my bad..but hey i know them now and the respect i had for this leader has just increased two notches up..what a leader..what a man!!

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    1. Oh, it is the same everywhere! No one has heard the humane part of Bose but only heard of his INA and fighting. and of course going against the Mahatma. Really sad, isn’t it?

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  25. Only passion and self-belief make doing the right thing possible. Outside Bengal ,Bose has been forgotten. But he was the most charismatic and inspiring figure of pre-independence days.
    Bose was the only man who won against Gandhi in 1939 (Tripuri).

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    1. He held his own with Gandhi, didn’t he? And probably paid the price for that too. One must salute his valour and intent of purpose. Charismatic and inspiring, yes, he was those and more.

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    2. He and another great sardar bhagat Singh..
      No wonder Gandhi did nothing to help both and played the usual dirty politics to save his own congress party

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      1. Unfortunately, these martyrs are considered to be ‘extremists’, the word used those days for terrorists, I suppose. But if we keep their memories alive and pass them to our children, they will live on despite anyone.

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  26. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    Sad that we have forgotten our heroes….Interesting anecdotes….Honestly, I never knew.
    Your prose is mature and flows unhindered…beautifully. You should write for newspapers and magazines.

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    1. Where do we have biographies of great men and women of India? Except of NBT, no one publishes them for children and those are well, biographies which no child would happily read. We need such stories to make them understand and appreciate our great sons. Thank you for the words of appreciation Alka.

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  27. Wow Zephyr…I had no clue about this incident…Thanks for putting it up…something I can tell R when she grows older..

    Bose was a great leader na

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    1. These facts were found in some obscure books on Bose in a research library! Classified information> 😀 Unless children and even older people get to read the life stories of great men, we would only know the biographies of the handful of leaders who have become famous. YEs, you can show these to R when she grows up.

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  28. insightful tribute to an almost forgotten hero

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    1. You said it. He got a few minutes from our esteemed elected representatives in the Central Hall, of course 😛

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  29. Interesting! The power of one 🙂

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    1. Indeed! 🙂

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  30. A brilliant post and a wonderful and fitting tribute to a great man. A very inspiring story of a defining set of events in his life. It felt great to read a wonderful chapter of his life. It touched and moved me in many ways. 🙂

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    1. If we go through the lives of great people who made a difference to the world it would be some such defining moment. Imagine someone who was not interested in politics got sucked into it. Of course he couldn’t remain a politician and thus forfeited the tributes and ‘glory’ the others of his generation enjoy till date. Even his portrait had to wait till 1978 to find a place in the Central hall of the Parliament. And all he gets are a few moments of the Parliament time as opposed to pages of praise and glorification of the other leaders who were more poliitcal(ly correct?).

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      1. Zephyr Well said I am 100% with you.
        Dirty politics has always made sure that people who gave ultimate sacrifice got their due much much after.. sadly that has been the story of our great nation.

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  31. Fighting for the truth…. and also fighting to be remembered, and not forgotten, thanks to efforts of people like you. Thanks, Zephyr, for this very timely post on one of India’s greatest, and perhaps most misunderstood and under-rated leaders.

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    1. I found it in my documents and decided it would have to do for a tribute. I had written it for children all those years ago 😀 And since it was a painstakingly researched piece, I knew that readers like you would like it. Thanks Sudha.

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  32. Lovely tribute to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on his Jayanti. I had not read this story earlier, it brings out his exceptional qualities very effectively.

    It is essential to remember these great personalities of our past. Perhaps we will be able to find a way to a better future by imbibing some of their traits.

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    1. It is becoming harder and harder to remember them thanks to the selective promotion of historical figures in our country. He is portrayed as being just a soldier but he had a compassionate heart beneath the uniform as his story reveals.

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  33. Wonderful post. I have always admired Netaji and these incidents were not known to me. Thank you

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    1. There are so many stories and anecdotes about our leaders that we don’t know of. I had written this one long ago after painstaking research. Posted it as it was apt. Glad you liked it. 🙂

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