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Netaji Bhawan beacons lovers of the hero of freedom movement

Once an ancestral residence of Bose built in 1909 by Janakinath Bose, the Bhawan is today a memorial dedicated to Subhash Chandra Bose.

Debanjana Banerjee | Kolkata |

Any talk of India’s freedom movement is incomplete without a mention of the contribution of Subhas Chandra Bose. But unfortunately we remember and pay homage to the great leader as a ritual only on one occasion, i.e. his birth anniversary. Fondly called Netaji, a title bestowed upon him lovingly by the people of the country for his leading role in ridding the motherland from the shackles of colonial yoke.

Luckily, we have with us Netaji Bhawan, the memorial to remind us about the hero of the freedom movement. Once an ancestral residence of Bose built in 1909 by Janakinath Bose, the Bhawan is today a memorial dedicated to Subhash Chandra Bose. It is a storehouse of inspiration and enlightenment that draws visitors every year from throughout India and abroad.

Netaji’s House [Photo : SNS]

On 23 January 1947, Sarat Chandra Bose, Netaji’s elder brother and eminent freedom fighter, dedicated this historical building to the nation. The Netaji Museum, established here in 1961 by Netaji Research Bureau under the leadership of Netaji’s nephew, Dr Sisir Kumar Bose, is a full-fledged and state-of-the-art biographical museum.

The heritage building in Kolkata is now maintained as a memorial and research centre on Netaji’s life. The bureau is run by Sugata Bose and Krishna Bose (till 2022). Currently, it is the headquarters of Netaji Research Bureau.

 

The Great Escape Staircase [Photo : SNS]

The highlights of the memorial are a historical car, Netaji’s study, his bedroom, Krishna Bose Freedom Library, Sarat Bose room, a museum and The Great Escape staircase (the house’s rear staircase, down which Netaji came to where Sisir had parked the Wanderer car at the rear end of the driveway).

 

The Historic Car:

Wandarer BLA 7169 [Photo : SNS]

The historic Wanderer Car in which Sisir Kumar Bose drove his uncle, Subhas Chandra Bose, from the erstwhile Calcutta (Kolkata) to Gomoh during the Great Escape (“Mahanishkraman”) of January 1941 has been restored to its pristine glory with the technical expertise provided by Audi, an auto giant, with financial support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Juxtaposing the car on the ground-floor verandah stands out a big television screen that plays dramatic footage of key moments of Netaji’s life — as Congress President, as the Indian National Army’s Supreme Commander — and presents significant episodes in Netaji Research Bureau’s 65-year history as an institution.

 

Netaji’s Study:

Netaji used this room to receive guests when he was the president of the Indian National Congress (1938-39). The walls of this room are painted in the national tricolour, as it was back then. The room is preserved exactly as it was at that time.

Visitors can see his working desk with its revolving chair. The glass-cased almirahs in the room are packed with books and journals from the late 1930s, as well as with gifts and mementos he received from visitors as Congress President. A charkha (spinning wheel) stands on one side of his desk, as it did then. The sofas on which visitors sat are also displayed.

 

Netaji’s Bedroom:

The room contains two beds, one single and one ornate one. Netaji used the single bed. The ornate one belonged to his father Janakinath. The room also contains four pairs of shoes, three trunks, a painting in which a hand holding tricolor is shown, a dressing table, chair, mirror, crockery, study table, lamp, wall clock, and a side table.

The long front verandah of Netaji Bhawan’s first floor is marked with foot-prints showing the route of Netaji’s historical escape of Netaji on January 16-17 night of 1941. The foot-prints start just outside the bedroom door and run down the entire length of the corridor, tracing the path Netaji took on tiptoe at 1.30 am to the rear of the house.

 

Freedom Library:

Netaji Research Bureau’s Freedom Library, located on the first floor of Netaji Bhawan, started with Sarat Chandra Bose’s collection of books and has been a valuable resource to historians and scholars of India’s independence movement for over six decades. It has many rare, old books and periodicals, as well as all past issues of NRB’s journal The Oracle, which commenced publication in January 1979 and is in itself a repository of valuable historical material generated through NRB’s conferences and programmes. Recent issues of The Oracle are also available online on the website, netaji.org. In 2020, the Freedom Library was named the Krishna Bose Freedom Library in honour of Professor Mrs Krishna Bose.

 

Sarat Bose Room:

Sarat Chandra Bose was the second elder brother (Mejdada) of Netaji. He was himself a renowned freedom fighter and a well-known lawyer. He was a constant support to his younger brother Subhash. Subhash also looked up to him whenever he faced a crisis. The Sarat Bose Room contains some of the things used by him – bed, a glass almirah containing his clothes, his walking sticks, study table, chair, typewriter – and a display of photographs on him.

 

The Museum:

Various items like a large number of letters, journals, crockery, clothes, furniture, etc. are on display at the Museum.

Some of the most important that strikes at the museum are as follows:

  1. Janakinath’s diary, recording Netaji’s birth,
  2. Letter of resignation from the Indian Civil service (22 April 1921),
  3. Passports,
  4. A page of draft statement of resignation.
  5. Sword and Saropa presented to Netaji at G Temple, Amritsar 1938,
  6. Marble plate and bowl used by Netaji for his last dinner in his house.
  7. Garland offered to Netaji on the proclamation of Azad Hind government and Netaji’s garland auctioned for the cause of total mobilisation for the war effort,
  8. The sword of Netaji (Tokyo, 1943),
  9. Desk and chair used by Netaji in Singapore,
  10. Model of Japanese submarine in which Netaji travelled across the Indian Ocean to Sabang Sumatra (April-June 1943),
  11. Vase presented by the Japan government to Netaji,
  12. Netaji’s clothes,
  • Uniform worn by Netaji as GOC Congress Volunteer Corps Calcutta 1928,
  • Overcoat worn by Netaji in Europe in the 30s,
  • Netaji’s woolen chuddar,
  • Silk dhoti and chadar worn by Netaji during his last dinner in his house on 16 January 1941, and
  • Netaji’s military boots cap and belt.

 

The letters present at the Museum are those written to:

  1. Miss Kitty Kurti, a close friend of Netaji.
  2. Mrs. Naomi Vetter, an old personal friend (expecting a reply, Netaji has written “Please address me on the cover as O. Mazzotta”, which might be his pen name to hide his own identity).
  3. Basanti Devi from Burma, 1926.
  4. Mejoboudidi Bivabati from Burma, 1925.
  5. Netaji’s mother, 1912.

 

The place also displays some other things of literary importance. These include:

  1. Tagore’s Deshnayak Eulogy to Subhas Chandra, drafted in the poet’s own hand (1939),
  2. Rabindranath Tagor’s song Amar Sonar Bangla in Netaji’s own hand-writting taken from his Notebook of Favourite Songs (1924-27),
  3. Articles written by Netaji,
  4. E.F. OATEN’s poem on Subhas:-

Did I once suffer, Subhas, at your hands?

Your patriot heart is still, I would forget!

Let me recall but this, that while as yet

The Raj that you once challenged in your land

Was mighty; Icarus-like your courage planned

To mount the skies, and storm in battle set

The ramparts of High Heaven, to claim the debt

Of freedom owed, on plain and rude demand.

High Heaven yielded, but in dignity

Like Icarus, you sped towards the sea.

The poem was written in 1947. It was printed and published by the author in a collection of his poems titled Song of Atom and Other Verses in 1967. The holograph copy of the poem presented to the Netaji research Bureau by the author in June 1969 is present in the museum.

 

Articles written by Netaji in Azad Hind (Monthly for a Free India) are:

  1. Free India and her Problems: (the article has been reprinted from ‘Wille and Macht’ August 1942. As it deals with the most important problems of free India it may be of special interest for our readers.” – Editor)
  2. The Situation in India (1942): (“This article was written before the meeting of the All India Congress committee on August 7, and the arrest of Gandhi and other leaders on August 9.” – The Editorial Board)

 

The major attraction of the Museum is Netaji’s historical last letter to his brother Sarat Chandra Bose, written just on the eve of his departure for East Asia. English translation of written by Netaji before embarking on the 93-day journey by submarine from Europe to East Asia is given below:

Revered Mejdada,

I am again about to embark on a perilous journey. This time towards home. I may not see the end of the road. If I meet such a danger during the journey I will not be able to communicate with you again in this life. Therefore I am giving you some news today – it will reach you in due course. I have married here and I have a daughter. In my absence please give my wife and daughter a little affection – as you have to me all my life. My last prayer before God is that my wife and daughter complete my unfinished tasks.

Please accept my deepest respects, and convey the same to Mother, Mejoboudidi, and other elders.

Your affectionate brother,

Subhas

Berlin, 8th February 1943

Statues of Sugata Bose and Krishna Bose [Photo : SNS]

Indian nationalist, Subhas Chandra Bose was born to Janakinath Bose (father) and Prabhavati Bose (mother) on 23 January, 1897 in Cuttack. He belonged to a wealthy and privileged Bengali family.

In early 1942 Germany, he was honoured with the title “Netaji” (meaning ‘respected leader’ in Hindi) by the Indian soldiers of the Indische Legion and by the German and Indian officials in the Special Bureau for India in Berlin.

Born into a privileged and wealthy family in Cuttack to Janakinath and Prabhavati Bose on 23 January, 1897, Subhas Chandra Bose had a life of ease. As brilliant a student that he was, he fared extremely well in academics.

After completing his studies, he appeared for civil services examinations and came out in colours. Consequent to his selection for Indian Civil Service (ICS) as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) was known under the British regime, he was made the mayor of Calcutta in 1931.

However, he couldn’t keep himself away from the ongoing nationalist movement for long. He joined the freedom movement relinquishing his job as a civil servant. Ever since he dedicated his life to the cause of freedom and till the last breath remained committed to the cause.

Bose held many prestigious positions, namely:

  1. 5th Mayor of Calcutta (22 August 1930 – 15 April 1931)
  2. President of the Indian National Congress (18 January 1938 – 29 April 1939)
  3. President and founder of All India Forward Bloc (22 June 1939 – 16 January 1941)
  4. 2nd leader of Indian National Army (4 July 1943 – 18 August 1945).