There is a common belief amongst the literateurs that fiction and reality are two different things. There is a belief that romanticism and revolution, devotion and debacle, reverence and revolt never go hand in hand. They exist at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Romanticism is filled with dreams and high flight of imagination. Whereas revolution aims at changing the systems is grounded in realities.
India had a hero adored by the youth of the nation who proved that romance and revolution can co-exist and revolutionaries can have love stories. We would be talking about the story of a hero who was a champion in commitments. We would be talking about the unbeknownst love story of the great leader- Netaji, Subhas Chandra Bose.
Shubhas happened to be one of the most eligible bachelors of Cuttack. Born and brought up in a respected family of the city, he was a brilliant student. Shubhas topped the Indian Civil Services exams and gained the All India Rank Fourth Rank. Within months of joining, he left the job and decided to dedicate his entire life to the cause of the nation. At a young age, he was influential that a large group of young boys was always ready to do anything on invocation of Subhas. Every well to do family of the city wanted their daughter to get hitched with Subhas. After all, who would not have wanted a groom like Subhas for their daughter? Every other day, a family came to his house to see a potential in law in him. However, Subhas was untouched and decided not to marry and dedicate himself to the nationalist movement. Rather, he influenced the girls to join the freedom struggle who came to meet him to explore the opportunities of marrying him. Such influential were our Netaji.
When they met
In 1934, Bose halted in Austria, a part of the Axis Powers including Germany, Japan and Italy during the World War II. Bose had strong relations with the Axis Powers and was exploring the possibilities of an alliance to end the colonial rule in India. Bose was suffering from a poor health and decided to get treated in Austria. Since the doctors advised him to take rest, he planned to utilise the opportunity to write his autobiography. Bose shared this idea with his friend Dr Mathur, an Indian physician living in Vienna, Austria. Bose also requested the doctor to help him in getting a typist who could type down the words recited by him.
Dr Mathur introduced Emilie Schenkl, as a typist to assist Bose. This was the ‘kick moment’ when the commander got the emotional kick. They spend a good time every day working on the autobiography. Bose was away from uncertainties of the freedom movement and war, spending stable and peaceful time, where he had to spend most of the time of a day with Emilie. Eventually, within a short period of time, they fell in love with each other.
Emilie did the impossible and was able to manifest the emotional side of Bose. Bose, in one of his letter to Emilie, confessed that many girls loved him, but it was only Emilie who could win his heart. Bose further wrote that he never thought that a woman’s love could ensnare him. Puzzled over this, he wrote, “Is this love of any earthly use? We who belong to two different lands — have we anything in common? My country, my people, my traditions, my habits and customs, my climate — in fact everything is so different from yours… For the moment, I have forgotten all these differences that separate our countries. I have loved the woman in you — the soul in you.”
Just before his departure to India, Bose spent a couple of days with Emilie in Badgastein in March 1936. To request her to come to the place, Bose wrote“Can you please come here for a week… Please ask your parents if they will allow you to be away from home for one week or so.”
After knowing each other for three years, they secretly married in December 1937 in Badgastein, a spa resort in Salzburg province of Austria. From 1934 onwards, Subhas and Emilie corresponded continuously through letters whenever they were physically separated. After getting married for Five years, the graceful lady gave birth to a beautiful daughter, whom the couple named Anita-the graceful. The couple met for the last time in February 1943 in Berlin. At that moment, their daughter, Anita was only two months old.
When the soldier had to choose between the nation and his love
Bose Unknown to the world, the greatest difficulty for Bose in leaving Europe was not the certainty of imprisonment in India, but the pain of separation from his love. Before leaving for his motherland, Bose communicated his feelings through a letter to Emilie. Bose wrote, “Even an iceberg sometimes melts… and so it is with me now… I have already sold myself to my first love, my country, to whom I have to return.” Certainly, Bose was standing on a crossroad of nationalism and love life. He had to make a choice between his motherland and the women he loved. Undoubtedly, he decided to take the cause of his motherland, which he expressed to Emilie in the above lines of his letter.
In the letter, Bose further wrote “I do not know what the future has in store for me. Maybe, I shall spend my life in prison, maybe, I shall be shot or hanged. But whatever happens, I shall think of you and convey my gratitude to you in silence for your love for me. Maybe I shall never see you again. Maybe I shall not be able to write to you again when I am back. But believe me, you will always live in my heart, in my thoughts and in my dreams. If fate should thus separate us in this life — I shall long for you in my next life.”
Emilie after Bose’ mysterious disappearance
After the disappearance of Bose, Emilie joined the Postal Department to bring up her daughter. According to Anita, her mother never disclosed her relationship with Bose in her lifetime. She recalls that her mother told her that she came to know about her father’s death through a radio news bulletin. She was listening to the evening news bulletin on the radio as usual. Suddenly, the newsreader suddenly said that Subhas Chandra Bose of India has died in a plane accident in Taipei.
We are clueless about the fact that Emilie was inherently so strong and promising or the love and company of Bose made her strong. But we are sure of the fact that Emilie did not directly fight for India’s freedom. But her contribution was not less than that of a female soldier fighting in the Rani Jhansi Brigade of the Indian National Army. She was one of the greatest sources of strength for Bose throughout the time after she met him and before his death.
Former MP and Niece-in-law of Bose in her book ‘A True Love Story – Emilie and Subhas’ writes, “born in 1910 in a middle-class Austrian family of Vienna, Emilie Schenkl nurtured her husband’s (Netaji) memory and cultivated a deep attachment from afar to India all her life, until her death in 1996”. “She (Emilie) brought up their daughter on her own, working to support herself and Anita. Fiercely self-reliant and very private, Emilie live a life of great dignity and quiet courage,” further writes Krishna Bose.
Anita Bose Pfaff during her visit to India in 2001 said that her mother understood the role played by Netaji in the Indian freedom movement very deeply. Though she was not happy when he had to leave, she knew that Bose was working for the liberation of his country from colonial rule. “My mother was fiercely loyal. She knew the great task that he had at hand”, Anita recalled during a lecture in the IIT.
What Netaji teaches us
An important thing that Bose teaches us is that revolutionaries do have a love story. Romanticism and revolution can co-exist and a person dedicated to his nation might fall in love and can be equally committed to both of them. The lyricism in Bose letters to Emilie is not something which we acquainted with, whenever we think of him. When we read these letters and revisit the speeches made by Bose, we get to know to extremely different identities existing in him, both excellently manifesting their ideas – ideas of a lover and a revolutionary.
Bose also teaches us that love of the revolutionary is inductive in nature and induces his/her qualities into the partner. Bose induced his strength and ideas into Emilie, which could be observed in her strong nature. Also, the fact that despite being a lady of Austrian origin, she was happy to see Bose giving priority to his motherland and wanted India to get free from the colonial rule, explains the idea on induction.
Finally, Bose makes us realise that revolutionaries prove to be the most beautiful lovers on the earth. Probably, because of their level of commitment, be it the motherland or the partner. Though they might not succeed in love, mark down immortal love stories.
(Author of this article are Bhavya Katyal and Akash Kumar Singh)