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Brothers Against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalists Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose.

Leonard Gordon has written the definitive biography of Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the most enigmatic personalities of modern India. Within it he has incorporated the biography of Subhas Bose's less famous older brother, Sarat, who studied at Lincoln's Inn, practiced before the Calcutta High Court and was a leading parliamentarian. The result is an unbalanced book, but it succeeds because the brothers' lives were so intertwined. The dual biography also reminds us that even so idiosyncratic a political figure as Bose was an integral part of a large Calcutta family whose support was essential to his career.

Subhas Bose's popularity among Bengalis came from his image as a militant nationalist who gave up a promising career in the Indian Civil Service to dedicate his life to the liberation of India. He is usually depicted in military uniform and believed that India's freedom should be won through bloodshed. As a risk-taker, daring to stand up even to Gandhi, he represented the boldness and bravery that Bengali youth so admired. His death in a military air crash in Taiwan in 1945 enhanced his image as a martyr and created expectations of his messianic return. Yet, the man who emerges from Gordon's study is a supremely naive person whose quixotic struggle to oust the already declining British distracted him from more important issues such as the portentious Hindu-Muslim conflict. His obsessive devotion to a single cause is even more tragic in view of the considerable talents he displayed as an administrator during short stints as Mayor of Calcutta, member of the Bengal Legislative Council and labor union leader. The most serious outcome of Bose's preoccupation with British rule was his flirtation with the Axis. Gordon is impatient with Bose's blindness to the brutalities of Hitler and his admiration for the "virility" and discipline of fascism.

The book is written in a simple, straightforward narrative style and seems to include every known detail of Subhas Bose's life. In contrast to his previous work, Gordon deliberately avoids psychological speculation. Detective-like, he follows Bose from Calcutta to Berlin, Tokyo, the Burmese front in command of the Indian National Army and to his fiery death in Taiwan, everywhere collecting documents and interviewing key actors--old Nazis, veterans of the Japanese and Indian National Armies, Bose's Austrian wife, family and co-workers in India--trying to uncover clues to Bose's motives and feelings. Gordon confirms the story of Bose's marriage with Emilie Schenkl, examines Bose's relationship with Gandhi and Nehru and recounts his interview with Hitler and frustration with the Nazi leadership. He concludes that though Bose was drawn to Hitler by his veneration of power, it was his hatred of British rule that led him to turn to the Nazis and Japanese for help. Although Bose himself was not brutal or racist, he admired authoritarian regimes and proposed a synthesis of communism and fascism as the appropriate government for an independent India.

Ironically, it is Sarat who emerges as the hero of this dual biography. While Subhas was abroad tilting at windmills, Sarat, in and out of prison, labored heroically even in illness to support the large Bose family and devoted his remaining strength to the struggle against rising communalism. The result, perhaps unintended, of pairing him with his brother is to emphasize the immaturity of Subhas Chandra Bose.
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Author:Kling, Blair B.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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