Prison letters, despite being subjected to the scrutiny of government censors, often supply some of the deepest insights into the mind of a revolutionary. Subhas Chandra Bose’s letters from Mandalay certainly underscore the truth of the poetic assertion: ‘Some walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage’. They make this volume one of the most moving in the 12-volume set of Netaji’s Collected Works. Subhas Chandra Bose’s exile in Burmese prisons from 1924 to 1927 witnessed the transformation of a lieutenant into a leader. During the non-cooperation movement and its aftermath he had wholeheartedly accepted Deshbandhu Chitta Ranjan Das as his political mentor. The apprenticeship was cut short by Deshbandhu’s death in June 1925. When Subhas received this terrible news as a prisoner in Mandalay, he felt, ‘desolate with a sense of bereavement’, as he wrote to his friend Dilip Kumar Roy.
Netaji’s letters cover a very wide array of topics—art, music, literature, nature, education, folk culture, civic affairs, criminology, spirituality, and, of course, politics. He bore the rigours of prison life with a combination of stoicism and humour.
This volume is indispensable to an understanding of India’s greatest revolutionary leader and will interest all historians of modern India.
Sisir Kumar Bose (1920–2000) founded the Netaji Research Bureau in 1957 and was its guiding spirit until his death in 2000. A participant in the Indian freedom struggle, he was imprisoned by the British in the Lahore Fort, Red Fort and Lyallpur Jail. In the post-independence period he played a key role in preserving the best traditions of the anti-colonial movement and making possible the writing of its history.
Sugata Bose is the Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University. He is the author of several books on the economic, social and political history of modern South Asia.