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A lifetime in 11 years, the Netaji-Emilie saga

23 June, 2021 17:33:39

“It was a sunny summer afternoon and a little after five o’clock we were at our destination: a sprawling villa in Stadtbergen, a suburb of the city of Augsburg in Bavaria, southern Germany. In the entrance hall we were greeted by Anita and the family. I looked up and there, at the top of the staircase, stood Auntie Emilie. She wore a printed floral dress of Indian material. She looked down at us and said excitedly, ‘Do you know it is going to be sixty years soon.’ Somewhat puzzled, I asked, ‘Sixty years of what?’ She explained, ‘I met Subhas in Vienna in June 1934. Next year, that is in June 1994, it is going to be sixty years since our first meeting.’”

The above is an excerpt from ‘Emilie and Subhas: A True Love Story’ by the late Krishna Bose (wife of Netaji Subhas Bose’s nephew Sisir Kumar Bose), about the relationship between Netaji and his Austrian wife Emilie ‘Mimi’ Schenkel. And the commemoration of that meeting is the topic for the seventh edition of ‘The Anita Dialogues’, a series of monthly conversations aired on YouTube with Netaji’s economist daughter Dr Anita Bose Pfaff, who lives in Germany. The conversations are hosted by Sampriti, an organisation of Bengalis in Germany, to mark the 125th year of Netaji’s birth. They will continue until February 2022, and are moderated by Sampriti’s founder and current president, Shaibal Giri.

The current edition of ‘The Anita Dialogues’ features a bonanza in the form of appearances by Anita’s daughter Maya Bose-Pfaff, and Madhuri Bose, author of ‘The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account’ and granddaughter of Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose. We hear how the three women are planning a joint book on Emilie’s life, and how she didn’t really like her given name, preferring to be addressed by her nickname Mimi. 

As Anita points out at the outset, Subhas and Emilie had a very short time with each other. Of the 11 years that they knew each other, from June 1934 to Netaji’s disappearance and presumed death in August 1945, they spent more time apart than they did together. However, these were important years in Netaji’s life. As the timeline presented by Anita in this episode shows, it was in 1934 that he finished writing ‘The Indian Struggle’, with Emilie’s help. In 1936, he was placed under house arrest in India, and they were together in Germany during 1937-38 before Netaji returned to India in 1938, and remained here until 1941. Between 1941 and 43, Netaji and Emilie lived in Italy and Germany, and Anita was born in 1942. Netaji left for Southeast Asia in 1943, never to return. 

The episode sheds light on the woman who was Emilie Schenkel, from childhood to her death in 1996. Anita and Maya recount her sense of humour, her cheerful spirit, and her devotion to her husband. Maya points out how unusual it was for a woman of that time to marry a foreigner. There are also excerpts from letters they wrote to each other, and rare photographs of Mimi in a sari, as well as those of her with various members of the Bose family. We hear from Madhuri of the touching letter that Netaji left for Sarat before he embarked on his submarine ride in Southeast Asia, entreating him to look after his wife and daughter should anything happen to him. 

Not to spoil your viewing experience, we will not reveal too much here. We do feel this episode needs to be watched in its entirety by all those truly interested in Netaji’s life and work. Next month’s episode of ‘The Anita Dialogues’ will feature Netaji in Europe, with guest speaker Jan Kuhlmann. It will also feature Netaji’s famous ‘Ami Subhas bolchhi’ address from Berlin. Watch this space for more. 

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