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#DUB Review: The War Diary of Asha-san: From Tokyo to Netaji’s Indian National Army

The War Diary of Asha-san provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a young girl who was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for India’s independence. It is a moving account of the great endeavours undertaken by India’s brave patriots in order to win freedom from British rule.

Lt. Bharati ‘Asha’ Sahay Choudhry was born in Japan in 1928 to Anand Mohan Sahay and Sati Sen. Both her parents were completely committed to the ideal of Indian independence. They believed that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was the leader who could win India’s freedom, and became some of his most ardent supporters and closest confidantes. Growing up in such a household where her parents considered the struggle for independence to be more important than everything else, Lt. Bharati (or Asha-san) was imbibed with the ideals of patriotism and sacrifice for her nation from a very young age. 

Asha began to write this diary in June 1943, when she was 15 years old and World War II was in full swing. It begins with an account of her meeting Netaji for the first time, and requesting to fight in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army. Just a teenager, Asha-san was already ready to take up arms and do her part for the liberation of India. As readers, we are provided with a view into a very unique situation of cross-cultural transmission. Asha-san’s love for Japan is evident in her writing. We get a glimpse of life in wartime Japan and a firsthand account of the alliance between Netaji’s Azad Hind Government and Japan, which is still not widely discussed in most accounts of India’s freedom struggle. With Asha-san’s father being one of Netaji’s closest companions, we also see the extent of the impact Netaji had on the general population of east and south-east Asia, and how he served as an inspiration for countless Indians.

For their thousand questions of ‘Why?’ we had one answer: `For freedom.’

In 1945, Asha-san left her home at the age of 17 to enlist in the Rani of Jhansi regiment. The diary details her journey through south-east Asia and the guerilla training she underwent as part of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. The reader is presented with Asha-san’s single minded focus on the liberation of India at every turn. The extent of her patriotism is incredible, especially considering that she had never set foot in India at the time. It is impossible to not be moved while reading about the great sacrifices made by the soldiers of the Indian National Army. Even after the Japanese surrender and Netaji’s untimely death, the men and women of the INA were undeterred and wished to carry on their struggle for independence. Asha-san’s bravery shines through her words.

It is like looking into the fluttering pages of history- as though each wave carries with it a story of a historical marvel or a disaster. How many ferries, boats and ships must have sunk in this bay? How many lovers of India, how many invaders must be spending sleepless nights under this sea?

The diary also provides us with an intimate glimpse into the highest echelons of the Indian freedom fighters. Through her parents, Asha-san was introduced to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarojini Naidu, to name just a few. Aptly, the diary ends in August 1947, when India finally gained independence from the British, and the lifelong vision of all these brave freedom fighters was realised. This is the story of a young girl who had already dedicated her life to her country at the age of 15, and it serves as an important reminder of the ideals and values we must continue to strive for as India completes 75 years of her independence. The book is incredibly engaging as a whole, and a must-read for people who are interested in India’s freedom struggle.

Read Also: Indian Universities and Activism: Fifty-Shades of Azadi

Urmi Maitra [email protected]

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Urmi loves history and loves books. She is always on the lookout for learning something new, and will happily discuss anything ranging from political theory to jazz. Hopes to be a dog mom someday.