Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Curry and the Freedom Fighter: Rash Behari Bose in Japan


Tram tracks glint in the afternoon sun as they bend with the curve of a famous road in South Calcutta that on one end leads to a crematorium and on the other, to a bridge built in honor of an honest engineer slain by gangsters.  In far away Shinjuku, a suburb of Tokyo, a venerable restaurant in operation since 1901, serves a famous dish—a Japanese version of curry, that it calls Indo-Karii, since 1927.  What do the two have in common?  The street was named after Rash Behari Bose*, the famous Indian revolutionary during the British colonial times.  The dish Karii is a derivative of the Indian curry dishes that Mr. Rash Behari introduced to his father-in-law, Mr. Soma Aizo, the affluent owner of the Nakamura-Ya restaurant, while he was in exile in Japan.

It also explains the mystery of why this is called Karii, when the rest of the world calls it curry—because it was a Bengali, who pronounced it as such, that introduced it.  And it would be fair to say that Indian curry, which enjoys household familiarity in Japan, owes part of its legacy to Mr. Bose, who—appalled by the British introduced milquetoast curries of the early 1900s in Japan—set matters straight and laid down the law in this land of the rising sun, insofar at least in matters concerning curry.  In the 1920s he convinced his father-in-law to offer a line of Indian dishes, became an executive in the restaurant, and set up a supply chain for receiving the ingredients. 

Bose was a multitalented guy with vision.  What we would call today in corporate parlance an out-of-the-box thinker, a big picture guy, an ideation maverick, an evangelist for a free India, a bit of a wild duck (don’t shoot yours), a man to whom you could ascribe a powerpoint full of consultant strength epithets.  Before his escape to Japan at the age of around 30, Bose was already one of the founders of the Ghadar Party, and a mastermind behind the assassination attempt on the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge in 1912.  Hardinge was riding an elephant in Chandni Chowk with his wife, attending a ceremony and the attempt failed as a homemade bomb missed its mark, killing Hardinge’s attendant instead.  As a result of all of this, Bose ended up being hotly pursued by the British, and in 1915, he escaped to Japan and switched to curry.  Chicken he was not.  Influential pan-Asian political forces in Japan reached out and helped carve out a home in Japan for Bose.  There is an old photograph of Rash Behari Bose at a dinner with his Japanese benefactor on one side and the future prime minister of Japan on the the other.  He became a Japanese citizen in 1923. He repaid this largesse with curry.

Nakamura-Ya still exists and is famous throughout Japan for its curry dishes.  Bose married the owner’s daughter and had two children in the early 1920s.  The restaurant’s website carries old photographs of the Indian son-in-law (scroll thru http://www.nakamuraya.co.jp/photo/index.html) and his wife in an Indian saree, draped Bengali style. 

Lord Hardinge survived the assassination attempt and writes about the episode in his autobiography, “My Indian Memoirs”.  The memoir smells of the professionalism of the colonial British, his work ethic and unshakable conviction , yet also shows an absolute form of insensitivity towards Indians, viewed always in wholesale form, rarely as individuals, unless of course they were royalty. Hardinge makes an oblique mention of Rash Behari Bose, who took the evening train back to his residence in Dehra Dun after the failed assassination attempt, and upon reaching Dehra Dun, immediately presided at a meeting condemning the attack on Hardinge and passing a motion against it.

Rash Behari’s son was a Japanese soldier who died in WWII fighting the battle at Okinawa and his daughter, who lived into the 21st century took reigns of the restaurant.  Rash Behari himself died in 1945 and two days after his death in Tokyo, his house was destroyed by Allied bombing.  In the 1940s he (along with Nair-San, another fascinating expat also responsible for the first Indian restaurant in Japan in 1949) was instrumental in the setting up of the mercenary Indian National Army, which was then handed over in turnkey fashion to Subhas Bose.  The Milwaukee Journal of Feb 19, 1942 heads a news item with “Indian Traitor Active Again”, giving an account of Rash Behari aligning with the Axis forces, as this “stock 56 year old Bengalese”.

The next time I am in Japan, which will be in January, I hope to visit Nakamura-Ya.  I hope that it would have reopened, for it was shut down for renovations.  As for Bose, the Ghadar Party is gone and so is the army he founded.  But his Indo-Karii remains.  I bet you that its recipe calls for the addition of a spoon of sugar.  Because, I believe, the Chandannagore born Bose was a Ghoti.

* postscript: possibly Rash Behari Avenue was named after Rash Behari Ghosh (another famous politician from the early 1900s and not Bose).

1 comment:

  1. Did not know about the culinary connections of the other Bose in Tokyo ! Thanks