26. Januar 2014
From Goa to Germany, via the Nazis and Gandhi
Von Frederick Noronha
Once in a while, comes this nationally published book which surprises you because it contains an unusual, almost unbelievable, story. Sometimes, it links global history with a nearby reality. Yet, at other times, it even figures closely connected individuals and places.
Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul’s ‘In the Shadow of Freedom’ carries a strong mix of all three. It tells the strange story -- which would have been bizarre if it wasn’t true.
Its protagonist is a young man from near Belgaum who goes to Europe, falls in love and marries more than once, has a torrid affair with the wife of a prominent name in global film-making (all in the times of the Fuhrer), returns to India, takes up the nationalist cause, starts a newspaper and runs a cement plant post-Independence, and struggles with Gandhi to get permission for his marriage!
In the early 1930s, Avi (A G) Tendulkar, a young journalist from just outside Goa, travels to Germany to study. He marries his professor’s daughter.
As a journalist in Berlin, he meets and falls in love with the film-maker Thea von Harbou, the wife of Fritz Lang (1890-1976) -- one of the best known emigres from Germany’s school of Expressionism. Thea von Harbou has herself been called “one of Germany’s most celebrated film writers” even if her relationship with Nazism remains controversial.
From our perspective, interestingly, there are a number of Goa links that pepper this story. From Germany, Tendulkar is described visiting his grandparents’ home in Mayem, Goa. He finds it “uninhabited, save for a few wild cats and pigeons”. He is quoted saying: “I was quite aghast when I met the neighbouring family in Mayem whom I had not seen for several years. I was surprised to see that their life had not progressed at all and I marvelled at how the entire family had lived on so little.”
The aspirations then? To send sons to Europe to study, make them smart, and maybe enable them to join “the British administration, or become Congress leaders and bring some importance and some money to the family” (p. 131).
There are other links too. Tendulkar Dhaul writes (p 22): “My mother grew up in a small town called Belgaum in a sheltered Saraswat Brahmin family. Belgaum is exactly midway between Mumbai and Bangalore. Even today, it is considered a pensioner’s paradise. Belgaum is very close to both Karnataka and Maharashtra borders, and just a few kilometres from the Goa border. At that time, Goa was run by the Portuguese and because of its proximity to Belgaum the British developed Belgaum extensively. It had a Divisional Commissioner and various army battalions stationed there.”
The chapter titled ‘After the Marriage’ is interesting, also because of its references to Goa. The author also shows her father as disagreeing with Gandhi on the issue of celibacy after their marriage (p.256-257).
Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul says she learnt only after her father’s death that he had been President of the Goa Congress Committee in 1946, after the arrest of Tristao Braganca Cunha. Gandhi notes after meeting Tendulkar: (July 24, 1946) “He tells me that there are several parties there, working not necessarily for its inhabitants but for power. Yet at bottom the fight is good....”
According to the author, a “number of new political parties emerged in Goa, each having a conflicting agenda and perspective in relation to the question of Goan independence and autonomy. Also, many options were being suggested -- autonomy for Goa within Portuguese rule, independent statehood, Goa’s merger with Maharashtra or Karnataka.”
She says it was Gandhi who sensed that such disparate perspectives could be ineffective, and hence he “suggested that the various factions should attempt to unite under the broad rubric of civil liberties”.
Politics mixes with personal relationships and vice versa. Before this, there’s a lot of complications about the author’s parents’ marriage -- in Gandhi’s asharam, prior to Indian Independence, and the terms set for that. Tendulkar’s brother has meanwhile married a German lady, spent World War II in Germany, and gets jailed even after it is over.
Other insights: Vallabhai Patel writes, on August 22, 1946, from his “camp” at Birla House, on Albuquerque Road (now Tees January Marg) in New Delhi: “I wish to hear from you about the affairs in Goa and you should keep me informed about the developments there.”
Noted Hollywood star Gregory Peck’s mother-in-law Alexandra Passini somehow tracked down the author and told her that Tendulkar had married her (Alexandra) in 1922 when both were students in Paris.
Tendulkar spans an immense spectrum. He wrote for left-wing papers in Berlin, and his wife had sympathies for the Nazi cause. And the German fascination with things Indian is apparent in the early work of Lang and von Harbou.
With the clouds of Nazism looming large, Tendulkar returned to India. He became involved with Gandhi’s campaign for Independence, and, apparently with Thea’s consent, married a Gandhian activist Indumati Gunaji, the mother of the author of this book, Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul.
Some useful documentation is presented by way of newspaper clippings, which also touches on the Goa anti-colonial campaign. One sees Nehru explain how Tendulkar could pay back a ` 500 loan to the All India Congress Committee (p 104)! It reminds us that, sitting in the attic, and in ignored letters or photographs, you can sometimes find amazing stories in one’s own backyards.
Editor Dileep Padgaonkar notes that Tendulkar had forged strong links with institutions and personalities that shaped Germany’s tumultuous politics and culture in the decade preceding the triumph of Nazism.
As we go to reevaluate and reassess the -- sometimes contentious -- past, for someone sitting in Goa, the links with home are also interesting. This title published by Zubaan Books is an imprint of Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publishing house. A job well done.
In the Shadow of Freedom. Three Lives in Hitler’s Germany and Gandhi’s India
Von Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul
Zubaan. Rs 495, 308 S., 2013 - ISBN: 9789381017661