By Aneesha Madan and published by The Times of India
DARSHAN Singh Bajaj was sent to Bangkok at the young age of 14 years to avoid the bubonic plague in Punjab. After the day’s work, he took to staging plays which were pieces from the great Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. After the inauguration of the Thai Bharat Cultural Lodge in 1942, Darshan Singh actively engaged himself in the social and political activities of the Lodge.
Many leading Indians like Darshan Singh had appealed to the Japanese that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose be made the Supreme Leader of the Independence Movement in the Far East. On April 26, 1943, a German U-boat carrying Netaji and Hassan, his trusted secretary, were transferred to a Japanese submarine.
Darshan Singh was ignited by Netaji’s stirring speech at the Chinese Hall in Surawong Road in Bangkok. Netaji appointed Darshan Singh as the supply officer for the Indian National Army. He agreed to receive a nominal sum of 1 Thai baht a month, because Netaji insisted that everybody working for the Provisional Government would receive a pay.
Darshan Singh was responsible for the supplies for the 30,000 INA troops stationed in the Far East. When the allies bombed parts of Bangkok, Darshan Singh set off to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to secure supplies. He knew Taichew, a dialect spoken by the locals in Saigon and could easily establish supply chains. Once the INA needed 10,000 boots when the allies were bombing Bangkok.
Darshan Singh and his men rowed for 48 hours out of Bangkok to buy the leather. He put 100 Chinese workers to work and 10,000 pairs of boots were manufactured and supplied.
Darshan Singh recalls a very interesting incident in his autobiographical book “The Unknown Truth: A Tribute to the Indian Independence Movement in Thailand”. Netaji reached Bangkok to immediately proceed to the Burmese front. He urgently needed a new pair of shoes. Darshan Singh managed to find and bring a shoe maker in the middle of the night. After much persuasion Hasan, Netaji’s secretary, gave them permission to silently measure his feet. Netaji suddenly woke up.
He demanded ‘what are you doing?’. Darshan Singh apprised ‘Sir we have to measure your feet for your new shoes’, Netaji then responded ‘ok do what you must’. And he went back to sleep. Darshan Singh had the shoes delivered early in the morning.
By mid February 1942 Japanese took control of Singapore. Several thousand Indian combatants serving the British Army were captured. Darshan Singh, as Vice President of the Thai Bharat Culture Lodge made a fervent plea to the Japanese to protect the Indian soldiers. “Indian soldiers” he stated, “were ordered into a war which was not theirs without any consultation… What allegiance did the Indian soldier really have to the British?” The Indian soldiers from the allied army were subsequently placed under Major Mohan Singh.
In March 1944, the Japanese Army and INA units were closing in on Rangoon. For millions of Indians, including Darshan Singh, the goal of Independence of India was becoming a reality. But the war was taking another turn. The Allied Forces began a successful assault on Rangoon. Darshan recounts in his book how Netaji was unfazed by personal danger and refused to budge till the safe passage of the women Rani Jhansi Unit of the INA was organised. The Japanese relented.
After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945. On August 16, 1945, Netaji made his last visit to Bangkok. That was the last time Darshan Singh saw Netaji. The very next day Netaji took off on a plane to Russia from the Don Mueng airport. Then came the shocking news of the plane crash. For Darshan Singh and millions of Indians in East Asia, the loss of Netaji was heartbreaking and a very personal loss.
Top: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose inspecting a formation of INA troops. Photo: Columbia.edu and published by Culturalindia.net
Inset: Late Darshan Singh Bajaj who lived in Thailand from the age of 14 till his death when he was 83. He was a successful businessman and industrialist having set up three textile and garment factories here.
Below : Netaji Subas talking to a senior officer. Photo:Mourningtheancient.com and published by Culturalindia.net
Home Page: An painting of Netaji Subhas. Photo: Culturalindia.net