History, as Eliot says, has many “cunning passages and contrived corridors”, but there are some alternate pathways which require some effort to discover. One such—the life of A.C.N. Nambiar—has been recovered by Vappala Balachandran. Nambiar lived in Europe in the turbulent decades before World War II, was a journalist for various newspapers, was an associate of Pandit Nehru and, later, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s representative in Nazi Germany. Then, he served as India’s ambassador to Sweden and West Germany. Balachandran retired as a senior officer in R&AW and was one of the two members of a committee tasked to look into the Mumbai police in relation to the 26/11 attack.
Balachandran’s book has given us an unusual Indian perspective of the complicated 1920s and ’30s in Europe. Through Nambiar’s life and activities, Balachandran etches vividly the rise of Nazism, the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the chaos and confusion accompanying the fall of France and the tumultous period following Netaji’s arrival in Germany and the establishment of the Azad Hind Office there. He also gives us a picture of the gritty circumstances in which many of our freedom fighters lived during the war, especially in its closing period, when they were hunted by British intelligence.