by Achinta Sutradhar
Animesh Chatterjee was having his breakfast at a roadside Dhaba on Jalandhar Amritsar highway. As he was tearing and putting a bite on hot aloo paratha with curd, pickle, and butter, he heard some noise and shouts at the courtyard of Dhaba just four to five charpoy’s away.
Five Sikhs were having breakfast sitting on Charpoys but all of a sudden two of them started quarreling and the matter was so exaggerated that they were about to fight but with the intervention of others, this was stopped. An aged, tall, well-built Sikh with a grey and black beard was scolding another less aged Sikh. They were speaking in Punjabi but as Animesh was staying at Jalandhar for two years he could understand a bit of the language. The aged Sikh was telling his fellow man, “don’t just insult Netaji, you must not be knowing what he has done for the country. If you say bad words I will be harsh on you.”
After everything settled Animesh went and asked, “what’s the matter, Sardarji?”
The Sikh glanced at Animesh and said,” this man says Netaji has not contributed much for India’s struggle for freedom, what he knows, poor fellow. I asked him to gather more knowledge of Netaji and then talk.” Sardarji now looked vividly at Animesh and asked, “are you a Bengali?”
“Then you must be knowing much about him”, an excited Sardarji said.
“No, not much, a bit of it”, replied Animesh.
The Sikh started telling, “don’t you feel he is the greatest freedom fighter of our country? He is the only person who dared to take a strenuous journey from Kolkata to Kabul, Peshawar to reach Europe. Never bothered for self-comfort and life. Met Hitler in Germany and from there he went to Singapore in a submarine and later restructured the Indian National Army. He was the man who wanted to remove the British empire with the help of their enemies. It’s like removing a thorn with a thorn. I think he was the greatest leader and a true son of the soil. But that man says Netaji didn’t do much in the struggle for freedom. What a silly and stupid man. I just can’t tolerate it”.
Animesh looked at this middle-aged Sardarji and said, “ I find you are a great admirer of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. What’s your name?”
“I am Daljeet Singh” said the Sardar. After a pause, he said, “ if you have some time then I want to show you something”.
Daljeet Singh took Animesh to a six-tonner truck parked just by the side of the road and said without any hesitation, “Saheb this is my truck and I am a truck driver. This feeds me and my family.” Saying this he got inside the driver’s cabin and called Animesh to climb up. As Animesh got inside the cabin, Daljeet Singh opened a chest on the top of the driver’s seat and folded his hands in a gesture of pranam. Animesh could see a photo of Guru Nanak Dev, at the side was a photo of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and an incense stick stand in the middle. Animesh remained speechless and stunned seeing the photo of Netaji with Guru Nanak. He thought about what respect and love this man have for Netaji.
But there were more surprises left for him. Daljeet Singh now opened a locked chest and took out a small wooden box, the size of a cigarette packet decorated beautifully with Kashmiri work from outside and inside of it in a red velvet cloth lay two big khaki coloured buttons that looked like the buttons of some old coat. Daljeet took the buttons in hand and said, “Saheb, these two buttons are very precious to me.” Animesh took the buttons in hand and looked carefully. The two old buttons with four holes in each look a bit older and no one uses this type of button now. There is nothing astonishing in these two buttons. Animesh looked curiously at Daljeet Singh.
Daljeet said, “Sir, these are not common buttons but these are the buttons of Netaji’s uniform.” Animesh smiled and said, “Are you crazy, you must be joking.”
Daljeet said, “don’t you believe? Then listen, my uncle was a soldier in the British army. In February 1942 at Singapore, he was fighting against the Japanese but was captured and made a prisoner of war by the Japanese. In 1943 when Netaji formed Azad Hind Fauj, with all other Indian soldiers he also joined the Azad Hind Fauj. While staying at Rangoon, one day my uncle was on sentry duty at Netaji’s office. In the evening a Havildar came with a shirt and asked my uncle to get the two upper buttons of Netaji’s uniform stitched properly from the tailor so that it fits in the correct position, as tomorrow Netaji will be inspecting and addressing the soldiers at the parade ground. The tailor removed the two upper buttons from the uniform and stitched new buttons. My uncle then requested the tailor to give him those two buttons. Since then the buttons were with him. After he expired the precious buttons are with me now.”
With a dilemma of belief and disbelief, Animesh touched the buttons once again and now he felt that he was getting thrilled, his hairs are frizzy. He is touching the buttons of Netaji’s uniform which someday must have been fixed by Netaji himself. These feelings are something great which can not be expressed.
Animesh came to consciousness with the voice of Daljeet Singh, “ Sir, the photos you see are my god and these buttons are my Kohinoor.”
Animesh said, “ Yes, you are lucky to have these precious things.”
When Animesh reached the Dhaba the other Sardarjis asked, “ Sir, did Daljeet show you the buttons of Netaji’s uniform? … Just don’t believe it, …. he is a mad person”.
Animesh in curiosity asked, “ do you mean his uncle was not in INA?”
They replied togetherly, “ No, No! We didn’t mean that. His uncle was a soldier of Azad Hind Fauj, but whether those buttons are of Netaji is doubtful.”
Animesh didn’t prolong the discussion and sat in his car. While driving he thought whether the buttons are of Netaji’s uniform or not doesn’t matter but the love and respect for Netaji by a simple truck driver beats the glorified dignity of many scholars and so-called Netaji’s followers.
About the Author:
Achinta Sutradhar loves to write poems and stories, lives in Kolkata, India.