Uemon and Hariprabha Takeda: Travelling into Lives (Part – II)


Hariprabha visited Japan thrice in her lifetime. Uemon accompanied her each time. Their third visit together had coincided with the Second World War and Hariprabha jotted down her experiences of a war-torn Japan in the form of diary entries. Madhurima Mukhopadhyay, in the second part of her essay, focuses on Hariprabha’s war memories. The first part can be read here.

Uemon and Hariprabha’s second visit to Japan was in 1924, when Japan was recovering from the devastating earthquake of 1 September 1923. It had completely ruined Tokyo and the port city of Yokohama. These were among the many places they visited in 1912. It is probable that Hariprabha did not write anything on her experiences during this visit or even if she did, it was neither found nor published. The Takeda couple visited Japan for the third and the final time in 1941 when the Second World War was in full swing. Hariprabha’s account Juddho Jorjorito Japan (War Plagued Japan) published for the first time in the 2007 Eid issue of Natun Gati, a weekly newspaper, described the hardships of a nation going through the ravages of a war. This chorological account, written almost in the form of diary entries with long gaps in-between, contained her personal experiences of witnessing a country fighting a massive and destructive war. This, however, was not a travel account; it was written more in the form of a memoir.

Uemon Takeda wanted to return to his native place since the chances of Japan participating in the Second World War was ripe. Hariprabha accompanied her husband. They travelled via Bombay, Rangoon and Singapore to finally reach Kobe on 21November, 1941. They received ration cards from the ship and Hariprabha mentioned that the entire country was as if gearing up for a war. They travelled to Nagoya and arrived at her in-laws place after seventeen years. Uemon and Hariprabha were witness to many historic events during their stay in Japan—the Pearl Harbour attack, the capture of Hong Kong and Singapore, the air raids on Japan by USA and finally the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in 1945. The couple also attended the funeral ceremony of Rashbehari Bose who passed away in Japan in 1945.

In 1941, after staying in their village for a few days, the Takedas visited Tokyo. During their visit to Tokyo, they met the Indian revolutionary Rashbehari Bose (1886-1945). In 1943, the couple visited Tokyo again with the hope of meeting Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) who was on his way back from Germany. However, not being able to meet him, they met Rashbehari Bose again. Just after a few days of their return from Tokyo to Uemon’s native village, Hariprabha received a call from the Tokyo radio station,under the instruction of Rashbehari Bose, to be a war correspondent in Bengali. On the 3 December, 1943, the Takedas went to Tokyo again and from 15 December, Hariprabha started working at the radio station in Tokyo as a Bengali language war correspondent. Uemon also secured the job of Japanese expert during these Bengali transmissions. During this period of her stay in Tokyo she faced tremendous hardships. In Tokyo food was scarce and so was a proper residential quarter. However, Hariprabha mentioned the help received from the people of the neighbourhood in terms of general assistance and deliveryof their ration since she was a ‘foreigner’ and her husband was ‘old’. The Takedas also experienced the death of their relatives and kins during their stay in Japan during this time. In 1944, Uemon’s elder sister passed away. The air raids in Japan in 1945 killed Uemon’s niece and her entire family including her husband and three sons.

On 1 November, 1944, Hariprabha attended the public lecture by Subhas Chandra Bose in Tokyo and met him on 9 November along with other Indians there. While attending the invitation by Bose, air raids began on Japan and Hariprabha recorded that 70 fighter aircrafts attacked the port in Tokyo and destroyed it completely. Following this, all big cities, ports and industries in Japan were attacked and destroyed. After this day she records having met Bose another time and finally noted the news of Bose’s death which she received on 20 August, 1945.

The hardships of a country at war were etched throughout this memoir by Hariprabha. Besides the shortage of food and rations, she mentioned the constant life-threat they faced from air raids. She noted how they were unable to cook for days and also not being able to sleep due to the sound of the aircrafts. One day while they were at the radio station, the air raids began and they had to take shelter underground. After this, they quit their jobs at the radio station in Tokyo and returned to their village to find the entire village including their house completely damaged. They left after distributing the remaining household items among the neighbours.

Recalling the last years of their stay in Japan, Hariprabha mentioned that the war had ended but she and her husband had grown old, feeble and were unable to work. They depended on government aid for their sustenance. Finding no place to stay, they put up in a warehouse with broken doors and windows which affected their health, particularly during the winter months. Throughout 1946 and 1947, Hariprabha kept trying to return to India and finally in 1948, she returned to India after Asrubala Dasgupta, her younger sister, became a guarantor for her and Uemon Takeda in India.

The Takeda couple never went back to Japan after 1948. But the experiences and memories of Japan of different times remained central to their lives. As Hariprabha mentioned, ‘Japan has become my dream…the present Japan reminds me of the happy memories I have of the place.’

[Cover image: Hariprabha Takeda is second from the right, front row. The central figure in the front row, is of course Subhash Chandra Bose. Image courtesy: Manjusree Sinha, ed. and compiled, Bangamahilar Japanjatra o Onnanno Rachona. Hariprobha Takeda, Kolkata: D.M Library, 2009]

Madhurima Mukhopadhyay is a post doctoral fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata. She can be reached at madhurima.mukhopadhyay@gmail.com. 


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