the 18-member Azad Hind Expedition were three battle-scarred veterans
of the INA: Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Colonel Lakshmi Sehgal and
Captain S.S. Yadava. As the Expedition traversed the thick jungles and
deep rivers, the high mountains and scorching plains treaded by the braves
of the INA, the veterans recalled those glorious days through the mists
From Kuantan, a bustling
estuary town on the South China Sea, the Expedition took the coastal route
through a wide expanse of cultivated land, sometimes broken by stretches
of dense forest with muddy streams winding through them. Crossing a 14-km
long bridge, the longest in Asia, the convoy arrived on the island of
Penang, the HQ of the INA Secret Service and the launching pad for the
INA soldiers taking the sea route to the battle fronts in Burma (now Myanmar).
Due to the absence of regular shipping between Myanmar and Malaysia, a chartered to ferry the vehicles and men across the And a man Sea to the south Myanmarese port town of Moulmein. The 11 Expeditionists and five jeeps had the entire ship to themselves -- gaining three days and three nights of perfect, reposeful happiness. Luminous photographs throughout the book capture the spectacular imagery of the region. The ship arrived at the mouth of the Gulf of Martaban before dawn and sailed into Moulmein once the tide had turned. A large part of Moulmein's population of 200,000 is of Indian extract, hundreds of whom turned up to welcome the Expedition, defying the country's martial law that prohibits gatherings of more than nine persons.
The terrain covered by the Expedition ranged from dense rain forest to snowy mountains. From Moulmein, the Expedition drove to Yangon, where it ran into some unexpected heavy weather -- of the bureaucratic kind. Escorted by Myanmarese military police and intelligence officers, the convoy was rushed through Yangon in the dark of the night. Traffic lights en route were switched off, and the traffic police cleared the road to enable its speedy passage. Finally, the Myanmar authorities allowed the veterans and film crew to complete the route within Burma, but the rest of the group and the vehicles were forced to leave the country. Former Indian Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, for the sake of national prestige, ordered an Indian Air Force IL-76 to airlift the rest of the Expedition from Yangon to Imphal.
The veterans and the film crew proceeded to Maymyo, a small town in the hills east of Mandalay, which had served as the Advance Headquarters of the INA, and the house from where Netaji conducted the military operations, and from there to Mandalay, once the capital of the Burmese nation. Once more, Col Dhillon was back under the shadow of Mount Popa in whose jungles he, Gen Shahnawaz Khan and Col Prem Sehgal had fought some of the bloodiest battles against the advancing British army. They saw the Inle Lake and the dense recesses of the Shan Hills where Col Lakshmi Sehgal spent months hiding from the enemy. After landing at Imphal, the rest of the Expedition set out to discover parts of Manipur where the INA had met with brilliant successes and had had the British on the run: the Tiddim-Imphal Road, on which the British retreated, leaving behind equipment and transport; the Tamu-Imphal Road along which the INA's No. 1 Division attacked the enemy and took control of the strategic route; The heavily-defended Palel aerodrome which was captured by Maj Pritam Singh and his troops; Moirang, where Col Shaukat Ali Malik hoisted the Indian flag for the first time on liberated territory on April 18, 1944; Red Hill, from where, its supply lines cut off by a heavy monsoon, the INA began its retreat -- just 10 km short of Imphal, whose capture could have altered the course of Indian history.
As the Expedition
drove westwards from Manipur to Delhi, it received tumultuous, nostalgia-driven
welcomes everywhere. In the many hamlets, villages and towns that it crossed,
a sea of heads would be waiting to greet it. Loud cries of "Jai Hind",
"Azad Hind Fauj zindabad" and "Netaji ki jai" filled the air. Enthusiastic
boys would run after the vehicles, hanging on to footboards to try and
shake hands with the members, or garland the veterans. Governors and chief
ministers, the union and state governments, bestowed rare honours on the
Expedition at the many receptions that were organised. But one of the
most unforgettable sights was that of one bent old man waiting alone on
the road outside a Bihar village, well past midnight on a cold, wintry
night with a marigold garland in his hand, hoping we would stop to accept
his humble gift. The Expedition had recaptured the spirit of the freedom