Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul’s In the Shadow of Freedom manages to bring in three seemingly unrelated protagonists who in the backdrop of Third Reich Germany and an India struggling for Independence, hook you into their lives and deliberations.
Ayi Ganpat Tendulkar, a man from Belgundi (a village in Belgaum) yokes together two enterprising women — Thea von Harbou and Indumati Gunaji through passion and love. The book begins with Ayi, a young and talented man of 18 years who is sent to Germany for higher studies by All India Congress, having faith that the young man will become an asset for India in the future. Once setting foot on foreign soil, Tendulkar through his charm and erudition manages to enamour the famous author and scriptwriter of films such as Metropolis; M; Dr Mabuse, the Gambler; Woman in the Moon.
A large hearted woman, Thea’s magnanimity towards many is a major thread throughout Dhaul’s narrative, be it Indians or her iconic Austrian ex-husband Fritz Lang. Thea’s enduring love and regard for Ayi forms the first section of the book. Unravelling many delightful nuggets of information such as how Hitler had offered the then captain of the Indian hockey team, Dhyan Chand a position in the German army or how Thea had played a crucial role in extending refuge to Subhash Chandra Bose and being in the very same room when Bose did a broadcast to India on the German radio.
A genuine spark is felt as Indumati also occupies centrestage as she veers through filial and societal pressures as she falls in love with a foreign-returned Ayi who struts in a red Mercedes in the quaint city of Belgaum. The book adroitly shifts every time the protagonist changes, casting a different light on different characters though can be tedious in spots. Dhaul has arduously dug up her mother’s letters, research reports and newspaper archives lending a touch of sincerity to the read. This Gandhi Jayanti, glimpse the freedom struggle through two unlikely protagonists — Ayi and Indumati whose love climaxes with the Independence struggle amidst an affirmation of Gandhian principles.
In the Shadow of Freedom: Three Lives in Hitler’s Berlin and Gandhi’s India, Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul, Zubaan Books, R495. Titles available at leading bookstores