The Swaraj Spy, based on true events in the life of the author’s granduncle, challenges accepted notions of wartime loyalty through the transformation of one man from loyal servant of the British Empire to rebel spy. Kumar Nair is dismissed from a British para-military unit for refusing to disperse unarmed women agitating for India’s independence from colonial rule. He moves to Singapore just before the outbreak of World War 2 after the Great Depression destroys his fledgling business. After the fall of Singapore, he joins a secret espionage school set up by Japanese Intelligence and the rebel Indian National Army in Penang, Malaya, to defeat the British and free India. When several cadets trained at the school are betrayed by a double-agent, and captured by the British, Kumar is sent on a rescue mission with conflicting instructions. The Japanese want Kumar to continue the espionage mission with surviving agents. Indian leaders, not trusting Japanese intentions, ask Kumar to save as many agents as possible and hunker down until the end of the war. Caught in a hall of mirrors, can Kumar succeed in his desperate quest to cross wartime borders, rescue his fellow trainees, and return to his young wife in Malabar?
The Swaraj Spy is a tale of three interwoven journeys: Kumar’s physical journey through a rich visual arc from Malabar paddies through the Anglo-Chinese mosaic of Singapore, pagoda-strewn Rangoon, and the jungles of Burma; the transformation of an impetuous man to a thoughtful soul in the midst of shifting boundaries between friend and foe; and the backdrop of India’s tumultuous march to independence.
I am often asked about the book’s title. Indian readers will know that the word ‘swaraj’ means self-rule; a word that gained prominence during India’s freedom struggle. The spy school in Penang was called the Indian Swaraj Institute. I also chose the word for another reason. Besides the intrigue and wartime drama, the book is about the personal transformation of a man buffeted by events beyond his control, and his journey to a ‘self-rule’ of a different kind.
The Swaraj Spy is based on true events in the life of this man. His avatars in the tale include a platoon leader in the feared Malabar Special Police (MSP), an entrepreneur trying to launch what we would today call a Venture, a shopkeeper, accounts clerk and volunteer policeman in Singapore, and both an instructor and trainee at the secret Indo-Japanese Indian Swaraj Institute spy school in Penang, Malaya.
Copyright © 2022 VIJAY BALAN - All Rights Reserved.