The attraction of higher education in Japan first brought V.C. Lingam here from Singapore. “I read a few books, and I thought why not?” he said. That was a very long time ago. He is 93 now, and a permanent resident of Japan.
When he first arrived he studied the language for a year. He enrolled in university, but did not complete his undergraduate studies. Instead, he gave himself fulltime to a cause he judged greater than himself: Indian independence.
Geography and circumstances played big parts in Lingam’s life. He was born into a large, wealthy Indian family in what was then Malaya, where his father owned rubber plantations.
The eldest son among many children, he went to school in Singapore. Many of his classmates went to universities in the U.K., but Lingam wanted something different. He chose Japan.
“My father visited me here, and then wanted to go to Europe,” Lingam said. The two eventually made their way by rail to London. Already a member of the Indian Independence League, on his return to Japan, Lingam met Ras Behari Bose.
The next 10 years were exciting, active and meaningful for Lingam, a reasoning, principled and politicized young man. Bose, wanted by the authorities in India for his revolutionary leadership there, escaped to Japan in 1915.
Lingam joined the Bose office and worked for the Indian Independence League. On its behalf, he traveled to Vietnam, Bangkok and Singapore, “enlisting local people for the organization for independence from British colonial rule,” he said. “The league became bigger, and Bose became leader of the movement throughout East Asia.”
In Tokyo, Bose used to frequent Nakamura-ya, and took over operating the restaurant that offered curry rice on its menu. He taught the chef how to improve the dish and in time married the Nakamura daughter. “We used to hold our meetings in that restaurant,” Lingam said.
After the outbreak of WWII, another Indian entered the story. Subhas Chandra Bose bore the same surname but the two men were not related. Subhas, a fiercer person than R.B. Bose, was twice elected president of the Indian National Congress in Delhi.
Distancing himself from the passivity advocated by Mahatma Gandhi led to his resignation from Congress in 1939. He achieved reputation as a militant patriot who would initiate violence to liberate India. He intensified his anti-British campaign, and was placed under house arrest in Calcutta. Somehow, he managed to disappear.
“He reappeared in Germany,” Lingam said. “Then he traveled by submarine all the way from Europe to Singapore. He regarded Japan, Germany and Italy as allies against the U.K., and Japan welcomed him.
“My Bose saw Subhas as young and bouncy, and resigned his presidency of the Indian Independence League in favor of his taking over. In Japan, Subhas emphasized building the Indian National Army.”
Lingam’s pacific and intellectual nature did not accept the new leadership and its potential methods and he pulled back from the league. Multilingual, he found employment with NHK. In 1945 he worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Tokyo.
Thereafter, Lingam followed a pattern of business enterprise in partnership with others and on his own until retirement at age 70.
He lives quietly, cherishing longtime friendships. His only son, who used to be a St. Mary’s schoolboy, follows his own business career in the U.S.
Both the Bose leaders died in 1945. The younger one, who had only two years in Japan but is the better known, was said to have been killed in an airplane crash.
Some of his followers dispute that report and believe his ashes rest in Tokyo’s Honganji temple. R.B Bose, who lived for 30 years in Japan, is less well known.
For the sake of posterity, it remains for Lingam to write his comprehensive life story.