On Wednesday evening in Delhi, when former foreign minister Natwar Singh asked the audience seated in the main hall of India International Centre (IIC), about how many of them knew about ACN Nambiar, only a handful of people raised their hands. The others failed to acknowledge the former Indian ambassador, who was also the deputy of freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and old friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, and is often described as a soviet spy. Vappala Balachandran , former special secretary, cabinet secretariat, through his book A Life in Shadow: The Secret Story of ACN Nambiar (Roli Books; Rs 695) seeks to recount the life and times of Nambiar with the help of inputs from his diaries and other interviews.
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Eighty-year-old Balachandran has been researching on Nambiar since 2000. He says, “When Nambiar went into depression after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, I tried to convince him to write his own memoir but he declined. I did convince him to dictate his story to a dictaphone, which was later transcribed by my staff on a typewriter. It took him six months. These oral transcripts served as a helpful guide. Declassified British Intelligence records also came in handy, apart from Nanu’s (as Nambiar is fondly known as) letters to Nehru from 1935, apart from a number of other sources and books.”
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who was invited for the book launch as the chief guest along with Singh, says, “Balachandran has given us glimpses into Nambiar’s relationship with Bose, Nehru and Indira Gandhi. If one searches for his name on the internet today, most results describe him as a soviet spy, which is unfortunate. This book is more like a social history of India in the mid 20th century.”
To this, Mumbai-based Balachandran added, “I wanted to talk about the human relationships he shared and give a detailed history about an individual forgotten in history books, a journalist who through his articles fought against colonialism.”