Nambiar, Bose & Germany

Sometimes, in the course of searching for something, you come across something else that proves interesting. That is how I chanced across another very interesting person, one whom I have never heard of. When Independent India started young in 1947, Nehru had three Malayali’s serving key positions as ambassadors/high commissioners. One was VK Krishna Menon in the UK, the other was KM Panickkar in China and the third was ACN Nambiar in West Germany.

ACN Nambiar was well known to the freedom fighter clan, but I doubt if anybody will even recollect anything about such a person, today. In many ways his work resulted in the ‘proverbial straw’ breaking the camels back when it comes to the British leaving India!! That will be better explained in an upcoming article on the Germany based Indisch legion during the WWII. Well, here was a man who hobnobbed with the elite in Europe, even though just a journalist. He was India’s link man in Germany and met often with people such as Himmler Hitler, Goebbels etc when Bose visited Germany.

Nanu Nambiar as he was fondly called by Jawaharlal Nehru, was a well known journalist in the 1930’s and 1940’s working in Germany. He was prominent with the upper echelons of society (!) who went on to become leaders of free India, mainly due to three reasons, one his presence in Germany for many years thereby establishing him as the key Indian contact, two - his friendship with NSC Bose and the third - his being the brother in law of Sarojini Naidu, thus cementing his relationship with the Nehru Clan. When Bose left Germany after two years of stay there, he handed over the reins of the free India centre to Nambiar, who managed it eminently till the Azad Hind armies were sent back to India.

In the 30’s Germany was the maelstrom of politics, intrigue and anti Semitic feelings. As the Nazi juggernaut (now this word Juggernaut has its origins at the chariot procession of the Puri Jaganath temple!!)was rolling on the anti British movement was just picking up in India. Bose had other ideas, wanting a different approach from the Satyagraha concept favored by Gandhi. He decided to find the enemies of the British and befriend them. The first was Hitler’s Germany. Escaping from house arrest, he moved through the North of India, via Afghanistan to Prague. It was here that he first met Arathil Candeth Narayanan Nambiar, a roving journalist covering Europe.

Venkayil Kunhiraman Nayanar, MLA of Madras legislative assembly, Coronation medal holder fondly known as Kesari, wrote for many papers and magazines (also the first Malayalam short story Vasanavikriti). Nayanar, hailing from Chirakkal Cannanore, was a good friend of both Herman Gundert and William Logan. Nayanar's son Arathil Kandoth Narayanan Nambiar married Suhasini, the sister of India's National Poet Sarojini Naidu. In European circles, the name is recorded as Arathil Candeth Narayanan Nambiar or Narain Nambiar.

Nambiar is not mentioned often in most history books, only passing references are made of him. Mihir Bose in his book Raj, secrets and revolution – A life of Subash Chandra Bose reveals some details. Nambiar, was first noticed and recorded as a suspect civilian Indian in the continent of Europe after reaching there from London. He moved to Germany in 1922. This was the time when the British were tracking VKK Menon and many others like Chatto (Virendra Chatopadhaya) for communist leanings. Nambiar’s wife Suhasini (Sarojini’s and Padmaja’s younger sister) was a Communist party member, close friend of Chatto and had been to Russia. There were three Indian groups in Germany at that time, one the group comprising Chatto & Champakaraman Pillai, the second that had links with the German socialist party and the third which was formed by Nambiar who in turn was sponsored by Nehru ( NSC Bose’s autobiography penned by Narayan Gopal & Bose)

Upon reaching Germany, Suhasini and he got divorced for reasons best known to them and she left back for India. Nambiar met and continued a relationship with Eva Geisler, a typist in the German Communist party office. Eva’s sister Louise was at that time, MN Roy’s paramour. Nambiar then started administering the Indian student’s information bureau in Berlin and was the FPI Berlin correspondent. In addition to this, he was AICC representative in Germany. But things would not be too comfortable for him. On 28th Feb 1933, he was accosted by some Nazi Thugs, pistol whipped and arrested. He was served deportation orders on 25th March for being an undesirable alien in the Third Reich and was given 8 days to leave.

Bose who had reached Berlin by then and was establishing contacts with the Nazi machine through Lothar Frank (member of Indo German society) heard about this and many other incidents related to Indians living in Germany. Bose went to the German foreign office where he met Curt Pruefer, who headed the British Empire section. With his help, Bose managed to get the deportation order on Nambiar delayed for some months and (1,000DEM) compensation awarded. After that event Nambiar was provided with a ₤5/- monthly retainer by Bose.

Why did Bose do all this? Because according to Mihir Bose, NSC Bose wanted Nambiar back in Berlin. He saw Nambiar as the unifier of Indians resident in the region. The Indians as usual were by then in split movements, pro and anti Nazi as explained previously. Nambiar belonged to the latter, whereas Champakaraman Pillai belonged to the former.

Bose waited to meet the fuehrer, but it would prove to be a long wait, taking all of two years. In the meantime he tried to move on to Russia using the contacts of Eva Geisler, but the Russians thought otherwise. All this time he was sick and tiring in health (Gall bladder stones). Around then, Bose met Mussolini, toured the Balkans, got his illusions about Istanbul Turkey rudely shattered, eventually landing up in Vienna. Bose wanted his writings published and while hunting for a stenographer, he met Emilie Schenkel, who became his secretary, later his lover and finally his wife.

Nambiar had in the meantime moved on to Prague, and was an established journalist for many Indian papers. Eva moved with him. Nehru was in Europe to meet his wife Kamala who was ailing and admitted there. Even though Bose could not get along well with Gandhi, he was good friends with Nehru even though their positions sometimes differed. Nehru, Kamala and Indira moved from London to Vienna. Here was where Nambiar got introduced to Nehru by Bose. Soon Nambiar was Naanu to the Nehru family. Kamala Nehru used to discuss with Nanu her anxiety about Indira marrying Feroze, Indira’s dress sense and hairstyle. (Indira Gandhi – by Katherine Frank)

When Bose returned to Berlin to try & meet Hitler, Nambiar was taken along to interpret. After that visit, Bose & Nambiar remained in constant contact and in 1942, when Azad Hind radios started broadcasting propaganda; Nambiar was very much involved in the management. When Bose met the top guns like Reinhard Heidrich and Himmler, Nambiar was his station deputy.

In Feb 1943, Bose sailed to Japan, leaving the Indian legion or the Azad Hind in Nambiar’s care. Nambiar also became the official European representative in Bose’s (Exile government) parliament.

Nambiar is famous for this story on how his Indian name helped him escape Nazi border guards…(Sourced from Sociology of Names and Nicknames of India, With Special Reference to Kashmir -by Ram Krishen Kaul)

Mr A. C. N. Nambiar was informed by his German friends that Hitler's S.S. was after him and two other Indians and they should hasten to escape to Switzerland. Nambiar took the advice, collected the two Indians and left Berlin. As they came within a few yards of the Swiss border, an S. S. Captain arrived from nowhere and stopped them. He lined them up asking questions in English. First was the Bengali, who was voluble and argumentative individual.

S. S. Captain: Name?
Bengali: Basu
S. S. Captain: Christian name?
Basu: There is no such thing in India
S. S. Captain: (shouting) Christian name?
Basu: Tarapada
S. S. Captain: Catholic or Protestant?
Basu: There is no such thing in India
S. S. Captain: (Furious) Catholic or Protestant?
Basu: Protestant
Next came A. C. N. Nambiar who knew German well.
S. S. Captain: Name?
Nambiar: Nambiar
S. S. Captain: Christian name?
Nambiar: Arathil Candeth Narayan
S. S. Captain: Catholic or Protestant?
Nambiar: Catholic
Bengali (intervening): He is no Catholic
S. S. Captain (Angry): Do you know punishment for lying?
Nambiar: I shall explain. If you look at the map of Europe you will see all the northern countries are predominantly protestant and the southern countries are predominantly Catholic. This is the result of Reformation. Mr Basu comes from northern India, that is how he is protestant. I come from the south of India, that is why I am a Catholic.
S. S. Captain: (impressed) You must be a Brahmin.
Nambiar: Yes, (Actually he is a non-Brahmin).
Last came the Telugu Brahmin who was smart.
S. S. Captain: Name?
Telugu Brahmin: Prathivadibhayankaram Thiruvenkatesh Warayya Pantulu Garu.

The S. S. Captain was flabbergasted. He looked around and made sure that no S. S. man was spying on him. Then he said, "Go, I will never be able to write this". All the three walked over to the safety of Switzerland.

Many years later, in 1947, Nambiar was appointed Ambassador to West Germany. Nehru had arrived as Indian Prime Minister, to meet Chancellor Adenauer. Around there was secretary general (External affairs ministry) NR Pillai as well who came up with this interesting anecdote (Quoted from Sankar Ghose’s autobiography of Nehru). Nambiar wanted liquor to be served for the dinner, but Nehru was famed for never permitting it. In this particular case, he said; OK tell Nanu that he can start with serving sherry followed by Moselle Wine and Rhine wine, nothing else. He and NR Pillai should abstain from drinking…

Not much is known about Nanu Nambiar or Eva Geisler after the Ambassadorial posting to Germany. All I could find was the document signed by him with the new Germany about caring for the Indian war graves in Germany. Considering that he was a year older than Bose, he would have been just 51 in 1947…

And the others in the story? “Chatto”, as the famous revolutionary was called, had managed to escape to the USSR, where (Leningrad) he worked in for many years in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He was among the many foreign communists who lost their lives in Stalin’s “purges” of the nineteen-thirties. Suhasini Nambiar as explained earlier, escaped in the late twenties from Germany after the Nazis came to power and reached India as a stowaway in a boat. Suhasini was the first woman to join the then underground Communist Party of India and became its president. She then married Marathi trade union leader R.M. Jambhekar. Champaka Raman Pillai – Well, I covered him briefly in my blog on Emeden. He was involved in all kinds of activities, before being poisoned to death in Germany & finally succumbing to it in Italy. Bose vanished from the face of this earth and many conspiracy theories abound.

Pics - Internet - thanks


Well researched post. I liked the interlude with the S. S. Captain very much.
PN Subramanian said…
Very informative. "Mr Basu comes from northern India, that is how he is protestant. I come from the south of India, that is why I am a Catholic." A beautiful explanation indeed!
Indrani said…
Interesting this post!
Never knew of this Nambiar, the story is somewhat incomplete as his end is not known.
Anonymous said…
very well written and informative. and yeah, had never heard of nambiar. probably now some research will help.
Maddy said…
Thanks Raji, PNS, Indrani & Manu. I tried hard to find out what happened to Nanu nambiar but found nothing after his final posting. He did figure in some UN discussions later, he was also named in Mathai's book as having been a personal adviser at times to Indira Gandhi, but that was it. I myself would love to know the end.
It was interesting to read about Nanu Nambiar. His father,Kesari Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar is one of my favourites as far as his essays and short stories reveal. Wonderfully brilliant and original in style, Nayanar was quite unique.He was the first landlord who tried modern agricultural methods in Malabar and was a member of the Madras council. His short story about being a freemason was very humorous.He and Moorkoth Kumaran from Malabar wrote highly readable malayalam prose, I must say during the late 19th century. Thanks, Maddy for this unique piece.
Maddy said…
thanks Murali - wonder if you have any clue as to what happened to ACN Nambiar after 1955...
Ashvin said…
Unable to read my regular blogs due to certain preoccupations, and terribly behind in my correspondence. However will try and find out since all Nambiars are related in one way or other. I will ask my relatives in Kannur if they know.
Maddy said…
thanks ashnin..
Suja Sugathan said…
Very informative post...
Nambiar as you said has been left out in history. A close aid of Bose or more precisely the second man in the Indian Legion in Germany. He was popular in Germany; probably with the elites but i feel more among the Indian student community. Bose even while in India had tried to contact Indian students in Europe who could be helpful in propagating India's mission and aspirations in the international platform.

Nambiar would have made history if as Bose planned he could have made simultaneous march to aid the INA through the northern frontier...probably he lost contacts with his leader. He tried to resist the German secret manoeuvrings to use the Indian Legion to further their imperialist notions but succeeded little...Nambiar definitely deserves a place in history.
Maddy said…
Thanks Suja - Perhaps, as a history student you may be interested in the history blogs that i post. Click on the Historic alleys link on the right side column to get there.

Nambiar is one of those interesting persons, one who was liked by both Bose & Nehru. That itself is surprising though it is often stated that though Bose did not mind Nehru, he disliked Gandhiji's policies.
Suja Sugathan said…
Your other blog is also equally great and i enjoy reading...

Bose and Nehru enjoyed a warm relation. I feel that Bose never disliked Gandhian policies. He was against the technique in which it was executed. The question whether Satyagraha was "active resistance" or 'passive resistance" was important for Bose.
Maddy said…

Bose was a very intricate person. Understanding him itself will take ages. I am happy that you are well into a study around him..
Anonymous said…
My father served as Indian Consul in Hamburg, West Germany under Mr. Nambiar from 1954-1957. I know for sure he was Ambassador as late as 1957. I shall ascertain further details from my dad.
harilal said…
nambiar was brought back to india in 1984 on a special interest shown by indira gandhi for her nanu uncle . he stayed at uday park in new delhi till his death. indiraji aslo dird in that year
Vikram Raghavan said…
This is a very interesting post, and I've forwarded it to my favourite historians, Ram Guha and Sunil Khilnani. I stumbled upon this post and this very fascinating blog by accident. Two weeks ago, I bought some used books from an old book store in Washington, DC. One of them was VP Menon's Transfer of Power published in 1957. Last night, when I was reading it, a neatly folded note slipped out. It was written in Germany and dated October 1957 with the Indian Ambassador's letterheaded. Nambiar was presenting this book to a German friend.


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Anonymous said…
Very nice post Maddy. Fortunately,Nannu Nambiar is my maternal relation.He is my grandma's uncle.I have heard lots about him through her.Very happy to find somebody mentioning him.Kindly provide the information source for this blog.
Maddy said…
Thanks anonymous..
if you check carefully, you will find the book references mentioned, such as Mihir bose, Kaul, Frank etc..It took quite an effort to piece this together. I would be thankful if you let me know what happened to him after Germany...
Julia said…
Great read!
I am working on a script which will be based on the Indian Legion. I have found some German sources as well but it would be great if I could get in touch with relatives of the actual men involved.
So here's my e-mail address:
Rama Chandran said…
Padmaja was Sarojini's daughter.Mrinalini & Suhasini sisters.
Hari said…
A very well written and informative piece. The section on the SS Captain left me convulsing with laughter!!!
ACN is an relative of mine on the paternal side; his father Kesari Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar being my father's great grand uncle. ACN Nambiar had come down to his native place in Thalassery, in Kerala, for a visit post-independence for a short while and returned back to Germany thereafter. His brother AC Krishnan Nambiar, a Major in the British Indian Army who had seen action during WW 2 against the Japanese, had to resign his commission due to action taken under his command to control a riotous situation with the INA POWs resulting in death of a few.He had a total of six siblings, three brothers and two sisters.
Maddy said…
Thanks hari...
Glad to come across a relative of ACN...