Nair, Curry, Bose and Mohanlal

Things have come a long way since 1949, when Nair's was the first authentic Indian eatery to open in Japan -- in its present location in Ginza, Tokyo. However, it made a slow start, possibly because Japan already had its own curry dish called kare raisu (curry rice). This gravy-like sludge said to have been introduced more than 100 years ago, is especially popular with children for its sometimes sweet flavor. The Japanese Curry rice, thicker sweeter & milder than the Indian version, is a very popular fast food. Although introduced earlier, the dish became popular and available for purchase in supermarkets and restaurants, in the late sixties.

To a large extent, the curry became popular in Japan due to Ayappan Pillai Madhavan Nair, who founded the Ginza Nair’s restaurant. I have not been there, but well, some day if and when I visit Tokyo I surely will and would ask to meet Ayappan’s son who runs the place now.
Ginza Nair have their website, but it is all in Japanese (covering also the history) probably Nanditha can do some deciphering!!! I am hopeful that she can add some more dope to what is written; perhaps her family has even visited the place!!
Nair, who came from Trivandrum as an engineering student, got involved with Subash Chandra Bose when he came to Japan. So enamored was he, by Bose that he became his translator and left his studies. Bose went back and Nair went on to marry locally and start his Ginza Nair restaurant in downtown Tokyo.
Soon you will see Nair-san portrayed by Mohanlal and directed by Albert, on silver screens. “This will be a co-production between Japan and India. Japan’s Pal Entertainment Production will produce it with an Indian producer” and will be directed by Albert. Leading Japanese actress Shunsuken Matosuoka will star opposite Mohanlal in the film that will depict the era between 1920 and 1970. Nair, popularly known as Nairsan, hailed from Kerala and worked in Japan. Rubbing shoulders with freedom fighters like Rash Behari Bose, one of the founders of the Indian National Army (INA). “Nairsan lived in Japan for over half a century and spent several years in Manchuria. There, he was an unofficial advisor to the Manchukuo Government and the Kwangtung Army. He also conducted an anti colonial Movement against British imperialism in India and other parts of Asia, “said Albert, who is finalizing the Indian producer for the venture.Oman Tribune states that Kamal Haasan is also set to act in a Japanese film scripted by Malayalam novelist MT Vasudevan Nair. Kamal Haasan plays the role of a Japanese immigrant who comes to India to explore his ancestral roots. The film also apparently stars Mohanlal playing a real life character called Nair-san, who was supposed to be a close aide of freedom fighter Subash Chandra Bose. Rumor mills doing rounds is that the film makers are trying to rope in Jackie Chan as well.

So will Kamal be Gopalan Nair, the son of the elder Nairsan?

There is a fascinating article about Nairsan in
rediff, by the diplomat TP Sreenivasan. I have to borrow a bit from that article to add meat to this one. Thanks TPS for the data provided. TP Sreenivasan writes - In the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies, no Indian visitor could have missed the small Indian restaurant in Higashi Ginza in Tokyo, right across the Kabuki theatre. Every Indian visitor to the restaurant got the first meal free, but subsequent visits were purely on business terms. The Nair Restaurant also had a branch in a city department store, but even more famous than the restaurants was Indira Curry Powder, which had become quite popular among the Japanese. Gopalan, Nairsan's second son, looked totally Japanese, with no sign of his Indian genes. But Nairsan was absolutely insistent that Gopalan should marry from Kerala, failing which he had to forego his entire inheritance. It was not an empty threat as Nairsan had already disinherited his elder son, Vasudevan, who had married a Japanese girl. Unlike Gopalan, Vasudevan looked more Indian than Japanese. We asked him as to how he could insist on such things, particularly since he had not married a Keralite himself. Nairsan had no logical answer since his wish itself was without logic. Gopalan preferred to marry a girl of his choice rather than wait to inherit the curry powder empire. Nairsan came to Japan as a medical student. After he had learnt the Japanese language well and married a Japanese girl, whom he renamed Janaki Amma in true Kerala style, he fell under the spell of Netaji and decided to give up his studies to join Netaji as his interpreter. He traveled with Netaji all over Japan and stayed back to take care of his interests in Japan.
Andrew Montgomery’s comment on AM Nair’s writings on Bose however are in conflict with TP Sreenivasan’s notings about Nairs love for Netaji.
Montgomery writes - A.M. Nair, a historian who has written favorably of Indian revolutionary Rash Behari Bose (who had sought Japan's help during and after the First World War), found nothing to praise about Subhas Chandra Bose. After all, wrote Nair, he was clearly a fascist. A.M. Nair, An Indian Freedom Fighter in Japan (Bombay: Orient Longman, 1983), p. 250

R Subramaniam who was at Ginza Nair, explains -
Surprise and a sense of pride - these were the emotions that came across my mind when I saw a couple of things in Ginza, an upscale-premium-locale of Tokyo. If one draws parallels, Ginza is to Tokyo what Times Square is to New York City ! First, it was a NAIR's Restaurant right in the middle of action. Yes, and I was amazed to find a long queue to get into the 40 seat restaurant. I did not think twice to get inside. I was greeted by a "Japanese-looking" elderly person, who showed me a table. Here comes the waiter, Babu, with a menu, which proudly boasts of Kerala Kozhi curry, many rice dishes, the only genuine Kerala dish being Pulissery. He was also happy to see a mallu and was kind enough to reel out the history behind the restaurant. The Concept of Nair Tea stall anywhere in the world is proven again.
One of Japanese TV's most popular newscasters, Kume Hiroshi, is famous for spicing up his show with snide remarks and candid comments. When debunking public figures or ludicrous policies, this has a positive effect of cutting through guff. But one night, not for the first time, he went too far. He made a comment that could be seen as disparaging innocents--a whole people within Japanese society--non-Japanese, The Gai Jin..

Oct 1996-they were doing a thing on the new MacDonald's with their Maharajah Burger (actually a lamb burger) in India. Following the Indian report they switched to an interview with an Indian restaurant owner in Tokyo who spoke fluent (really fluent) Japanese, who explained that it is not true that no Indians eat beef, some eat this and that, etc. Then after the interview Kume Hiroshi [anchorman] came on again in his cynical manner, with his comments "shikashi, gaijin wa nihongo ga katakoto no hoo ga ii yo ne (its better to have foreigners speaking in broken/baby Japanese...)"shikashi,gaijin wa nihongo ga katakoto no hou ga ii yo ne" was made in reference to Mr. G. M. Nair, second-generation owner of Nair's Restaurant in Ginza (founded by A.M. Nair).

Nair’s assimilation in the Japanese society, the other country he loved, after India, instead ended with this racist comment.

BTW – Let me add a final twister, the last Indian who saw Netaji Bose alive was his driver Chindan Nair. A fascinating account of the last drive to mangle airport.

As an aside - Like the Nairsan family, Mohanlal is also a purveyor of Indian Curry powders – His brand ‘taste buds’ produces pickles and curry powders. So he should feel at home acting this movie.


renuramanath said...

hey maddy,
do you add parippu to your palakkadan koorkka mulagushyam ? i have had a koorkka - parippu mulagushyam, with no seasoning but some drops of coconut oil and kariveppila.
renu ramanath.

Unknown said...

Lovely post as usual. Informative, interesting and great conversation material. Keep going!

By the way, my near and dear have expressed amazement at my sudden erudition (I was expounding the other day on Kerala's chinese connection). They've always considered me to be a silly ass. Now I'm considered a silly ass who knows a lot of history.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

this post as usual was interesting . and as it was regarding japan it did add and extra interest from my part. I was not fortunate to visit nair's restaurant. as we were in higashi hiroshima. where even restaurants were not common. but your post makes me want to visit though! Though I could speak and to an extent a bit of japanese in those days I seem to have lost touch completely . I cant read any thing now.. can just remember a few words .. for which i feel sorry now.

Happy Kitten said...


Another great read!

Thanks for letting us into that bit of history...

Now one whld wait for those movies to release..

Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

Interesting - I have not seen too many curry dishes in Japanese restaurants in the US. It will be funny to see Mohanlal speaking Japanese - wonder if it will be dubbed. LOL at Jackie Chan as well.

renuramanath said...

dear maddy,

the story of nairsan is really touching and well-written.

meanwhile, thankyou for visiting my blog and leaving your kind comments. by the way, i AM a writer by profession, with a 14-year long journalistic career, which I quit last year for pursuing my ambitions of 'serious' writing ! do visit the links given below to get more an idea of my usual fare -

I don't do much writing on cooking, as I don't cook much ! But, I am really interested in the history of food, esp. the food of Kerala.


renu ramanath.

harimohan said...

dear maddy
the best thing in your post is not only the absorbing writeup but the facts gleaned ,enjoyed this one specially

Maddy said...

Renu - thanks for dropping by - personally i enjoy mallu food and reading about it. my wiritngs are generally far from food though!!

narendra - lots more in the pipeline about the old chinese visitors, you will be surprised..

thanks HK, time u see a jap, the language will come back albeit slowly...

BPSK - mohanlal normaly carries off those scenes with aplomb, i am sure he & Kamal will be dubbed by squeaky voices which will of course sound funny.

next time ask for kari raisu in the jap rest!!

Thanks hari - you write well about atopic when you yourself find it interesting - isnt it? i enjoy reading about all these fine people..

History said...

Really nice and very interesting and informative...
And also thanks for visiting my blog and for your encouraging words
i have also written a bit on this topic

Maddy said...

Thanks Suja - I have not read nairsan's book, nor did i know about his desires to get higher positions in the diplomatic arena...but nevertheless, it was revealing.

Maddy said...

Thanks Menokki
for the gentle reminder. Though it is considered so, I consider something derogatory when used with intent. Nevertheless, I agree that it is not right, and so i will go about chainging the usage from my latest blog which had many an instance when I used it.

windwheel said...

Dear Maddy, hope you can do an extended post on Nair-san covering his activities as a 'Ronin'. M.Sivaram in 'Road to Delhi' has an intriguing reference to his activities as a man of mystery in contact with Mongolian Princes and Japanese Secret Societies.
His memoirs 'An Indian Freedom Fighter in Japan' don't seem available on the web.
Sounds like an ideal topic for your indefatigable researches and charming blogposts.

Maddy said...

Thanks windwheel.
am reading nair's accountsand will post an article soon,
meanwhile I have covered the 1952 treaty and Indira's story - posted last week