When the Amerika Maharani came calling……

Jackie Kennedy in India – and how she charmed

Barrack Obama is in Delhi, charming the Indians. The papers are full of what’s going on. A great relationship is being forged. US’s icy relations with Cuba are on the thaw.But that made me think of a period in the past, 53 years ago, when an attempt was made, to forge a relationship between India and the USA. The first lady was the emissary, and she was none other than the graceful Jacqueline Kennedy Bouvier.

This first lady always had a special allure, primarily because of her youth and beauty. In 1962, she was just 33 years old and only the previous year had her husband JF Kennedy become the 35th president of the United States. Their marriage at that time was 9 years old. A consummate entertainer, she was very popular with visiting dignitaries, and in fact even the dour Khrushchev had mentioned that he wanted to shake Jackie’s hand fist and then JFK’s. Her restoration of the white house and getting it accessible to public eye took her into the limelight and the resulting focus and admiration for Jacqueline Kennedy took some of the negative attention away from her husband. By attracting worldwide public attention, the First Lady gained allies for the White House and international support for the Kennedy administration and its Cold War policies. But her (JKB – Jacqueline Kennedy Bouvier) visit to India at a very crucial juncture was a masterstroke by Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith. Clint Hill, JKB’s secret service agent would remark – Little did we know it would be one of the best years of our lives.

So I take you to the 60’s, a period which turned out to be terrible for India. Nehru’s grip at the age of 70 was still strong at the turn of the 60’s, but the Chinese border issue was taking alarming proportions and crafty Krishna Menon was stirring the pot at home and squabbling with the military as the defense minister.

Most of you would not know how it was in those days, as it was a time when electricity had yet to reach many villages, we had limited public transportation, listening to valve radios for news or reading the newspaper in unison, music was enjoyed at public performances, a time when we had rudimentary schooling in most parts, and joint families depended on farming. Those were days when postmen, doctors and teachers were demi gods and a government job something to look up to. Saigal, Noorjehan and a few others ruled the roost and a trip to the movie theatre with the grainy newsreel before the B&W film, a must watch to see the food scarcity in Bihar and the floods in Bengal. Bees Saal Baad was the big hit of 62. Out there in the big bad world, lots of things were happening. While on one hand the Beatles were in infancy of their formation and Joan Baez just becoming popular for her activism, the cold war peaking and the Vietnam War was dragging on.

As all this was going on, Galbraith, US ambassador in India was busy with twin objectives. He had to get India on the US side, weaning them away from the USSR who became an ally following USA’s treaty with Pakistan. Close ties between the countries were further consolidated by a mutual defense treaty signed in May 1954, after which hundreds of Pakistani military officers began to regularly train in the United States. During Eisenhower’s time, it was also a secret base for reconnaissance on the USSR ICBM program. Ayub Khan had become a good friend of the US and U2 spy missions had begun from Peshawar. Allan Dulles of the CIA was the father of the critical alliance with Pakistan’s ISI.

On May Day, 1960, Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Peshawar on a mission to photograph the ICBM sites inside the Soviet Union. It would be the twenty-fourth U-2 spy mission over Soviet territory. Soviet Air Defense Forces were on red alert as they suspected a U-2 flight and Powers was subsequently shot down. Eisenhower almost resigned in the bungling following that incident after this covert espionage activity had been exposed. The incident compromised Pakistan's security and affected relations between it and the United States. However, the Cold War was still in full force and a replacement intelligence gathering reconnaissance aircraft was required. For a while, RB-57D models were flown along the air borders of both the USSR and Communist China by the PAF.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a great fan of Chou En Lai was a minister in Ayub Khan’s cabinet and supported eliminating the US presence. President Johnson apparently wanted him fired and Bhutto finally had to quit. Ironically, the U2 was already outdated by the time the Soviets shot it down as it was quietly replaced by the Corona mission using the Discoverer spy satellites, soon after.

The Americans were getting nervous while the Chinese were getting busy, for they were developing both missiles and nuclear bombs. With Pakistan’s support not forthcoming, there was only one way to keep an eye on the Chinese, and for that they needed India’s support. To get broad support, two people had to be influenced, Krishna Menon and Nehru. Krishna Menon was simply not a possibility, and the various actions to sideline him were gaining steam. Simultaneously, Nehru had to be charmed. Galbraith launched his plan (actually a number of plans, and this article will cover only one, and it involved Jackie).

Kennedy also had other ideas about global relationships and world peace. His idea was always to develop India as a counterweight against China’s rise in Asia and was exasperated with Pakistan’s refusal to understand the situation and its continuous squabble about Kashmir and other minor issues. It was with this in mind that Galbraith was deputed to Delhi as ambassador with a primary mission – Sideline Menon, woo Nehru.

On Sept 13th 1961, Galbraith broached the idea of a trip to India by JKB. JFK applauded the idea according to Galbraith’s memoirs and when he talked to Jackie about this, she was enchanted and wanted to travel in October/November, the following month. Thus Nov 20th was planned as the date for the private and informal trip of Jackie to India accompanied by her sister princess Lee Radziwill (Some trivia - do you know that Onasis was Lee’s boyfriend and eventually her elder sister Jackie married her later?). Meeting Nehru on Oct 28th to confirm the invitation, Galbraith notes that Nehru is equally delighted and insists Jackie stay in his house for part of the duration. By then, JFK is troubled over many other matters, the Cuban Bay of Pigs incidents, Vietnam and the USSR.

On Nov 6th, a moody Nehru visits Washington with Indira in tow and the meeting and discussions did not amount to much, in fact Nehru had lost all interest midway. JKB, a bit miffed postponed her visit to January. Incidentally, as a souvenir of the visit, the US announced help to set up IIT Kanpur.

Soon preparations start for Jackie’s trip but the Indian protocol organizers are alarmed that Jackie wants to visit Konark. They are absolutely worried about the prospect of a wrong photograph of hers in a hugely pornographic ambience. In the midst of this Yuri Gagarin visits Delhi for a reception, which Galbraith attends. The play ‘Passage to India’ had just opened on Broadway and people in America are getting a better feel of India. At this point of time the Goa incident takes place.

This became a problem for the US since Dulles had already taken a stand by agreeing with the Portuguese foreign minister that Goa was a Portuguese province and not a colony. Though Galbraith did not agree with this basis, he tried to persuade Nehru not to use force. The Portuguese even suggested that Pakistan move some troops to scare the Indians and dissuade them from going into Goa. In a military operation led by Gen Candeth, on 18th and 19th December 1961, Indian troops capture Goa with little resistance and no causalities. The governor-general of Portuguese India surrenders.

Cables pour in from America asking Galbraith to get Americans out of troubles way from Goa.Galbraith wittily responds that there was just one person there other than some reporters and that they would be better off in Goa than at the New Jersey turnpike, on an average day. JFK tells BK Nehru in private that India should have done it 15 years ago instead of preaching morality to US for 15 years. He compares it to the incident when the priest is caught coming out of the brothel door.

Indians in the Delhi bureaucracy worry on rumors that JBK’s trip might be cancelled. Menon approaches the Americans for military equipment as he is worried about the Chinese on the border. Galbraith recommends that JBK delay her trip and cut it short to give the right counter message to India. In the meantime Galbraith falls sick with an infected sinus for a few days and is recuperating in Switzerland. During this, Pakistan tried to raise a ruckus by bringing up Kashmir at the Security Council. Kennedy warns Galbraith that he has no idea what traveling around with Jackie would be like and suggests that Galbraith take a breather in Florida before the event. Krishna Menon remarks in good humor that Galbraith is becoming too pro Indian (Sadly Menon has no idea what is coming – more about it another day)…

Republic day is on and JKB delays her trip by a week. Galbraith worries about all the work in rearranging schedules and despairs on the thousands of rupees spent. A huge number of animals arrive from America for the Delhi Zoo, perhaps there just in case JKB falls homesick.

Nehru in the meantime has decorated his hallway with picture of his strolling with JKB, according to Galbraith, he is already in love. Krishna Menon is out of town campaigning and so the capital is slightly pro American. The embassy worries about trifles like flowerbed lighting for JKB’s dinner, should they be floating Diwali candles or flashing lights? Two tiger cubs are placed in the house (Gerry Gerald’s house – duly repainted and refurnished for the occasion) JBK was to occupy, just in case she wants to pet them. A rehearsal dinner is carried out.

March 13th – JKB arrives and the car meant to take the ambassador is locked out, with the keys inside. Here in USA, they would have AAA take care of it by sliding a flat blade through the window, but in Delhi they had no such option and a Mercedes was sent. JKB arrived in an Air India plane, disembarked in a radioactive pink suit accompanied by Lee, a personal maid and a secret service team. Nehru, Indira, Menon and a ‘million’ children received them. More people lined up than did for Lyndon Johnson.

They meet President Rajendra Prasad, a remarkably uncommunicative man, then walkabout in the Moghul gardens, lay roses at the Rajghat and go to the chancery to meet the embassy staff. A lovely lunch follows at the Raj Bhavan where S Radhakrishnana VP and Nehru kept Jackie in good humor with their entertaining talk. The next day she is moved to the PM’s house as a guest and goes riding which is her pet hobby, doing well, but Bubbles the prince of Jaipur has a dreadful fall from his horse. The guests are set in a flower petal canopied area. Singing and dancing follow at Nehru’s house, and Jackie in a turquoise dress glows amidst gorgeous Indian women in glittering sarees, a stunning array, as reported. Jackie then visits Agra in the presidential train, posing for photographs that have since then became famous. They also visited the AIMS aided by USA.

Like always things did not go right next, the plane that was to take Jackie to Benares had a problem and within no time the IAF sent a plane, and a few others were also made available, but Jackie chose to go by train. She loved them and had previously got herself photographed next to an engine with its driver in Agra. There was alarm when a ‘Made in Poland’ label was spotted in the photo frame, but it was shrugged off.

The Benares trip was quite a crowded event where she purchased silk material for a Presidential coat and got photographed next to the Ashoka pillar, visited a Buddhist temple and as joked by Galbraith, passed on the opportunity to die in Benares and go straight to heaven. Later they flew to Udaipur. The main palace was where they settled for the evening while the lake palace on the Pichola Lake was being converted into a hotel. And that was where she got christened the America maharani, by the thousands of screaming children. Perhaps their teacher taught them. Jackie wanted to give the secret service the slip and meet the children, but the Indian police refused permission. Jaipur presented problems when the maharajah took off with Jackie, as he was a friend of Lee’s and left the official entourage behind. Later they wanted to take her to the city palace, a private residence but this would not be quite right. Eventually this was arranged and Galbraith gets fascinated by the vivacious maharani – Gayatri Devi.

The next day is the grand gala which goes off splendidly after a final visit to the Nehru household where Holi was celebrated and where she applied a tikka on his forehead and Nehru doing likewise. The day after she flies off to Lahore to be a guest of Pakistan and Ayub Khan. She took away some jeweled brocade and some handbags from Benares, too expensive for her plans and the newspapers reported that Jackie spent $600 in less than 5 minutes.

Jackie met Galbraith later in USA, presented him with a well reported kiss at the airport and thanked him profusely for a beautiful trip to India. Galbraith, happy with his ambassadorial success, returned and went off on a trip to Kerala. Meeting Nehru later, he found the photo had been moved to Nehru’s upstairs sitting room – that of his walking arm in arm with Jackie in the white house garden. So much from the Ambassadors diary. Later he wrote – When Mrs Kennedy came to N Delhi in March of 1962, Nehru went to the airport to greet her and at the earliest opportunity moved her from the quarters we had contrived, to his own house. There, she had her sister occupied the apartment once inhabited by Edwina Mountbatten, and a great Nehru favorite, Nehru did not fail to tell of the earlier tenant, and he devoted himself fully to his guests instruction and enjoyment. As the resident expert, I was commissioned to buy an 18th century miniature to be presented to her by the prime minister.

Enroute her return, Jackie met the British queen and had a delightful English lunch. Back in America, she talked incessantly of her trip to India.

The world was soon on the brink of a nuclear war, with the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. It was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict. After a critical period, Khrushchev finally pulled back stating “If there is no intention to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this”.

In an effort to prevent this from happening again, a direct telephone link between the White House and the Kremlin was established; it became known as the “Hotline.”

A couple of years later, Nehru collapsed on the floor of the Lok Sabha. This visit by Jaqueline was as they say, perhaps the last spring in his life….

Jackie left and Delhi went back to what it was, a great big dusty bureaucratic capital full of backbiting politicians. While they argued, the Chinese took a bite off the North East, jolted the Indian mindset and alarmed the world. With only UAE supporting India and the other NAM nations desisting from condemning China, the lofty NAM ideal of Nehru disintegrated. As John Scofield of National Geographic wrote - India’s cherished neutrality lay shattered—perhaps forever—and the nation was united as never before. The arms race in the subcontinent was soon to begin.  
Mukesh and Rafi became famous, Lata got her Filmfare award for Kahi deep jale kahe dil, Bandini with Dharmendra won the national award and actress Sreedevi, my favorite actress was born while I was packed off to a kindergarten in Calicut.

I just heard that India and USA will soon establish a direct hotline between the respective heads of state.

Some Tidbits

Jackie carried 48 pairs of gloves to remain clean in India. Two lady reporters carry, in addition to typewriters, hatboxes containing wigs, and three take notes while wearing little white gloves.

Jackie never forgot how elegant the women in India looked in their diaphanous saris gracefully draped across the contours of their bodies. A friend of Jean Kennedy Smith, Jackie's sister-in-law, remembers seeing Jackie wearing a sari at a winter party held in the Smith townhouse in Manhattan in the 80’s, a cotton pastel sari - turquoise & cream flecked with gold while others had jackets and coats. There was the time when sari based dresses worn by Jackie pervaded America according to Tina Santi Flaherty. Flaherty wrote. “Extremely feminine, this flattering garment is both demure and seductive at the same time. Jackie decided that the style suited her.”

Jackie, in particular, disliked Nehru’s daughter, Indira, who accompanied her father to Washington. Referring to a decision by JFK to separate the men from the women during dinner, Jackie said of Indira: "Well, of course, she hated that. She liked to be in with the men. And she is a real prune -- bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman. You know, I just don't like her a bit. It always looks like she's been sucking a lemon.”

During the Indo China border war, JFK became popular in India when he ordered the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal to help India in the event of an invasion by Chinese forces. He also apparently had plans to deploy US forces stationed in the Philippines to assist India should the war expand. Historians have suggested that China’s quick ceasefire may have been the result of such threats made by the U.S. against Beijing. In a May 1963 National Security Council meeting, contingency planning on the part of the United States in the event of another Chinese attack on India was discussed. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor advised the president to use nuclear weapons should the Americans intervene in such a situation. McNamara stated "Before any substantial commitment to defend India against China is given, we should recognize that in order to carry out that commitment against any substantial Chinese attack, we would have to use nuclear weapons. Any large Chinese Communist attack on any part of that area would require the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S., and this is to be preferred over the introduction of large numbers of U.S. soldiers." After hearing this and listening to two other advisers, Kennedy stated "We should defend India, and therefore we will defend India”.

When the Indian government hear that Jackie was going to Pakistan later, they rescinded the offer to pay for the rooms occupied by the secret service. The agents who had spent all their allowances on gifts were left in a quandary and scrounged for the rest of the trip.

Jackie carried Cowhide Leather framed pictures from US. They were replaced with Indian made silver frames when it was made clear that it was not a good idea to make such a present, insulting the cow, a revered animal in India.

William Kuhn writing about Jackie notes that Lee found Nehru sensual and that – The sexiest thing about Nehru was that he made Jackie laugh.

JKB was gifted two paintings in India. The painting ‘Lovers watching rain clouds’ dated 1780 was willed by her to her friend Rachel Bunny Melon. A second miniature ‘Gardens of the Palace of the Rajah’ was also gifted to Bunny.

After JFK died, JKB became a book editor for Doubleday in New York. In later days her protégé would prove to be an Indian, Naveen Patnaik. They published a book ‘A second paradise’ on Indian artwork.

JKB visited India again in 1984, this time as Jackie Onassis. John Kennedy her son, was in India studying Indian culture and history at the Delhi University.


A life in our times – JK Galbraith
Ambassador’s journal – JK Galbraith
Indian summer – Alex Von Tunzelmann
Mrs Kennedy and me – Clint Hill

Pics – from the net thanks to the uploaders….

Various Videos of the visit


AM Nair – Ronin extraordinaire….

Nairsan - An Indian in Manchuria, China and Japan

Many a hotel in Kerala serves chiggen manjuri (Chicken Manchurian) or Gobi manjuri (Cauliflower Manchurian) these days and you will see that it is relished with gusto by the finger slurping Malayali, wrapping it inside bits of Malabar Porotta. Of course Ayappan Pillai Madhavan Nair, the subject of our story was not the one who brought it to Kerala from Manchuria, for it was apparently conceived by one Nelson Wang of Calcutta (owner of China Garden Bombay) in 1975, using Indian spices.

So what has AM Nair got to do with Manchuria? Then again many won’t even know there was once a state called Manchuria, for it does not exist today. Some people may remember Nair as the Nairsan of Japan, purveyor of Indira curry powder and late owner of the Indian restaurant in the trendy Ginza area of Tokyo, but his exploits during the World War II are legendary, if not in public, at least in the intelligence circles where he was known as the Manchukuo Nair. So I will now go on to narrate to you some of the exploits of this interesting man from Neyyatinkara - Travancore, son of Aramuda Iyengar and Lakshmi Amma…

After schooling at Model school Trivandrum, and later the Srimmolavilasm School at Vanchiyoor, Nair was drawn into the vortex of the anti-British freedom movement in the 1920’s. He got into trouble leading student marches and was quickly listed as a trouble maker by the British. In order to get him out of troubles way, Nair’s well to do father decided to send him for Civil engineering studies in Japan, following the footsteps of his brother who had earlier completed a fisheries degree from the Sapparo University. Nair’s degree in engineering was to be done in Kyoto.

This was how he ended up meeting the wanted revolutionary Rash Behari Bose who had fled British India and settled down in Japan. A powerful Japanese extreme right nationalist leader Mitsuru Toyama had taken Bose under his wings and sheltered him in the house of the Soma’s. Soon their daughter was married off to Bose and Bose had taken on Japanese nationality. Bose was the first to lead the anti-British movement from Japan.
Rash Behari Bose

Nair was always under British observation, but that petered off to an extent and he soon became fluent in Japanese and excelled in his studies to graduate in 1932. After this he plunged headlong into the anti-British movement, touring around Japan and giving speeches as well as writing for publications. During this period, he built up excellent contacts in the top circles of the Japanese bureaucracy and military, all of which was to stand him in good staid in the days to come.

Nair was initially planning to return to Kerala, but found out that the British were waiting or him to get back, to put him behind bars and this information from Kerala made him stay back in Japan. Back in India, Nair’s family acting on the advice of Sir CP declared AM Nair dead and divided up his remaining properties. This resulted in Nair, a person who had only Indian freedom foremost in his mind, living in Japan and concentrating his activities on the Indian freedom movement from this far away corner of the world.

A little Central Asian history has to be narrated to set the following scene. If you recall, there existed a 4,000 odd mile silk road many centuries back and it was on this road that camels and mules plied, laden with wool, silk, spice or whatever was needed along the route. The profitable venture took a turn for the worse when the Ottoman Turks became powerful and seized Constantinople or todays Istanbul, in 1453 and declared a trade embargo on the West. To get around it, a sea route was established by the Portuguese after Vasco da Gama successfully sailed around Africa to Calicut. Following this Magellan and others went around India to Chinese ports later. The seaborne Indian Ocean trade had become the new norm. The people who were most affected were the Muslim trading families on the land route in Central Asia and of course the Muslim traders dealing with Malabar ports. For now, we will confine ourselves to the Mongols on the silk route.

In Japan, population was increasing and expansionist tendencies were discussed. Korea was already under them. Now their eyes were on the state of Manchuria (Manzhou), with China on the south, Mongolia on the west, Russia in the north and Korea on the North east. In the late 14th century, the Mings were in control of the territory, but in 1644 the Qing Manchus took control of Beijing. By 1858, it again changed hands and became Russian controlled. By 1904, the Japanese had taken over and exercised control over Inner or Southern Manchuria. Manchuria was noted for its abundant mineral and coal reserves, and its soil suited for soy and barley production. For pre–World War II Japan, Manchuria was therefore an essential source of raw materials and needed for Japan’s war cause. This inner Manzhou was otherwise known as Manchukou or Manchuria. China and Japan quibbled incessantly over the area and its administration.

Japan at that time was still smarting from how it got boxed into signing the naval treaty in 1921-22, though it had done so amidst intrigues and much wrangling. In 1931, Chinese expelled Japanese supported Korean workers from Manchukuo and a Japanese intelligence officer Nakumura was killed at Mukden. The Mukden bomb incident on the railway line followed, and the Japanese army blaming the Chinese and utilizing the situation, moved in and occupied Manchuria. Korea in those days was a Japanese colony and the infamous Japanese Kwantung army was based in Manchukou and controlling the place.

Manchuria had become Japanese territory by now, and Pu-yi of the Qing dynasty (the Qings who had previously defeated the Ming’s and taken control of China) was kept as the titular emperor. The imperialist tendencies of Japan were not popular and the rest of the world was watching these steps warily.

In China, the Xin Hai or Scarlet winter revolution had overthrown the Qing emperors and a republic was born. Sun Yat-Sen was elected president and the capital was moved from Nanjin to Beijing. Soon after this Yuan Shikai took over from Sun Yat-Sen. Anti-Manchu movements started and a new leader Mao Zedong was slowly becoming heard in the midst of the Bolshevik movement in Russia. In 1919, anti-Japanese protests took place in China. Mao in the meantime was heavily influenced by communism and soon became a member and officer. By 1923, he was elected to the party committee, taking up residence in Shanghai. When party leader Sun Yat-sen died in May 1925, he was succeeded by a rightist, Chiang Kai-shek, who initiated moves to marginalize the position of the Communists. Soon Mao and Chiang were to fight each other for supremacy.

In the meantime, the many thousand Japanese in Shanghai were starting to feel nervous about the Chinese intrigues and so the Japanese deputed a large number of troops, mainly from Manchuria, for their comfort. They fought the Chinese and ousted them out of Shanghai, in what was known as the Nanking massacre. In the melee an American aircraft painted with Chinese colors was shot down. The League of Nations got involved and appointed a commission under the Earl of Lytton to enquire.

The commission did its work and declared that the Kwantung army did have a hand in Manchurian aggression, but at the same time did not accept the status of Manchuria as a separate state outside the suzerainty of China. The furious Japanese pulled out of the League of Nations. Manchuria was critical for the Japanese, as a supplier of raw material and Japan had held Manchuria stable while there was chaos in the rest of China and had kept the Soviets at bay. Japan retaliated with an anti-Lytton movement and Nair was quickly involved in that and promulgated the Asia for Asians theme, raising the ire of the British, yet again. This was all in 1932-33 period.

This was when Nair decided to step into the Manchurian cauldron. In his own words, Nair says it was to help his class mate and friend Nagao set up the Manchukuo administration and to profess the Indian independence movement, but Manchukuo to me seemed an unlikely place to fight it singlehandedly, for there were hardly 20 Indian families in all, comprising Sindhi’s and a few Tamilian jewelers. Nair organized the Asian conference in Dairen with Mahendra Pratap in tow and later based himself in Hsinking and learnt a smattering of Mongolian, all financed by the South Manchurian railway. Nair had one other objective in mind, to sabotage British trade activity as much as he could, himself. Not directly under control of any Japanese officer or department, Nair was akin to a Japanese Ronin.

Now what is a Ronin? A Ronin was a samurai with no lord or master and was seen during the feudal period (1185–1868) of Japan. A samurai became master-less from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege. The samurai incidentally is like a medieval Malabar Nair, licensed to fight and kill.

Teh Wang
Anti-British propaganda in Northern China and Inner Mongolia was the next target for Nair and this was planned amidst his administration set up and consultations with the emperor Pu-Yi. One thing Nair had noticed was the flourishing wool trade over the silk route, terminating in the Sea port of Tientsin which was under British Control. In fact caravans from southerly Tibet and North westerly Alashan were converging at Pao-tao before moving on to the sea port. Nair discovered that all the wool was later shipped to Manchester and Lancashire. Recalling Gandhi’s boycott of British goods, Nair decided to see if he could somehow stop or reduce the wool trade. An important link in this was the Mongol Prince Teh Wang (Demchugdongrub) based at Sunit and soon Nairsan befriended him and gave this simple local chieftain a class on the scenario going on. He also got him on the Japanese side, thereafter.

Upon receiving letters of introduction and assistance from Teh Wang, Nair travelled westwards for 4 weeks on camel-back to Ujino, and thence for Alashan in the Gobi desert. But it was not so easy and to pass off as a lay person, Nair donned the disguise of a religious Tibetan monk – a Lama Rimpoche. He had another reason for this, to avoid getting laid by the Mongol women (many of whom were STD carriers) who were highly desirous of getting a child fathered by a monk, but they would stay clear of a senior Rimpoche. And so, Nair went about his spy work, questioning traders and so on, trying to get the details of the wool trade, and managed not to get laid…

Much of the wool (Marco Polo mentioned it and even today you can get Alashan Cashmere) did originate at Alashan. To the west of Alashan is Lop Nur. From Alashan, Nair travelled back to Ujino and spent a few days there, playing Mahjong and doing not much else. His next plan was hazardous, for he wanted to travel westwards to Hami and Urumchi and think of going further southwards to Tibet. The Ujino king warned him against it, as there were bandits around, but Nair in his exploratory enthusiasm decided to plod on. He did reach Hami, but was soon waylaid by a gun toting Chinese bandit who relived him of what little money (50 coins) he had.

Inner Mongolia
Nair’s Japanese friends in Manchukuo had by now (it had been a 6 month expedition) come to the conclusion that he was dead and completed his death rites and a snake party. When he turned up suddenly, Nair had a tough time convincing them that his heavily bearded unkempt lama façade was actually himself. Anyway he got back to Hsinking, safe and sound, and everybody celebrated his rebirth with gusto.

It was during this trip that Nair discovered the presence of many Chinese Muslim (Uighur?) tribal traders who controlled the wool trade. They would procure the wool and trade them on a barter system for grains (Wheat, millet), cotton cloth, chop-sticks, implements, tobacco and so on. The caravanserais were also owned by Chinese Muslims. Nair decided to head to Tokyo and apprise others about the situation in Manchukuo and Mongolia. But Japan was tense, with martial law virtually clamped over the city due to some rebellious acts. In any case, the government officials stated that he was free to pursue the matter on his own and that he would be provided with all support & finances for the plan. Nair convinced Japan to step in and buy all the wool at the marshaling location which was Pao-tao, but this was to be done only after he had convinced the traders to divert the supplies to the new buyers.

A check on this matter provided the following information from an Australian newspaper report which stated – Mongolia is the best wool growing land in Asia and Mongolia has been marked down as the home farm for the Tokyo mills.

So how did Nair fight what he called, his single handed economic war in 1936? Well to execute that part of the plan, he decided to don yet another disguise, this time as a mullah (Muslim religious priest) from India touring Mongolia. With the help of Colonel Kuo, a Muslim officer in the Kwantung army, the Mullah Nair now trained himself in perfecting Islamic rituals and did a crash course on the Koran. What further aided him was the fact that an abscess had necessitated a circumcision a couple of years back, in 1934. Now sure that he could pass off as a Muslim, Nair started the second part of his reconnaissance mission, in the guise of a Mullah, heavily bearded. They left in 1937 to Pao-tao and met the many traders involved. Together with Col Kuo, he helped form a Muslim wool merchants association and convinced them to sell the wool at the same price to the Japanese instead of the British. This was how the wool delivery from Mongolia to Tientsin got adversely affected by Nair’s intervention. Nair returned to Hsinking in 1938, by now marked up as an even more dangerous Indian in Japan, by the British. Known officially as a liaison man in Manchukuo, he was actually ranked equivalent to a Lt Colonel in the Japanese military - intelligence section.

Things were however not going too well in Manchukuo and Korea and there was a Russian invasion threat hanging in the air. As the Manchukuo army became heavy handed, the next task was to create a buffer zone between Manchukuo and Russia by penetrating the Mongol population on the Russian side of the border. Nair’s next task was to work with one of those leaders named Lee Kai-ten in assuring support for Japan, which he managed admirably. The boryaku or espionage school set up to train willing Koreans was headed by Lee and it had Nair as one of its ‘un-committed’ instructors.

Nair and Janaki
It was in 1938 that Nair got married to Iku Asami, a Japanese girl from an aristocratic family. She was renamed Janaki Amma and again they went back to Manchukuo where Nair got involved in a newly started university for administration students, as a visiting professor. But things went steadily downhill as the army got mauled in a skirmish with the Soviets in 1939. Things were not going too well in the Chinese areas controlled by the Japanese and Nair took on a counter-intelligence trip to those places as well as to Peking (Beijing) and Nanking (Nanjing). 

There he was involved with Eric Teichman, a British consular representative, who was intent on mapping a land route from China via Tibet to Delhi. In 1943 Teichman began his journey from Chongqing. Nair did try to delay or stop Teichman, by blowing up some gas stations on the way so as to halt or slow the trip, but was not successful in the end. After caravanning as far as Lanzhou, his truck continued along the outer Silk Road, across the Tarim basin, and over the Pamir Mountains to New Delhi.

Nair’s last task in Manchukuo was to infiltrate the white Russian community. He provides a very interesting explanation on how he handled Vodka drinking sessions with Russians, by first drinking an amount of olive oil to remain sober and to even outdrink a Russian. Nair completed this task as well, adroitly.

This article will not go on to explain AM Nair’s other exploits (For that I encourage you to read AM Nair’s autobiography), but I will surmise them quickly. After getting back to Tokyo, Nair finds the Japanese war machine in full swing and Rash Behari Bose ill, with little time in his hands. Nair takes to making radio broadcasts on the NHK. The WWII has started and Japan had marched into Singapore and Malaya. Upon Nair’s specific instructions, the larger Indian populace is spared of any Japanese brutality.

The Indian Independence league is formed and Nair is entrusted with organizing all kinds of activities.  Shivaram becomes a friend, Mohan Singh does not and all kinds of issues are created by the sparring Indians in the independence fray. The INA is created and KP Keshava Menon takes Mohan Singh’s side. Behari Bose is too ill with TB and passes on the baton to NSC Bose who is drafted in from Germany where he has not had much success. The INA is integrated with the Japanese army and the army loses heavily in the U-Go campaign at Imphal – Kohima. In the INA there is large scale corruption and soon Behari Bose passes away. Keshava Menon is arrested in Singapore at NSC Bose’s behest, and Shivaram resigns from the IIL. Japan is routed in Burma and A-bombed in August 1945. It surrenders and MacArthur moves in by September to Tokyo.

Subash Chandra Bose vanishes, so also the vast amount of gold and silver as well as currency collected from the masses in the name of INA. Nair is not convinced and feels that Subash’s accomplices are to blame and that there is some hanky panky involved.

Nairsan became a manager of a PX department store for American servicemen after the war. Life went on, Nair is later involved in the 19521-52 treaty with Japan which we talked about in my earlier article, and the independent Indian government has nothing to offer him in return for all the work he had done. However an Indian representative does sound him out - If he could help mediate with the Chinese - post 1962, after the war. Nair refuses. He was a Manchukuo Nair, but he will not be a China Nair, as he says……

Nair never got the recognition he deserved, and driven by his own convictions was always an Indian at heart. For all his services to India, he got no recognition… According to TP Sreenivasan who met him often, Nairsan expected to be appointed the first Indian ambassador to Japan, but the highest post he was offered was that of the consul general in Kobe. Later he decided to become an entrepreneur.  
And that was how he got to starting the Nair restaurant eventually…. 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. Nair continued to visit Trivandrum often, till his death in 1990, aged 85. His sons Gopalan and Vasudevan continue to live in Japan.

People ask me how Malayalees end up in the most obscure places and thrive. Well, if you read Nair’s exploits, you can see yet another of those from Kerala, driven by pure tenacity and conviction. An extraordinary man, who loved his land, who loved his people, but was perpetually exiled in another. Then again, he remained with his benefactors the Japanese, in their time of need, and remained true to them ever after.

No wonder the Japanese respected AM Nair.


Manchukuo does not exist anymore. On 8 August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and invaded Manchukuo from Outer Manchuria and Outer Mongolia. Emperor Pu-Yi abdicated and was captured by the Soviets and eventually extradited to China. From 1945 to 1948, Inner Manchuria served as a base area for the People's Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. Nowadays the name Manchuria is not used, for it is NE China.

The military in Manchukuo were terrible people actually and their acts, especially those of the unit 731 dealing with human experimentation is unbelievably horrible. It is possible that Nair knew about it and he does mention that the Kumantung army were not above reprieve. The Japanese army were also involved in untold brutalities in Shanghai and other SE Asian places which they conquered during or before the WWII. The Indian population in Malaya, Burma and Singapore may have escaped much of the brutality thanks to AM Nair.

The Pao-Tao wool association disintegrated when the Japanese army which starting to feel invincible when the WWII started, wised up and decided to only pay a fraction of what was originally agreed by them with Nair.

Not very many people even know who Rash Behari Bose is, but instead believe that Subash Chandra Bose was the one and only person behind the IIL and the INA. Many of his dealings and connections with the Japanese were mainly through AM Nair.

As I said before, Alashan wool is still popular.

Lop Nur became the site of Chinese nuclear tests, and how India got involved with that is a very interesting story. I will write about it soon.

Nair’s son runs the Nair restaurant. Indira Curry powder is still popular. To clarify, Behari Bose was one of the first made curries in his father in law’s restaurant/bakery, where he was in hiding.

Sivaram wrote a book ‘Road to Delhi’ where he talks well about AM Nair

Teh Wang lived on, braving many regimes. His story can befound here

Teichman completed his last road trip and flew back to England, where a few days later, at the age of 60, he was killed by an American GI and his pal, who were poaching on his estate. When Teichman confronted them, he was shot and killed.

Nothing is known about Lee kai-ten, perhaps he is in N Korea or dead by now. Mohan Singh did well, following Indian independence, he served as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of the Indian Parliament. Mahendra Pratap returned to India in 1946 and faded into obscurity.

Malayalees will continue to love Chicken Manchurian, but the fact remains that many do not know Manchukuo Nair, the only Malaylee who lived for so many years in Manchuria. Perhaps that at least will change for the few who read this……

An Indian freedom fighter in Japan: memoirs – AM Nair
Subhas Chandra Bose: A Biography - Marshall J. Getz (Pg 137)
Words, Words, Words: Adventures in Diplomacy - Sreenivasan, T. P. (Pg 29)
The Road to Delhi - M. Sivaram

Pics - from the net - thanks and ack to original uploaders...

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2015