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The Swaraj Spy by Vijay Balan

My take on the book:

Kumaran Nair has been part of the Malabar Special Police Forces(MSP) in Madras, serving the British administration in pre-Independent India. When he was ordered to beat up the Indian women agitating against the British rulers, Kumar goes against his Commandant, resulting in his removal from the forces. After serving for seven years, Kumar is forced to return to his native place. Once back in his family home in Calicut, Kumar partners with his brother Madhavan to setup a business of luxury cars.

Their business suffers losses and is shut down during the Great Depression, forcing Kumar to now relocate to Singapore to stay with his extended family and eventually joins as clerk in accounts in Royal Air Force(RAF), while working a second job with the local police. As World War-II begins, Kumar’s dreams to bring his wife Maalu to Singapore comes crashing down after Japan attacks the island.

As Japanese forces occupy and take over Singapore, Kumar unexpectedly lands an offer to join the India Independence League(IIL) in Penang Island and train as their spy. Will Kumar be able to rescue his mates, when few agents double cross, forms the rest of the story.

The story is fictionalized account of the real-life story of the author’s grand uncle, so the places and events are real, so are some of the characters. At almost 500 pages, the book can feel slow at places since the author covers all the major events in the protagonist’s life, from the day he is expelled from the MSP to his last day.

Once the reader is past the first few pages, the flow of narration gets into a rhythm and the reader will savor the story. The book left me with a lump in the throat by the end, as the turns that Kumar’s life takes is heartbreaking at places. From living under the British rule to the chaos in war torn Singapore to training to be a spy, Kumar’s life is what many of our ancestors have lived through in the early to mid 20th century.

The constant fear, suppression, displacement that came with the World Wars and colonization are well captured by the author. Indian’s struggle for freedom often brings up known events and fighters while there are umpteen unsung heroes like Kumar who do not receive the applause they rightfully deserve.

There are many characters in the story with focus majorly on Kumar. Unlike other fictional works, author does not intentionally elevate the protagonist. Kumar’s behaviour is subtly presented through out the story. Whether he builds a road in his native place, rushes to bring a doctor in the middle of shelling – he was a hero among the common man.

This attempt by the author coupled with extensive research to narrate such an important story, one from our unforgettable history makes for an important read, especially for the current generation. This book is definitely for serious readers who would like to read the story and the events that lead a common man to turn into a spy.

I would highly recommend this to all, as this book narrates the story from our Independence that is generally not included history books.

My rating:


This review is part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program.