Rash Behari Bose: A ‘Revolutionary Chef’
In downtown Toyko, there's a restaurant with a curious item on its menu. It’s an Indian-style chicken curry spiced with the flavour of revolution and garnished with, you guessed it, love. Even more interesting is the chef who invented this lip-smacking curry, which became popular all across Tokyo and beyond. It was created by Indian revolutionary Rash Behari Bose in the early 20th century, while he was on the run from the British.
Rash Behari Bose, sometimes referred to as the ‘Other Bose’ (the ‘original’ one being Subhas Chandra Bose), was drawn to the Indian freedom struggle at an early age. He was inspired by revolutionary politics while still a student in Bengal and later grew close to Bengali revolutionaries and their cause.
The turning point was the assassination attempt on Lord Hardinge in Delhi 1912. Bose was the mastermind behind the attempt on the Viceroy’s life, and he also played a key role in the Ghadar Mutiny, a failed plan to trigger a rebellion in the British-Indian Army in 1915. Some may remember him as the founder of the Indian Independence League, a precursor to the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose.
Rash Behari Bose had been on the run since the attempt on Lord Hardinge and, under an assumed name and identity, escaped to Japan, where Indian revolutionaries had forged close contacts. He arrived in Kobe in 1915 and then travelled to Tokyo. He was living in the home of a prominent Pan-Asian leader, Japanese politician Mitsuru Toyama, when the British sought his extradition.
Forced to switch safe houses, Bose ended up taking refuge with a wealthy Tokyo family, the Somas, in Shinjuku, a commercial district in Tokyo. The Somas were sympathetic to India’s freedom struggle and were happy to offer him shelter in their bakery, called ‘Nakamuraya’.
While hiding out here, Bose continued his underground revolutionary activities, with the Somas’ daughter Toshiko acting as his interpreter. The two fell in love and got married in 1918, and had two children. Marrying Toshiko also earned Bose Japanese citizenship and this afforded him a measure of safety and security as the British were close on his heels.
There was something else Bose did while taking cover in the bakery. He practised his culinary skills and conjured up a delicious Indian-style chicken curry, which his hosts thoroughly enjoyed. But tragedy struck when Toshiko died of tuberculosis in 1925.
Bose pushed on with his revolutionary agenda in Japan and, one day, he was struck by a brainwave – why not uses his curry as a tool in the Indian freedom struggle? So, in 1927, he and his father-in-law opened the now famous Nakamuraya café in Shinjuku, where the chef’s special is ‘authentic Indian chicken curry’.
Until then, the Japanese version of curry was raisu kar (literally ‘rice curry’), a Western invention passed on by officers in the British Royal Navy to their counterparts in the Japanese Navy in the late 19th century. It was the English take on Indian curry that the British had relished during their time in the subcontinent. However, instead of a spicy Indian gravy, English curry, and therefore Japan’s raisu kar, was a thick stew that used ‘curry powder’ along with wheat and sour apples.
Bose was determined to prove that the chicken curry the Japanese so enjoyed was not a colonial invention. According to Bose of Nakamuraya (2009) by Takeshi Nakajima, his ‘authentic Indian recipe’ was “part of his anti-colonial struggle, by trying to win back India’s food culture from British hands”. The menu tagged it as ‘The taste of love and revolution’.
Although much more expensive than raisu kar, Bose’s curry was a huge hit in Tokyo. The Japanese loved it so much that sales went through the roof and, in 1939, Nakamuraya became one of the first food companies to be listed on the Japanese stock exchange.
Bose continued his revolutionary activities in Japan, organizing conferences, writing, delivering lectures and participating in many other activities that supported India’s march to freedom. He eventually succumbed to tuberculosis, just as his beloved Toshiko had, in 1944.
Rash Behari Bose will forever be remembered for his role in India’s freedom movement – and for conquering the Japanese palate!