A complex love triangle

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: May 19 2013, 05:30am hrs
Towards the end of Indumati Gunajis incredible life, she handed her notes, letters and memories to her daughter Laxmi with the wish that she put it all down in a book. Thus, was born In the Shadow of Freedom, or the story of three lives in Hitlers Berlin and Gandhis India. Her father Ayi Ganpat Tendulkar, in early 1930s, travelled from Maharashtra to Germany to study. He was in his twenties and having already worked with leaders of the Indian freedom struggleMahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patelbegan to write for German papers. He soon met and fell in love with the famous German screenwriter and actress, Thea von Harbou, 17 years his senior and wife of renowned German director Fritz Lang. What Laxmi Dhaul does with the help of stories she heard from her parents, letters and clippings lovingly kept in boxes by Indumati, painstaking research, priceless photographs, visits to Germany, is trace her fathers complex life, and his relationship with two strong women, Harbou and her mother Indumati, in the backdrop of the rise of Nazism in Germany, a world war and Indias struggle for independence from British colonialism.

Ayi Tendulkar met Harbou in January 1933, days before Adolf Hitler was sworn in as chancellor of Germany, which ushered in the end of the Weimar era. As Dhaul writes: I still remember the gleam in my fathers eye when he spoke about how wonderful Berlin used to be in those dayshe would call it the centre of the western world, a vortex of creativity, a leader in innovation in the field of films, the visual arts, architecture, theatre and music... He spoke about his impressions of the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and how India had won the gold medal in hockey. But soon after Ayi Tendulkar and Harbou met, things changed drastically in Germany. On her adviceby then, they were married but couldnt be seen together, as Hitler banned Germans from marrying foreignersAyi Tendulkar, a man with a western outlook, complete with a gleaming red Mercedes convertible, returned to India, and got involved with Gandhi and his Quit India movement.

With Harbous consent, he soon married Indumati, who had grown up in a sheltered Saraswat Brahman family in Belgaum (on the Karnataka and Maharashtra border) and was influenced by both cultures. She was a follower of Gandhi and worked for a while at his Wardha ashram. In fact, when Ayi Tendulkar and Indumati decided to get married, they

were asked to wait five years by Gandhi-ji and when they finally took their wedding vows in front of Bapu, he spun the garlands for them. In a letter Gandhi-ji addressed to Indu, he wrote: I would like to perform your wedding on the 19th August (1945)...I consider that this wedding is not being undertaken for pleasure. You both are embarking on this marriage for the sole purpose of service. You will have to promise to me that you will not have children till India gets independence from the British...

Though her parents would grow apart subsequently, they always had a cordial relationship.Indumati was persuaded by Ayi Tendulkar to visit Harbou in Germany and she was touched by Theas warmth. This was in 1952 and three years later, Laxmi was born. Her charismatic father died when he was 72, and her mother died in 2006 at the age of 96. By then, she had given enough material and more to her daughter for a fascinatingstory. It was at the Jaipur Literature Festival that Laxmi met Thomas Keneally, the author of Schindlers List. ...whenI spoke to him about this story and my frustrations, he said: Continue writing and you will be guided by thespirits of your loved ones. Happily for us,Dhaul didnt give up.

In the Shadow of Freedom: Three Lives in Hitlers Berlin and Gandhis India

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul



Pp 308

Sudipta Datta is a freelancer