A close aide of Subhas Chandra Bose, an associate of Jawaharlal Nehru and a person Indira Gandhi trusted. This was ACN Nambiar, who passed away on January 17,1986, serving many roles in an extraordinary life that has been marked as much by secrecy as it was for the multiple roles he played. Among them was a columnist, a person whose advice led to the appointment of R N Kao, former head of RAW, as Indira Gandhi’s security adviser in 1981, and, if rumours are to be believed, a Soviet spy.
History has no record of the role or even presence of this man, who lived in Europe for over five decades.
In 1980, an Indian intelligence officer named Vappala Balachandran deployed in the region and operating under diplomatic cover was tasked with keeping a discreet eye on the wellbeing of Nambiar, then a sprightly old gentleman.
That task grew into a relationship and has now brought us the book A Life in Shadow, covering the secret story of Nambiar, by Balachandran, who has since retired and now is a distinguished columnist. The hard bound volume published by Roli Books covers all the twists and turns that Nambiar’s life took in a thrilling but troubled time and provides an account that is exciting and of tremendous historical value.
The tales told to Balachandran by Nambiar revived pre-war European history and power play, re-visited the Nazi concentration camps he was imprisoned in, reached his French dinners with Pandit Nehru and secret confabulations with Subhas Chandra Bose. Nambiar returned to India, but was later shattered by the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. She was his vital connection to India.
In the end, Nambiar died intestate. His possessions, mostly linked to his eventful life, were left unclaimed by eminent relatives in India and had to be handed over to the police. The Padma Bhushan medallion lying neatly in a small black box, the “Freedom Bell” from the German Foreign Office, with an inscription indicating his tenure as Ambassador, and other honours, went to a dusty police godown.
This was the life of Nambiar, the “forgotten anti-colonial warrior” who had power and access to people in power but took no personal benefit from any of his positions.