Book Review: The Indian Spy
Author: Mihir Bose
Bhagat Ram Talwar, a Hindu Pathan from the Northwest Frontier Province of British India, was the only quintuple spy of World War II, spying for Britain, Italy, Germany, Japan and the USSR. His exploits and the people he worked with were truly remarkable. His spying missions saw him walk back and forth 24 times from Peshawar to Kabul eluding capture and certain death. He fooled the Germans so successfully that they gave him £ 2.5 million, in today’s money and awarded him the Iron Cross. His British spymaster was Peter Fleming, the brother of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. Fleming, operating from the gardens of the Viceroy’s House in wartime Delhi, gave him the code name Silver.
Talwar became a spy after he helped Subhas Chandra Bose escape India via Kabul. Bose was seeking help from Germany and Japan to free India and never discovered that Talwar was betraying him to the British. Talwar settled in UP after India won independence; he died of natural causes in 1983.Based on research in previously classified files of the Indian, British, Russian and other governments, The Indian Spy tells for the first time the full story of the most extraordinary agent of World War II.
The Indian Spy tells the story of an ordinary Indian man, Bhagat Ram Talwar who faced with some opportune circumstances (that life offers him) decides to become a spy. His spy career is given a push when he serves as an escort for Subhash Chandra Bose, the revolutionary Bengali leader.
Silver, as he is better known becomes good at his job and even though he has no special talents, he is a quick learner and keen observer, skills that stand him in good stead. He is helped by a local Indian contact (Uttam Chand) in Afghanistan where he frequently travels, ultimately spying for four governments in all. Silver comes across as naive at first but he displays great cunningness when he doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice his friend, Uttam Chand for greater benefits. Silver also frequently shifts loyalties and is ultimately handled by Peter Fleming who takes a liking for him.
“Nothing better illustrates Silver’s ruthlessness. He had long discarded Bose who had given him the opportunity to become a spy. Now he was ready to discard the man without whose help it is extremely doubtful he could have developed such an amazing spy career. As far as Silver was concerned Uttam Chand could languish in jail…”
The sheer audacity of Silver will leave all readers amazed. Driven sometimes by luck, sometimes relying on wit and his habit of spinning lies, he manages to evade the government on multiple occasions. He is also not shy to push his luck a bit further as is evident when he refuses to budge when an Afghan policeman keeps pestering him each day demanding more bribes.
Silver takes his job seriously which is evident when he does not shy away from admonishing Subhas who goes about shopping in the streets of Kabul unescorted. He also displays character when he almost barges into the Russsian ambassador’s office seeking asylum for Bose. He is the classical fixer and a man who otherwise would not have found any employment plays a significant role in the war effort. After all, he singlehandedly managed to dupe four governments, no mean feat! And to top it, he came from India, one of the colonies and not an independent nation. He manages to win friends and is held in great regards by the governments that choose to deal with him, even though unknown to them, much of what he shares is gibberish.
I have always found that peripheral characters in history make for even greater stories and this is where Mihir has excelled. He has plucked a hitherto unknown man and given voice to this remarkable story. The book can be a bit harrowing towards the middle but since it’s about a spy, even casual readers will like the text. There is a ton of history between these pages and anybody with even a fleeting interest in war stories will find the book an amazing read.
Mihir is an excellent researcher and putting together a book around the life of a not so well known man would have required hours of countless research. The Indian Spy makes for an interesting read and Mihir backs up his writing with innumerable supporting anecdotes and evidences. Mihir has done a fascinating job of weaving a strong tale around a nondescript character from the time of the World War, an interesting period in India’s independence struggle.
However, the text could do with some good proof-reading. Not really blaming the writer here but disappointed with the publisher. The initial chapters are full of disjointed sentences and missing punctuations. Apart from this, there is hardly anything to criticise in this otherwise marvellous book. A must read.