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In Netaji steps, with guide son

Islamabad, May 3: An Indian woman crossing the border to meet a Pakistani 'brother' after decades ' this could be another family reunion story spawned by the current peace initiative.

But the ties that lay behind this meeting in Peshawar yesterday were rooted not in family tree but in two nations' shared history and the combined war they had fought six decades ago against a common enemy.

Seventy-four-year-old Krishna Bose, daughter-in-law of Subhas Chandra Bose's brother and former MP, was in the northwestern Pakistani town to meet a man whose father had been a guide to the Indian nationalist as he took his first few steps on the craggy path to becoming Netaji.

Sixty-four years ago, Abad Khan had escorted Subhas as he slipped into Afghanistan from Peshawar disguised as a Pathan, determined to carry on his fight against the British empire from outside Indian soil.

On Monday, his son Siraj Khan, 66, acted as a guide as Bose retraced Subhas's journey through the town before the great escape.

'It was a very special meeting,' Bose told reporters in the lobby of her hotel in halting Urdu punctuated with perfect English.

The three-time MP, who is on an official visit to Pakistan as part of a Bengal Initiative team, said she had always longed to see the places where Subhas had stayed or which he had passed through during his great escape in 1941.

She had had an opportunity 11 years ago when she came to Pakistan with her late husband Sisir Bose but that trip had ended in disappointment because the couple could not find anyone who might act as a guide.

The problem, Bose recalled, was that she had forgotten the contact numbers Siraj had given her many years ago, when he visited her in Calcutta. 'This time, I approached our high commission to help me locate Siraj,' she said.

She found him at the home of his neighbour, interior minister Nasirullah Baber, waiting anxiously for her. Together they went to Peshawar Cantonment railway station, where Subhas had stepped out of the Frontier Mail from Delhi, and did the round of places where he had stayed, such as the site of the now demolished Taj Mahal hotel.

The escape to Afghanistan had launched the second, more romantic, phase of Subhas's fight against the British ' in his avatar as Netaji, carrying on an armed struggle at the head of the Azad Hind Fauj. Jailed 11 times between 1920 and 1941, and having differed with Mahatma Gandhi over the means to achieve independence, the hardliner Subhas had perhaps dismayed of success while working in India.

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