A Bengali Iron Lady | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 17, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 17, 2012

A Bengali Iron Lady

Japani Bodhu by Tanvir Mokammel

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L-R: Cover of “Bongo Mohilar Japan Jatra”.Wemon Takeda and Hariprobha.Hariprobha (in a black sari), to the left of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

From a nondescript woman in Dhaka to Tokyo, where she read news in Bangla on radio for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj, travelling in the dead of night every day risking her life through bomb-ravaged streets of Tokyo during the Second World War.
That is the exceptional story of Hariprobha Basu Mallik, who married a Japanese entrepreneur Wemon Takeda, and travelled to Tokyo in 1912, and whose life has been recreated on the celluloid by eminent Bangladeshi director Tanvir Mokammel in his latest documentary, “Japani Bodhu” (The Japanese Wife) set to be premiered in Dhaka next month.
Born in 1890, Hariprobha would have remained a largely forgotten figure but for her “Bongo Mohilar Japan Jatra”, a memoir of her journey to Japan in 1912, considered the first book on that country by any woman from the subcontinent. The book was first published from Dhaka in 1915, Mokammel told The Daily Star.
Hariprobha fell in love with and married Japanese entrepreneur Wemon Takeda who had set up a soap factory in Dhaka and she was 22 when she travelled with her husband to Japan in 1912.
It was an opportunity for Hariprobha to not only meet her in-laws but also see the socio-cultural life of Japan. She not only visited Japan but also wrote a memoir, a kind of travelogue about the then Japan. Japan, as portrayed in Hariprobha's book, is a different country altogether 100 years back, Mokammel said.
“Bongo Mohilar Japan Jatra” was published four years before Rabindranath Tagore's “Japan Jatri”.
Hariprobha shifted permanently to Japan in 1941 when the country was in the throes of the Second World War and when Japanese nationals from across the world were returning to their homeland.
Besides the War, what made Hariprobha's life tougher was the illness of her husband and with the help of revolutionary Rashbehari Bose, she took up the job of reader of Bengali news aired from Tokyo Radio for Subhash Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj in 1944-45 to make a living.
Day in and day out, Tokyo was battered by allied forces bombing and Hariprobha saw around her all the horrors of the war as well the sufferings of the Japanese people and wrote another memoir on Japan. Wearing a helmet, she used to travel through the streets of Tokyo in the dead of night to reach the radio station to read the news, to take care of her ailing husband. It was during this time that Harirprobha was introduced to Subhash Chandra Bose.
After her husband's death in 1948, she shifted to West Bengal and stayed with her sister in Jalpaiguri before breathing her last in Kolkata in 1972.
Mokammel said what inspired him to make the documentary was the “extraordinary courage” shown by Hariprobha in marrying a Japanese and travelling to a totally different country, society and culture.
“I have huge respect for women like Hariprobha who muster the courage of venturing into totally unchartered territory in life. It takes a lot of courage to do so,” the director said adding that “finding her books interesting and herself an exceptional character I decided to make a film on Hariprobha.”
“The film was with me for last 10 years and the special reason I made the film this year is because 2012 is the centenary year of Hariprobha's travel to Japan,” asserts the director.
The research for the film has been done by journalists Manjurul Huq and Kajuhiro Watanabe and the documentary was shot in Tokyo, Kobe and Nagoya, the places where Hariprobha had lived or travelled, in India and in Bangladesh.
The 67-minute film, supported by Japan Foundation, has been shot by Golam Masum Zico and edited by Delhi-based Mahadeb Shi and its music is done by Syed Shabab Ali Arzoo.

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