“The War Diary of Asha-san: From Tokyo to Netaji’s Indian National Army”


We are often told that the trend toward globalization is unstoppable, but then some event occurs—whether it is the war in Ukraine or Brexit—that reminds us of the power of nationalism; the emotional attachment that citizens have to their land and people. That power, that emotional attachment, jumps off every page of The War Diary of Asha-san, written by a young Indian nationalist in the midst of the Second World War. 

Bharati “Asha” Sahay Choudhry was a 15-year old Indian girl living in Tokyo in June 1943 when she began this beautifully-written diary (originally written in Japanese) that is infused with the goal of Indian independence from British rule. Her goal—inspired by her father Anand Mohan Sahy (whom she refers to as “Papa” throughout the diary) and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the leaders of the Indian independence movement—-is to fight with the Indian National Army against the British. “My sole aim,” she later writes, “is to serve the nation.”


The War Diary of Asha-san: From Tokyo to Netaji’s Indian National Army, Lt Bharati ‘Asha’ Sahay Choudhry, Tanvi Srivastava (trans) (HaperCollins India, October 2022)
The War Diary of Asha-san: From Tokyo to Netaji’s Indian National Army, Lt Bharati ‘Asha’ Sahay Choudhry, Tanvi Srivastava (trans) (HarperCollins India, October 2022)

“Papa” initially attempted to travel from India to the United States to join the Ghadar Party, but British authorities prevented that, but later approved his travel to Japan. He and Asha-san’s mother lived first in Kobe, where Asha was born. Asha’s wartime journey takes her from Kobe to Tokyo to Taiwan, Canton (Guangzhou), Hainan, Saigon, Bangkok, Singapore, Rangoon, and on to Calcutta and other Indian cities by 1946.

Asha trains for combat, becomes, in her own words, “a newly commissioned lieutenant in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army” in August 1945, but the war ends before she sees any combat. “I was anxious to reach the frontline as soon as possible,” she explains, “but it was not in my fate to look the enemy in the eye.” The war for her ended with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s subsequent surrender. Then Nataji Subhas Chandra Bose died in a plane crash. “My war ended,” she wrote, “before it began.”

Asha did, however, experience bombings from American planes while she lived in Japan and Japanese-occupied Taiwan. In Tokyo in February 1945:


Looking up, we see a throng of American B-29 bombers hovering over us. We call them Mosquitoes—because they make a buzzing sound on approach and are smacked to the ground like pests … The air heaves and the earth shudders … Cinder and flare.


“Now and then, bombs fall and we have to go to the trenches,” she later wrote from Taiwan. “We can’t sacrifice our valuable bodies to the enemy’s bombs just yet. Kill and kill and kill.” Asha writes as if she is a battle-hardened soldier.


Japan was an ally of the Indian National Army (INA) because both opposed Britain and Britain’s American allies. Early in the diary, Asha wrote that “Japan considers India to be Tenjiku, or the path to heaven. The people of Japan believe India to be a holy land and they hold Indian culture in high esteem.” General Tojo, she noted, promised Netaji that Japan “would always support the Indian freedom struggle.” For INA and Japan’s leaders, however, the truth was more basic—the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Throughout the diary, Asha is virulently anti-British and anti-American. “Compromising with Britain,” she writes in October 1943, “means to compromise with slavery, and we are determined not to compromise with slavery any more.” During her training, Asha notes, she and her fellow soldiers pierce the necks of effigies of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Later, she calls American soldiers “jackals” and “white demons.”

Asha’s diary ends with confidence that British rule in India will end. There are glowing references to Nehru and Gandhi. But even more so to Chandra Bose and her “papa” as warriors for independence. And even as the British pass the Indian Independence Act in 1947, Asha notes that the “British have saved their worst injury for the end—the amputation of our Mother India,” a reference to the partition of India. But that pain, too, she writes, will be overcome. “[W]e will awaken to our destiny.”

Asha’s patriotism and courage were remarkable for such a young girl in the midst of a world war. Her example shows that culture and history are in the end more powerful than conquering armies. Those who underrate the power and force of nationalism need only reflect on what is perhaps Asha’s most revealing diary entry in May 1945: “Duty is the only religion and loving one’s country is the supreme religion.”

Francis P Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War. His writings appear in The Diplomat, Joint Force Quarterly, the University Bookman and other publications. He is an attorney and an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University.