Laxmi Indira Panda is still a fighter. Once a handpicked recruit of Subhash Chandra Bose for his Indian National Army (INA), the 82-year-old lady now washes utensils for a living. She has only her scars to show for those days.
Her only entertainment these days is to sing the INA's marching song in front of a photograph of Bose, she told HT in an interview. Retracing her story, Laxmi said before the World War, her father Trinatha Ratha worked as a railway stationmaster at a place called Umla in Burma, now Myanmar.
But after she lost her parent in an air raid, she said, "I wanted to join Subhash Chandra Bose to avenge the death of my father. First he refused me, saying I was too young. I was 14. But later, he relented and asked Laxmi Sehgal to recruit me.
“Subhash Chandra Bose also changed my name from Laxmi to Indira so that there was no confusion with Laxmi Sehgal," she said proudly.
The memory of her march with the INA now winds through vaguely remembered names, like Chittagong, Arakan hills, Singapore, Malaya, Rangoon and Malaya. Her memory betrays her now, but the pride of an INA soldier can still be traced in the frail voice.
She said she saw Bose for the last time in Singapore on August 12, 1945 a week before his reported death when he disbanded the Rani Jhansi Regment. "All of us threw our uniforms and badges into the river."
She came back to India and got married to INA veteran Khageswar Panda, a truck driver, who later left her. She had to raise her two children on her own. "I have a son, who does not work and is a heavy drinker. He has seven sons. I have to look after them. I get only Rs 1,000 as pension as a freedom fighter.
"Now, I am working as a maid for Rs 350 a month. I never tell people I was a freedom fighter or was with the INA," she said as a parting shot.