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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

In the Shadow of Freedom: Love in the time of Hitler and Gandhi

A fascinating new book detailing the life of a globe-trotting Indian independence activist and the two ideologically opposed women who loved him, is set to be launched in the UK.

'In the Shadow of Freedom', written by Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul - the daughter of the book's protagonist, tells the story of Ayi Tendulkar, a boy from rural Goa whose ardour for magnificent women was equalled only by his passion for India's freedom struggle. 

Tendulkar is best known for his passionate love affair and marriage to the great Prussian actress and director Thea Gabrielle von Harbou, an aristocratic Nazi Party member who was 17 years Tendulkars' senior at the time of their secret nuptials in 1933.

Born in 1905 in a tiny village in Portuguese Goa, Tendulkar was orphaned at a young age.  After completing his secondary education, Tendulkar enrolled at the Tilak Vidyapeeth in Ahemdabad, where he was drawn to Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha movement, at one time working as the private secretary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister of India.

In 1920, Tendulkar arrived in Britain on a scholarship but left for France soon after.  He spent four years at the Ecole Normale Suprieure in Paris where he had his first fling with marital bliss, entering into a short-lived marriage with a divorced Italian beauty. 

After graduation, Tendulkar headed for Germany's University of Gottingen where he studied applied mathematics and wooed and married the daughter of a professor.  The marriage however, didn't last beyond Tendulkar's time in Gottingen.

He later transferred to Berlin University to complete his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering and whilst there Tendulkar exploited Nazi Germany's sympathetic view of the Indian freedom struggle by publishing a series of articles about the independence movement.

His writing caught the attention of Thea von Harbou, who had long held a fascination for Indian culture.  Von Harbou had an established career as a screen writer and was married at the time to the legendary Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang.

Tendulkar's love affair with the aristocratic von Harbou caused a scandal in conservative, Nazi Berlin, after the duo were caught in bed by Lang. 

After her divorce in April 1933, von Harbou married Tendulkar in secret as marriage between people of different races was strictly prohibited.

Six years later however, Tendulkar was forced to return to India as World War 2 gripped Europe.  He settled in Belgaum and resumed his journalism career and fell in love again, this time with Indumati Gunaji, an activist for the Indian National Congress.

Tendulkar's reputation was such that even Mahatma Gandhi opposed Indumati's proposed marriage with the much-married academic and journalist, relenting only after the duo agreed to remain separated - after marriage - for several years and to not have children until after India had gained independence from the British.

Intriguingly, Indumati travelled to Berlin in 1953 to meet with her husband's former wife. 

At the time, Thea von Harbou was a shadow of her former self.  At the end of the war she had been imprisoned in a British prison camp as a Nazi sympathiser.  After her released she was forced to work as a "rubble woman" in Berlin, clearing away the bomb damage in the city.

In the run up to von Harbou's death in 1954, the two women got along famously, sharing first-hand accounts of Hitler and Gandhi, the two iconic figures of their time, and their shared love for Ayi Tendulkar.  

Laxmi Dhaul's 'In the Shadow of Freedom' is based on Indumati's recollections as well as a wealth of documents and letters belonging to her father. 

First launched to much acclaim at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January, 'In the Shadow of Freedom' will finally be published in the UK this month with the launch taking place June 28 at Asia House where the author will be in conversation with renowned Indian commentator Suhel Seth.

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