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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bhabha, Ramanna & The Men Who Nurtured India's Nuclear Dream

"when Homi Bhabha of India was killed in the airplane crash on Mont Blanc on January 24, the world lost one of its greatest citizens"

Thus was written in the condolence letter signed by, among others, CERN Director-General Dr. Victor Weisskopf & Dr Jerome Wiesner, Science Advisor to US President General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A heart-felt speech delivered by Professor Dr. MGK Menon at the meet organised to pay tributes to Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, upon his untimely death in 1966.

"He further said, "Moreover, when nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production, in say a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand." This was his vision of abundant economic  nuclear power, so vital for the development of this country. I would like you to remember that this prophetic sentence was written by one sitting in Bangalore in 1944; this letter was written more than a year before Hiroshima; the work on the atom bomb was being carried out with the greatest secrecy in the West; the only knowledge Homi Bhabha had was that nuclear fission had been discovered."

A visionary in all its manifestations.

A true polyglot, Dr Raja Ramanna was. Technocrat par excellence, he  also acquired the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music. So acclaimed was he that he, a leading Indian Scientist, was invited by pakistan to give piano recitals. Ever gracious that he was, he accepted the invitation & gave a widely appreciated performance. His pursuits in areas of spirituality, philosophy & interest in Sanskrit language has been widely recognised. By no means attracted to merely Academic persuasions, however, he became a Member of Parliament, going on to become a Minister, a worldly person by all metrics.

"It is indeed a remarkable fact of history that Homi Bhabha, the Father of the Atomic Energy Programme of India, during one of his trips to London in 1947, had spotted and identified this young 23-year-old who had already obtained a PhD from the London University, as one of the promising and potential leaders of the Atomic Energy Programme that was just beginning to take shape"

It was, therefore, only natural that he be asked to head the the multi-disciplinary National Institute of Advanced Studies [NIAS], at the time of its inception.

Interesting anecdote, yet again reminding one of the immense challenges faced in those days, through which they continued to marshal on.

"One saving grace was that there was plenty of discarded electronic components - valves, resistors, condensers, oscilloscopic tubes, etc. left by the US and UK military services - which had all been brought to India during the Second World War period. These had been cornered by some of the enterprising Chor Bazar dealers at the Mohammedali Road, Bombay. Ramanna and I, along with some of our colleagues, used to venture into these areas in search of our needs. In those days, these were forbidden zones in Bombay because of communal disturbances and one did take a risk in going there. With these disposal equipments we built our amplifiers, scalers, pulse generators, and triggered oscilloscopes for our work in the advanced fields of research. I remember that some of the leading scientists of the time, who had come for the first ever International Conference in Elementary Particles organized by Bhabha at the Yacht Club building in December 1950, were amazed at the high quality of research that had been started in experimental physics in these frontier areas"

The stewardship of India's vast, varied & ambitious nuclear programme rest in the hands of the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission [AEC]. Thus to fulfil the responsibilities of this role, one not only has to be a Scientist of the highest order, but also an effective man manager, knowing ones way through the labyrinth of politics & bureaucracy that have come to epitomise the sate of affairs in the country, to achieve goals & get ones way. The essays, about each AEC Chairman, below, have been written by some about whom someday such an essay might be written.


Also Read: KALI - Towards India's Future Directed-Energy Weapon System