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January 15, 2006
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January 15, 2006




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Home > 2006 Issues > January 15, 2006

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The father of Indian nuclear bomb

By M.V. Kamath

Homi Jehangir Bhabha; Chintamani Deshmukh; National Book Trust, Delhi; pp 135; Rs 60.00M

A country which has only distant memories of a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi can hardly be expected to know or remember a man called Homi Jehangir Bhabha. And yet this was the man who laid the foundation of nuclear development in India and but for his early initiative-and the full and unqualified support he received from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru-India would undoubtedly remain backward in the nuclear field. He was born on October 20, 1909 in Mumbai and died, sad as it sounds, in a plane crash over Mont Blane in Switzerland on January 24, 1966 when he was not yet sixty. What he might have achieved had he lived a normal life is anybody?s guess. It was he who founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. That was in 1945 when he was just 36 years old. It was he who started the concept of nuclear use for civilian purposes with great foresight.

Such was his status in international circles that he had been elected president of the First International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, way back in 1955. He was a man constantly on the go. Within a brief period of two decades-between 1933 and 1954-he had got published 64 research papers, which was no mean achievement. It was a measure of his boundless talent that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1941 when he was barely 32. His energy was boundless; whatever he touched, he turned into gold. Unsought honours came easily to him.

Opinions may differ about the appropriateness of the direction that Science and Technology has taken in India, but as the author of this all-too-brief biography avers-and quite rightly, too-that ?the achievements of India in fields like space technology and nuclear energy, leading to indigenous development of rockets and satellites, and a number of nuclear power stations and the Pokharan-II explosions, firmly belong to Bhabha?s legacy?. Bruly said. He was a pioneer in all these fields.

Actually, as the author has correctly noted, the successful building up of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) as a centre of excellence in fundamental research in physics and mathematics was achievement enough for Bhabha to earn a permanent place in Indian science institutionalisation. He dared to venture where few were unafraid to walk in. He was not just a scientist; he was a man of vision, an organiser par excellence, a builder of institutions, a diplomat with tremendous clout in the right quarters, and above all a great patriot who went on to set up a network of bright young Indian scientists. One does not know whether he had any premonition of an early death but way back in 1934 when he was just about 25 years old, he wrote: ?Since I cannot increase the content of life by increasing its duration, I will increase it by increasing its intensity-Art, music, poetry and everything else that I do have this one purpose-increasing the intensity of my consciousness and life?. In that, indeed, he certainly succeeded, much more than he probably himself realised. It is a crying shame that this such a short biography should remain unrecognised. Certainly Homi Bhabha deserves much better. Called for is a fuller study of this man and his times.




Yusuf Meherally; Quest for New Horizons; Madhu Dandavate; National Book Trust, Delhi; pp 148; Rs 35.00

Yusuf Meherally?s contribution to India is in a different field: politics. Like Homi Bhabha, Yusuf Meherally, too, passed away at too young an age. Born on September 23, 1903, he died in the early hours of July 2, 1950 at the age of 47. One wonders how politics in post-Independent India would have been had Yusuf Meherally lived a full life. He was a founder-member of the Socialist Party; his role in the freedom movement before independence was of sterling quality. It was he who, anticipating the political vacuum in the Quit India Movement in 1942 when the front-lime leadership from Mahatma Gandhi downwards was behind bars, organised secret groups in a number of states to carry forward the underground struggle against the British. When Meherally passed away, no less than Jayaprakash Narayan was to say that to him ?Yusuf Meherally?s dedicated life will ever remain an expression only next to Gandhiji?s? and no greater tribute could have been given to him.

Meherally came of age during the transition from the Tilak Era to the Gandhian Epoch. When Gandhiji started his Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920, Yusuf was barely eleven. Like Wordsworth he could well have said that bliss was it that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Meherally had become politically active right from a young age. He was there at Mumbai?s Mole station by the sea when the Simon Commission landed, to express his resentment against it. When the youths whom he was leading were assaulted by a British police seargent, Meherally had the courage to sue the officer for making an unprovoked lathi charge on his followers. The fact that he won his case reflects his courage as well as his sense of purpose and dedication. That was just the beginning. He was in the forefront of every freedom struggle and inevitably paid an early penalty of getting arrested and jailed. It was in the Nasik Central Jail that the idea of forming the Congress Socialist Party was conceived and Meherally was to play no small role in its formative period. As Dandavate notes, Meherally was ?the most vocal and radical spokesman of the Congress Socialist Party?s unequivocal view that the fake constitution offered by the Britishers should never be accepted but should be wrecked....? As a dedicated socialist, Meherally had utter distaste for communalism but through his socialist vision he could explore the economic roots of communal conflicts in India as he showed with such refreshing candour at the Bengal Congress Socialist Conference held in Calcutta in October 1936. Meherally?s dedication to socialism was complete. There was no issue of national significance that escaped his attention. Aggressive in his faith he would organise study camps for CSP workers to apprise them of socialist principles as were applicable to Indian circumstances. But his spirit of friendship and camaraderie invariably transcended political affiliation and party loyalties. As Dandavate notes, he cared for people. That Dandavate who has written this short but charming biography himself passed away only recently is sad. We won?t see the likes of these people again. Meharally belongs to another day and age where politics was based on principle and not on violence. Some of the richest tributes were paid to his memory when he passed away. Like many others Meherally deserves to be known better. To Indian youth he will always remain a model.




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