By Vaidehi Nathan
Raja Ramanna was one of those rare breed of scientists who had more than the academic degrees to decorate him. He was a great team leader, an understanding colleague, a loving man, an accomplished pianist and an able administrator. His chance meeting with Dr Homi Bhabha in Bangalore in the early forties, where the latter had gone for his annual vacation, led to a long and close friendship, an academic association and a shared dream of seeing India a nuclear power-both for peaceful uses and as a deterrent.
In wanting to make a nuclear-capable State, he was close to the ideology of Organiser. We have always believed that the nation needs nuclear power in its arsenal. It would strengthen India'sdesire for peace with neighbours, we have advocated. Ramanna had said that the scientists of his generation had all been nationalistic in their outlook as they were products of a national movement for Independence and wanted to prove to the world the might of India. An absolute sense of security was essential for the development and progress of the nation, he said.
Physics and piano were Ramanna'sco-equal first love. He had won a scholarship to go to London, to continue his piano learning at the Trinity College of Music. The financial aid promised by the Maharajah of Mysore was denied by his successor. So that settled the matters for him. Physics it would be.
Born in Tumkur in Karnataka in on January 28, 1925, Ramanna did his B.Sc Physics honours from Madras Christian College, Tambaram (in Chennai) and went to London for his doctorate on a Tata scholarship. He joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre was then called), as part of the early team of Homi Bhabha. Ramanna believed that independent India'sgrowth, progress and development very much depended on meeting the energy needs. For this he said the safest and cheapest way would be the atomic energy.
In an interview in 1997 to this writer, Ramanna had regretted the fact that the funding for atomic energy had come down since the early 90s. He thought the then government under Narasimha Rao was to be blamed the most as it was a moment in India'satomic energy when it needed all the support it could get from the government.
Ramanna is today remembered and hailed most popularly for the first nuclear test conducted by India at Pokhran in May 1974. His coded message to the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi: ?The Buddha is smiling? is quoted very often.
Several honours have been conferred on Ramanna. His autobiography Years of Pilgrimage is a document on contemporary history of science. He has authored a book on the comparative structures and styles of Western and Carnatic music. He was well-versed in both. Ramanna always remained a simple man. In 1969 when the three American astronauts who had first landed in moon Ramanna went by the streets in Bombay, he joined the crowds in the streets to have a glimpse of them.
He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters. On his death, one of his daughters said, ?I?d miss his piano sessions.?