Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha was a visionary and a man of multiple interests with science as the driving force. While his role as the man who put India on the path of atomic energy is widely known, his contribution to the growth of electronics is little known. Homi Bhabha and the Computer Revolution, edited by RK Shyamsundar and MA Pai brings out the initiatives Bhabha took at the TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) that eventually led to the framing of the first, indigenous computer in India. It was named by then Prime Minister JL Nehru as TIFRAC (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Automatic Calculator).
Bhabha had good contacts with scientists world over, working in various universities. In fact, that is how he first came to know about the computer being designed by John von Neuman in the Princeton University. He put his contacts to good use for the national cause. He invited international scholars for lectures and short tenures in TIFR, which immensely benefitted the scientists here.
“The electronics production unit that started in TIFR became the nucleus of the large corporation known as the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd at Hyderabad. Bhabha also initiated a plan for semi-conductor manufacturing in Punjab. Unfortunately, after Bhabha’s death this activity did not take off,” say the editors in the introduction.
The book is a compilation of articles and essays by eminent personalities in the field of IT and some who were associated with Bhabha in the formative years of TIFR. It is an attempt to trace the growth of information technology, beginning with the sowing of the first tentative seeds. The credit goes to Bhabha for foreseeing the future of the sector as essential to the development of the nation.
Talking about the setting up of the Electronics Instrumentation Group of TIFR PVS Rao says “Tata Institute of Fundamental Research group had access to minimal information about the Ordnance Discrete Variable Automatic Computer (ORDVAC) designed at the University of Illinois. However the information was sketchy and fragmentary… Lack of information forced the TIFR design group to do most of their design independently, ab initio and in vacuo rather than copy from other computers.”
Nehru was keenly following the developments, not only because he was interested in the development of science but also because Bhabha kept him informed at every stage. The first Electronics Committee in India was set up under the chairmanship of Bhabha in 1963. “It submitted a series of interim reports, almost twenty-one in number, from February 1964 to September 1965. These were all put together and consolidated in the final report” says Prof MGK Menon. He was also a personal friend of Bhabha.
Contributions to the volume have come from scientists, industry leaders and technocrats. They include: PVS Rao, S Ramani, SR Vijayekar-YS Mayya, N Seshagiri, V Rajaraman, MGK Menon, Sam Pitroda, MV Pitke, NR Narayana Murthy, S Ramadorai, FC Kohli, Nandan Nilkeni, UR Rao, H Peter Hofste, RK Shyamsundar and A Paulraj.
Ratan Tata has written the foreword to the book, in which he says “He (Bhabha) was among the early ones to recognise that electronics was one of the most vital and essential branches of modern technology that India needed to master if it was to become self-reliant.” The book is dedicated to R Narasimhan “the doyen of Indian computer science.”
The Department of Electronics, the C-DOT and several subsequent developments in the area of electronics and IT spawned off from the early efforts at TIFR and the much needed direction Bhabha gave. He selected appropriate people and sent them abroad for specific training so that they may come back and help set up indigenous and self-reliant facilities. Self-reliance in fact was one of the core principles of Bhabha’s scientific endeavours. This book is a tribute to the farsightedness of Bhabha and his commitment to scientific progress in India. A book that should be read by students, teachers and the people involved in the electronics area in India, for it tells the story from the beginning. It has several rare photographs secured from various sources.
(Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi—110 001)