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Atomic Superheroes and 'Item Bombs'

Smeeta Mishra

By Raminder Kaur
Routledge, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 304, Rs. 895.00


Raminder Kaur’s book primarily traces the history of nuclear power in India from 1945 which was marked by the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until 2008 when India signed a treaty with the United States for increased nuclear cooperation. The author performs this majestic feat by steering away from a security and policy studies framework and adopting a cultural studies perspective instead, while using a combination of archival, ethnographic and textual analysis methods for her research.   As the title of the book suggests, the author focuses on a lesser known aspect of Mumbai—its atomic history and culture. Few know that Mumbai is a city of ‘firsts’ in the field of nuclear industry. The country’s first ever school of nuclear research, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, is located in Mumbai. The Department of Atomic Energy is also located in the Maximum City. Headquartered in Mumbai, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, reports to this department and manages several nuclear reactors located in various parts of the country. Furthermore, Mumbai is also home to the country’s largest nuclear research centre in the country, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, named after the pioneer of nuclear science in India, Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, a resident of this city. Home to thousands of nuclear scientists and experts, Mumbai belongs as much to them as it does to Bolly-wood.   The second half of the book title, ‘Living with the Radiance of a Thousand Suns,’ is taken from American physicist Julius Robert Oppenheimer’s quote from the Bhagavad Gita which he used to describe the first nuclear test in 1945: ‘If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One…’ Like others before her, Kaur questions Oppenheimer’s use of verses from the Gita to justify the launching of the atom bomb in 1945 by portraying it as the performance of one’s duty. She is also critical of the way excerpts from the epic poem are used by politicians today to justify acquisition of nuclear weapons.   Kaur traces the change in Indian public opinion on the atom bomb by analysing opinion pieces published in Mumbai-based print media. She focuses on the two years between the launch of the atom bomb in August 1945 when many Indians were shocked by the devastation caused by atomic power and the attainment ...

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