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A Life Well Lived

Raminder Kaur

By Indira Chowdhury and Ananya Dasgupta
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2011, pp. 260, Rs. 1299.00


Adorned with archival and visual material, A Masterful Spirit contains hitherto unseen gems related to the life of Indias premier nuclear scientist, Homi Jehangir Bhabha. The authors, Indira Chowdhury and Ananya Dasgupta, have meticulously ploughed through the archives, including the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR), the estate of Dr. J.J. Bhabha and the National Centre for Performing Arts, material from Cambridge where Bhabha studied, alongside other archives in India and abroad. Interviews with people who either knew him or had encountered him whilst working at TIFR further corroborate Bhabhas almost revered standing in India. Not only was he a distinguished scientist, but also a proficient artist and administrator. As is often proposed, without Bhabha ability, tenacity and his close contact with statesman Jawaharlal Nehru, TIFR, Indias premier centre for experimental nuclear physics, theoretical physics, cosmic rays and mathematics, might never have seen the light of day. But this claim needs to be seen in light of the postcolonial governments generous support for scientific enterprise as a means with which to modernize the nation, whereby several scientific institutions have developed and prospered in India.   Divided into ten parts, the book spans Bhabhas early life, his time at Cambridge, his liaisons with prominent industrialists and politicians, his instrumental part in the building of the atomic industries in India, his love of art, music and gardening, to obituaries on his early death in a Viennabound plane crash in January 1966. Letters to and from international luminaries such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, and Neils Bohr pepper the volume. The book also pays tribute to Bhabhas artistic skills including his sketches, paintings and even doodles of Oppenheimer, Bohr, Schroedinger, Dirac and Pauli whilst they were at a conference in Brussels in 1948 (p. 216). The close communion Bhabha had with these men is a reminder of the revolutionary period in science in which Bhabha grew up, located in Cambridge in the 1920s and 1930s which was then a mecca for exciting and perhaps ominous developments in view of the destructive destiny of nuclear fission experiments during World War II.   The drama of global turmoil and uncertainties in the 1940s is hinted at by Bhabhas reference to Bohrs escape from Copenhagen, being a half Jew (p. 74). However, we do not get any further indications as to what extent Bhabha was aware of the recruitment of physicists for the war effort to ...

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