Excerpts from the book ‘Ignited Minds‘ Written By A.P.J. Abdul Kalamji


Sir C.V. Raman started his career in the Office of the Accountant General, Calcutta. But the scientist in him would not let him rest and he was always probing for answers to some of the problems that interested him. Fortunately, he was supported by the great educationist Ashutosh Mukherjee, who encouraged Sir C.V. Raman to pursue his research. It is noteworthy that the Raman Effect, the discovery of which brought him the Nobel Prize, did not come out of a grand establishment set up at vast expense. I believe the urge to show to the world the excellence of Indian minds would have been a major motivating factor for Sir C.V. Raman. The same is the case with Prof. S. Chandrasekhar, also a Nobel laureate for his work on black holes. There are some interesting statements in his biography Chandra by Kameshwar C. Wali. As it points out, ‘Chandra grew up in what was a golden age for science, art and literature in India, spurred on partly by the struggle for independence. J.C. Bose, C.V. Raman, Meghnad Saha, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Rabindranath Tagore, by their achievements in scientific and creative endeavours, became national heroes along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and a host of others …’ Possibly, their great success helped produce an atmosphere of creativity. Howsoever it may be, it is worth noting, as Chandrasekhar observed, ‘that in the modern era before 1910, there were no (Indian) scientists of international reputation or standing. Between 1920 and 1925, we had suddenly five or six internationally well-known men. I myself have associated this remarkable phenomenon with the need for self-expression, which became a dominant motive among the young during the national movement. It was a part of the national movement to assert oneself. India was a subject country, but … particularly in science, we could show the West in their own realm that we were equal to them’. 


Here I would like to quote Sir C.V. Raman, who said in 1969 while addressing young graduates, ‘I would like to tell the young men and women before me not to lose hope and courage. Success can only come to you by courageous devotion to the task lying in front of you. I can assert without fear of contradiction that the quality of the Indian mind is equal to the quality of any Teutonic, Nordic or Anglo-Saxon mind. What we lack is perhaps courage, what we lack is perhaps driving force, which takes one anywhere. We have, I think, developed an inferiority complex. I think what is needed in India today is the destruction of that defeatist spirit. We need a spirit of victory, a spirit that will carry us to our rightful place under the sun, a spirit which can recognize that we, as inheritors of a proud civilization, are entitled to our rightful place on this planet. If that indomitable spirit were to arise nothing can hold us from achieving our rightful destiny.’ 


Further afield, there was similarly the emergence of others who were great in their respective fields. Interestingly, a music trinity of great saints, Thiagaraja Swamigal, Muthuswamy Deekshidar and Shyama Sastrigal, also emerged at the same time in south India within a 50-km radius. What we should note is that the movement for independence generated the best of leaders in arts, science, technology, economics, history and literature who stand with the best 


in the world. In more recent times too we have seen the emergence of great visionary scientists. Particularly, I was interested in the lives of three scientists–Dr D.S. Kothari, Dr Homi J. Bhabha and Dr Vikram Sarabhai. I wanted to learn more about their leadership qualities in the scientific and technological fields which helped link these to the development of the nation. They are the founders of three great institutions–DRDO, DAE, ISRO. 


Dr D.S. Kothari, a professor at Delhi University, was an outstanding physicist and astrophysicist. He is well known for ionization of matter by pressure in cold compact objects like planets. This theory is complementary to the epoch-making theory of thermal ionization of his guru, Dr Meghnad Saha. Dr D.S. Kothari set a scientific tradition in Indian defence tasks when he became Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister in 1948. The first thing he did was to establish the Defence Science Centre to do research in electronic materials, nuclear medicine and ballistic science. He is considered the architect of defence science in India. We are celebrating this great mind through a research chair at the Indian Institute of Science. 


Dr Bhabha did research in theoretical physics at Cambridge University. From 1930 to 1939, Homi Bhabha carried out research relating to cosmic radiation. In 1939, he joined Sir C.V. Raman at IISc, Bangalore. Later, he founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research with focus on nuclear and mathematical sciences. He established the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. His vision led to the setting up of numerous centres in the field of nuclear science and technology, such as those for producing nuclear power, or for research in nuclear medicine. These science institutions generated further technological centres keeping nuclear science as the vital component. 


Dr Sarabhai, the youngest of the three, had worked with Sir C.V. Raman in experimental cosmic rays. He established the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad with space research as the focus. In 1963, Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) began launching sounding rockets for atmospheric research. Dr Sarabhai established the Space Science & Technology Centre (SSTC) and was its director. His vision led to the establishment of ISRO with its allied centres responsible for development of launch vehicles, satellites, mission management and applications. 


These three Indian scientists, all of them physicists, started physics research institutions that blossomed into defence technology, nuclear technology and space technology, which now employ 20,000 scientists in centres spread around the country. One thing I noted was that all three realized the importance of making the political leadership understand what science could do for the country.