When historian Indira Chowdhury started working on setting up the archives at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 2004, the archivist decided a book on its founder Homi Jehangir Bhabha was imminent.
On Tuesday, the book, A Masterful Spirit — Homi J Bhabha 1909-1906 written by Chowdhury and Ananya Dasgupta, was released by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam during the institute’s Foundation Day celebration.
“The book is not a biography. It’s an archival book,” said Chowdhury, founder of the Archival Resources for Contemporary History at Bangalore.
“When I came across Bhabha’s various letters and correspondences, I found them very exciting. I was fascinated by this figure who was a renaissance man.”
Priced at Rs 1,299, the 260-page book traces the scientist’s life and carries photographs of him with world-renowned scientists such as Einstein along with letters and paintings by him. Apart from interviews with scientists and administrators, the book also includes voices of gardeners who interacted with Bhabha and witnessed the beginning of the institute.
“For me, bringing the book together helped reach some understanding of what institution building of a certain kind involved,” said Chowdhury, adding that the book is not all flattering.
“He (Bhabha) was very complex, not someone to be put on a pedestal. He too was a human with flaws. For instance, a common complaint against him was him being late for meetings.”
Not meant solely for the scientific community, the book also has unpublished material.
It has an interview with artist M.F. Husain. “His (Bhabha’s) drawings were almost like those of Leonardo Da Vinci,” says Husain in the book, adding that Bhabha always carried a painting kit wherever he travelled for international conferences.
The recommendations nominating Bhabha five times for the Nobel Prize in Physics are also included in the book.
“We just had the impulse to share the archives with the world,” summed up Chowdhury.
(Indira Chowdhury will have a special reading of A Masterful Spirit — Homi J Bhabha 1909-1906 at Crossword, Kemps Corner, on June 2 at 7pm)