Wednesday, April 19, 2017




( Dr  Vikram Sarabhai )

                          ( Dr Vikram Sarabhai ,  wife Mrinalini and Daughter  Malika  )

              ( Dr Vikram Sarabhai ,with  son Kartikeya and Daughter  Malika  )

VIKRAM SARABHAI ( 1919-1971) ......

Sarabhais are Jains from Gujrat .

Son of Seth Amba Lal Sarabhai a reputed industrialist and businessman ( Sarabhai Chemicals And Calico Mils ) from Ahmedabad, Vikram Sarabhai ( 1919-1971) was an unusual personality . He was a businessman , Sanskrit scholar , ace photographer , a top space/ stomic energy scientist , a lover of fine arts ( poetry , music and dance) , a bird watcher and wild life enthusiast . The most remarkable aspect of Sarabhai's personality was the range and breadth of his interests and the way in which he transformed his ideas into institutions. 

Any person who came close to him was always charmed by his personality . Many people have noticed him coming to the door to receive his guests and then seeing them off at the door . He would personally get up to offer chair to his visitor whosoever he may be.
Mahatma Gandhi , Gurudev Rabindranath, J Krishnamurti, Motilal Nehru, V. S. Shrinivasa Shastri, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad, C. F. Andrews, C. V. Raman and so many renowned men used to stay with the Sarabhai family when they visited Ahmedabad. Visits by such great men shaped and greatly influenced young Vikram Sarabhai. The whole family of Vikram Sarabhai was involved in the  freedom struggle of the country and he himself was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

Amrita Shah, in her book “ Vikram Sarabhai - A life' writes 

“Since his childhood days he had a great enamour for Sanskrit poems and in his entire life he was a devout lover of this ancient Indian language. Thus, frequently quoting from Kalidasa’s ‘Meghadootam’ and ‘Vikramorvasiyam’ in all his speeches and interactions.”

After the sudden death of Homi Bhabha in an air crash, Vikram Sarabhai was appointed Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission in May 1966. He initiated India’s space programme, which today is well-known the world  over . He is the brain behind setting up of IIM Ahemdabad . He founded the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad and ISRO. Along with his wife Mrinalini, he established Darpana, an institution devoted to the performing arts.

About Vikram Sarabhai , Dr A P j Abdul Kalam writes this  :-

“ I was spotted by Prof. Vikram Sarabhai because I was not highly qualified, but I was working hard, I had acquired the knowledge at the time, when he spotted me as a young scientist. Not only  did he select  me when I was in the lower bottom, but he gave me responsibility to grow and ensured that I succeed and if I failed, he was by my side.”
Sarabhais were lovers of Kashmir . Vikram and his sister in particular were exceptionally enamoured by Kashmir . Sarabhai family would come to Kashmir every summer. Vikram would carry his "Cosmic Ray" research equipment to Kashmir. In 1943, Vikram stayed in Kashmir for many months and visited many Himalayan peaks to study the intensity of cosmic rays at such high places. He stayed at Apharwat ,Gulmarg (about 13,000 feet above sea level ) for some months . It was here, that Sarabhai did his research for his Ph.D. thesis that was awarded to him in 1945by Cambridge University.He loved to wear Kurta - Pyjama and Sherwanis. He also loved to explain stories from Panchtantra , Ramayana and  Mahabharata to his children. He remained  a strict vegetarian and a  practising Jain all along his life.

To his sister Mridula , Vikram had told  that he wanted to do something for Kashmir to repay his debt . A debt that enabled him to complete his Ph.D. This "SOMETHING" took shape when he set up the first High Altitude Laboratory at Gulmarg in 1955. This centre is the only research centre ' in the world to be set up at such a high altitude.

In 1942, Vikram married famous classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai . Born into the renowned Swaminathan family of Chennai with roots in Kerala, Mrinalini was an exponent of classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. She was also awarded Padma+Shri and Padma Bhushan for her work. .She had studied under the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan.

Vikram Sarabhai received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal in 1962. The nation honoured him awarding Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972.

His sister Mridula Sarabhai ( 1911-1974 ) was a great freedom fighter and supporter of Gandhi Ji. Mridula later turned a supporter of her long time friend Sheikh Mohsmmad Abdullah. She had raised her voice over Sheikh’s arrest in 1953 . She is reported to have even funded Sheikh Abdullah’s expenses for fighting Kashmir Conspiracy Case ,a step for which , she was imprisoned for several months .
I vividly remember Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah accompanied by Mridula Sarabhai touring Doda district in 1970. A rally was organised at village Thathri wherein Mridula Sarabhai also spoke and expressed total support to Sheikh and his policies .My maternal uncle Janki Tikoo ( presently in Australia ) was then posted as Assistant Engineer at that place and I along with my cousin Arun Kaul ( GM Hotel Radisson ,Jalandhar ) had gone to our Matamaal ( mother’s parental home ) on account of winter vacation in the Kashmir valley. Those days SRTC ran two direct buses to Doda district from Kashmir ; One for Bhaderwah and the other for Kishtwar .

Ram Krishen Sadhu retired senior  bureaucrat from our state  adds :

“  I am reminded about that famous and great lady Mridula Sarabhai about whom we had been hearing a lot with her past association with Nehru and then her close comradeship with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. I had an opportunity to meet her a couple of times in early and mid 70s  of the last century  at her Chankyapuri house. I had to accompany the Finance Minister to attend FMs Conference in Delhi but FM had to cancel his visit and Mubarak Shah the Revenue Minister who was in Delhi was asked to attend and I went to the Sarabhai house where he was staying to brief him about the agenda and our viewpoints. After I concluded the briefing session during which Mridula happened to be there, she insisted that I have my breakfast with her. Since I already had my breakfast at the JK House, I had to refuse. But her affectionate insistence made me accept a cup of tea. During our conversation I could feel the depth of her concern for Kashmir and Kashmiris. During my couple of visits I could observe her pleasure in offering hospitality and help to all Kashmiris. I saw many Kashmiri youngsters frequenting her place for support and help. She told me that if at anytime I needed help and support for any of my relations and acquaintances in Delhi, she was always available. Interestingly ,she told me she would be happy to be the guardian for any youngster.Coming to Vikram Sarabhai, he has undoubtedly been one of the outstanding scientists our country has produced but unfortunately his life was suddenly cut short at a young age. My nephew (my eldest sister's son) Dr Prediman Krishen Kaw who is a renowned physicist and has always till date been considered globally to be number one in Plasma Physics was first located by Dr Vikram  Sarabhai  at a very young age when he was a  faculty at the University of Princeton. He persuaded him to come back to India and conceded to his condition that he would be provided all facilities and freedom to continue with his research work. Dr Kaw has received many honours at the National and International level, including Padma-Shri and the Hargobind Khurana award  and other coveted awards. He continues his research work till now at the Institute of Plasma Physics Ahmedabad, is a visiting professor in leading Universities of USA and Europe and heads many global committees and conferences. Vikram Sarabhai had an eye for talent and wanted India to become the hub for all such research. Death snatched him away prematurely.”

Vikram Sarabhai had many friends and well wishers in Kashmir . These included Maharaja Hari Singh and his son Yuvraj karan Singh , bird watcher Samsar Chand Kaul Ganhar, G M Sadiq and artist S N Butt .  

On 31st December 1971 , he died ( at Kovalam ) suddenly when he was barely at 52 . Amrita Shah, in her book “ Vikram Sarabhai - A life' mentions about some international murmurs of “ foul play” in Vikram’s death. 

And again , Kamla Chaudhary, a close associate of Vikram Sarabhai at IIM-Ahemdabad is quoted saying, "Vikram had told me that he was being watched by both Americans and Russians."

Isn't this doyen of Indian science, who led the country's nuclear research and also fathered the Indian Space research program , one of the most eligible contenders for the Bharat Ratna ?

( Avtar Mota )

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