From being a colony of whites which could hardly read and write to being a nation which speaks the language of science and technology the most affluent in the world, India’s space program has come a long long way. While there are a number of names to be credited for, Vikram Sarabhai will always be remembered for being the architect of Indian Space Program.
Born to Ahmedabad’s affluential industrialist The Sarabhai’s in Agust 1919, Vikram got his early education in a private school “Retreat”, known to have ignited the scientific curiosity in his young mind. This was followed by a tryst at Cambridge where he took the tripods degree from St. John’s college in 1940.
It was the Second World War when Vikram returned India to work as a research scholar under renowned scientist CV Raman. After a research on cosmic ray, he took a flight back to Cambridge in 1945 to pursue a doctorate where wrote a thesis, “Cosmic Ray Investigations in Tropical Latitudes,” in 1947.
On his return, he founded the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmadabad which has evolved into a major research lab concerned with five major fields of Science. In fact, in the same year, he founded the Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association too. Pertaining to his interest in industry, business and development issues, Vikram Sarabhai later became instrumental in launching the premier management school of today- the IIM- Ahmedabad in 1962.
However, many reports suggest it was his love affair with his protege Kamla Chowdhary.
“To keep Kamla in Ahmedabad, Vikram successfully lobbied the Indian government. Matters were so arranged that the original collaborator for the Ahmedabad institute, University of California, withdrew its offer and was replaced by Harvard Business School. Vikram became IIM’s first director. Although officially Kamla was the research director, Vikram never took a major decision in the running of IIM affairs without consulting her,” says one of his memoirs, ‘A book of memory’. ” says a report at TOI.
However, his biggest achievement lies in Indian Space Program.
This is what he said to convince the Indian government for the establishment of ISP:
“There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”
The man behind India’s nuclear science, Homi Bhabha, helped Vikram to Sarabhai in setting up the first rocket launching station in India.Establishing theIndian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in 1962, Sarabhai also set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in southern India. In 1966, Sarabhai was appointed chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India followed by death of Homi Bhabha.
This was eventually followed by the historical moment of putting Aryabhatta in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.
While Vikram Sarabhai’s immense contribution to Science and other diversified fields, including dance and performing arts, are innumerable, his death till date is a matter of curiosity.
Although it was said that death came to Vikram Sarabhai in a quiet room of his favourite resort on Kovalam beach, there were allegations that there could have been a foul play by foreign entities. Kamla Chaudhary, a close associate of Vikrambhai at IIM-A is quoted saying, “Vikram had told me that he was being watched by both Americans and Russians.” The Sarabai family, however, refused to go with postmortem, and henceforth the possibility for an answer died with his cremation on 30 December 1971.