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Homi Jehangir Bhabha

  • Homi Jehangir Bhabha was a world class scientist, institution builder, an artist and art connoisseur. His vision for growth of science and art has had significant impact in post-colonial India.
  • Homi
  • Jehangir
  • Bhabha
  • Homi Bhabha

  • 30-10-1909
  • Mumbai (IN)
  • 24-01-1966
  • Montblanc (FR)
  • ScientistCollectorArtist
  • Homi Jehangir Bhabha was a world class scientist, institution builder, an artist and art connoisseur. His vision for growth of science and art has had significant impact in post-colonial India.

    Word Count: 30

  • Homi Bhabha in front of one of his paintings, Photo: Lettice Ramsey, n.d. (Courtesy of Stephen Burch, All Right Reserved).
  • Homi Jehangir Bhabha was a world class scientist, institution builder, an artist and art connoisseur. His vision for growth of science and art has had significant impact in post-colonial India.
    As a scientist, Bhabha did pioneering work in the field of elementary particle physics. As an institution builder, he created two extraordinary institutions: one for fundamental science and the other for atomic energy. While shouldering the country’s nuclear programme, he campaigned internationally for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. And, as an artist and art connoisseur, he patronised modern Indian art and went on to build a critically acclaimed, museum quality collection for his scientific institute.
    Bhabha was born in Bombay to an aristocratic and influential Parsi family. After passing his school leaving examination from the Cathedral and John Connon School, he joined Elphinstone College and later the Royal Institute of Science. By this time, Bhabha was clearly interested in science and in the fundamental laws of nature. However, to fulfil his father’s wishes, he joined the Gonville and Cauis College in Cambridge and enrolled in the Mechanical Tripos. An interest in engineering was never kindled and several arguments later, his father agreed to let him pursue the Mathematics Tripos.
    Bhabha completed his PhD in 1934 under the supervision of R.H. Fowler. While in Cambridge, he worked with innovative physicists like P.A.M. Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr. He wrote a seminal paper, introducing the so-called “Bhabha Scattering” process which is routinely used today to calibrate the beams at large accelerators using positron and other anti-particle beams. His other important contribution was in the field of cosmic ray physics.
    While in Cambridge, Bhabha painted and sketched with enthusiasm and for a while even considered giving up science for the arts. He also attended several Western classical music concerts with his college friend Arnold Cooke, the British composer. It was in Cambridge that Bhabha first met the Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand. After Bhabha’s untimely death, Anand wrote a heartfelt tribute mentioning their close friendship as well as Bhabha’s association with Marg publications. He wrote: “In my humble opinion, the reason why you found the pursuit of truth, and the realization of beauty, so much part of your everyday life, was because you were convinced of the kind of humanism which some of our teachers and older colleagues imparted to us […] there is a common acceptance of the doctrine of worship of man in the thinking of Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Rutherford, Joliot Curie, Linus Pauling, J.D. Bernal, Jawaharlal Nehru and their contemporaries. These men accepted the finest things of the past, rejected what they could not absorb, broke down the national frontiers, class divisions and the orthodoxies, to usher us all into an emergent one world culture in which the unity thought and action has become the method for total achievement.” (Anand 1966, i)
    In 1939 and at the peak of his scientific career, Bhabha came to India on a brief holiday. Soon after that, the Second World War broke out. Bhabha’s return to Cambridge seemed impossible. He joined the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore where he set up his own cosmic ray unit and started work with a small group of students. Here, in June 1945, with initial funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Bhabha set up the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
    In the same year, TIFR moved to Bombay and into Kenilworth, a bungalow owned by Bhabha’s aunt Cooverbai Panday. Bhabha wrote his last published paper in 1954, but he had already made sure that the TIFR was producing excellent research output. Within a few years, the institute had shifted to 35 000 sq. ft. of hired space at the Old Yacht Club near the Gateway of India. It was only in January 1962 that it moved into the new buildings in Colaba.
    At the same time as he was living his dream of building a school of world-class research in India, Bhabha was also setting up the atomic energy programme of the country. Soon after the Atomic Energy Act was passed in 1948, the Atomic Energy Commission began functioning with Bhabha as chairman. He became director of the Atomic Energy Establishment, later renamed Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. While the atomic energy programme in India had taken off successfully, the world was getting increasingly concerned about a repeat of the horrors of Hiroshima. People like Einstein were convinced that nuclear weapons were capable of ending a civilisation. The first Geneva Conference for the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy was held in 1955 with Bhabha as president.
    In 1962, he focused on the Electronics Committee Report, working towards a nation with larger technological capabilities that would ensure national security. He was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Indian Cabinet and became its Chairman in 1964. He also played a key role in setting up of the Indian National Committee for Space Research thereby introducing the Indian space programme.
    Bhabha's role as an art collector and patron should also be highlighted. He was a key member to Bombay’s art world, where he became closely acquainted with many European exiles. The art critic Rudi von Leyden became one of Bhabha’s principal advisors as he built the collection of Indian contemporary art that adorns the walls of the TIFR buildings in Colaba to this day. Von Leyden wrote: “The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research at Colaba is the supreme monument to Bhabha’s vision, to his concept of integration and to his taste. And it was for this institution that he collected over the years one of the finest and the most representative collections of contemporary Indian art. Dr Bhabha felt very strongly that the cerebral activity of the scientist had to find its counterpoint in the activity of the senses, in art.” (Leyden 1968, 18)
    On January 24, 1966, an Air India aircraft, in which Bhabha was on his way to Vienna, crashed into the Mont Blanc. There were no survivors. Homi Bhabha was 56.

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  • Homi Bhabha, working on his painting inspired by the Countess’ Aria Dovo Sono i belli moment' from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro, Photo: Lettice Ramsey, n.d. (Courtesy of Stephen Burch, All Right Reserved).
  • Anand, Mulk Raj. “In Memoriam.” Marg, vol. 19, no. 2, March 1966, p. i−iii.

    Chowdhury, Indira, and Ananya Dasgupta. A Masterful Spirit: Homi J. Bhabha 1909–1966. Penguin Books, 2010.

    Dasgupta, Ananya. “Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the Renaissance Man.” Asia Pacific Mathematics Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 4, October 2011, Accessed 27 April 2021.

    Leyden, R. V. “Dr Homi Bhabha and the World of Art.” Homi Bhabha as Artist; a selection of his paintings, drawings, and sketches, edited by Jamshed Bhabha, Marg Publications, 1968, p. 18.

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  • TIFR Archives, Mumbai.

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  • Ananya Dasgupta
  • 12 Little Gibbs Road, Malabar Hills, Bombay (now Mumbai) (residence).

  • Bombay
  • Ananya Dasgupta. "Homi Jehangir Bhabha." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 15-09-2021.
  • Minnette De Silva

    Probably the first Sri Lankan woman architect and a founding member of Marg, Minnette De Silva mediated between tradition and modernity while defying the boundaries of gender, caste and disciplines.

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    Marg. A Magazine of Architecture and Art

    Local and exiled creatives formed the Modern Architectural Research Group to publish a progressive journal of art and architecture in Bombay from 1946 onwards.

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    Open Studio Evenings by Käthe and Walter Langhammer

    The painter Walter Langhammer and his wife Käthe built an informal infrastructure to promote local avant-garde artists and regularly invited them to Open Studio Evenings at their studio.

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    GalleryFrame Shop

    Chemould’s history stretches from its beginnings as a manufacturer of chemical mouldings and frames in 1941 over to a hub for art circulation displaying a variety of artists in Bombay.

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    University / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute

    The TIFR is one of India’s premier scientific institutions. Inside its buildings, scientists ponder over path-breaking ideas. Also, within its hallowed walls is a fine collection of modern Indian art.

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    Mulk Raj Anand
    WriterPhilosopherArt PatronCultural Critic

    As a global socialist and modernist, Mulk Raj Anand sought and shaped opportunities for intellectual exchanges between Asia and Europe.

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    Rudolf von Leyden
    GeologistAdvertisement SpecialistJournalistArt CriticArt CollectorCartoonist

    The advertisement expert, Rudolf von Leyden, became a major art critic and art historian in Bombay in the 1940s, advocating an urgent need for modernism in art in post-colonial India.

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