Aspiring polymath since 1982

The Indian Trinity

A few weeks back I got my hands on a book that shook my perspective on how engaging non-fiction could be. That book happened to be Richard Rhodes‘ “Making of the Atomic Bomb“. A 900-odd page look into the genesis of the idea of the bomb and its actual birth in the parched womb of New Mexico as Trinity, the first atomic bomb to ever be set off on the face of the planet. Its a fascinating look also into the lives of the bombs’ midwives, from Teller, Oppenheimer, Szilard, and a host of others.

I have always been a fan of the genre called “historical reimagined fiction”, a genre that blurs the line between fiction and reality to an extent where you start accepting the author’s account of historical events and narratives. One of my favorite authors and series in this genre happens to be Neal Stephenson‘s “The Baroque Cycle” trilogy. Another favorite was Patrick O’Brian‘s “Master and Commander” series, starting from the eponymous book to the final one in the series.

To actually then read a work like “Making of the Atomic Bomb”, where you know that there is no line to be blurred, that what is actually being narrated is reality, transcribed and collated from thousands of hours of interviews and research, is to take a look into the mind of genius. I also happen to have Richard Rhodes’ book on writing called, well, “How To Write“, where he mentions taking five years to pen this work. If you were to take a look at the bibliography at the end of the book, you would have a pretty good picture of where those five years went.

I am yet to come across any work taking the erudition and detail present in Richard Rhodes’ work to the subject of the Indian nuclear-military-space complex. As an Indian, its a fascinating topic which few people have ever explored, in terms of matter for books as well as for personal exploration. For a newly-independent nation to develop a competent nuclear power and associated research sector, create a whole military complex based on the principle of self-sufficiency, and also setup a space research organization that is one of the cheapest space launch providers out there, is a laudable feat.

So where are the books then? Now, I’m aware that there are biographies/hagiographies of the people who fathered and sustained these complexes, people like Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, APJ Abdul Kalam, MGK Menon and others. There obviously is a reason that most people have not read any of these (excepting numerous ones on Kalam that must have got publicity during his stint as President). Some reasons that come to mind are poor or dry writing, little or no publicity, and little or no availability.

I’ve gone ferreting around in some of the biggest bookstores in India but have yet to come across any book on this topic. There are one or two writen by foreign authors though but available only through Amazon. It’s sad that some of the most inventive and self-sufficient stories to come out of Independent India are out of sight and out of mind of the Indian public because there aren’t authors talented or interested enough to take this chapter in our nation’s history and convert into a compelling narrative that would interest readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Of course, a criticism that most people would aim at me for shortlisting Indian achievements in the nuclear, space and military sciences is that it totally neglects the work done by our agricultural scientists such as MS Swaminathan and supporters like C Subramaniam. What of the achievements of Indian scientists in radio astronomy, neutrino detection and other esoteric fields? In my defence, all I can say is that these are the three areas that I’ve followed closely and am most able to say something about which won’t be moronic. It’s times like these when I really wish I had the gift and more importantly the patience required to write.


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