Landing in North Pole

When the huge double-decker Aerofloat plane soared into the sky, the morning sunshine was bright. Havana international airport was crowded. Most foreign delegates were saying good-bye, leaving behind unforgettable memories and enthused by the unanimous resolution of Afro-Asian-Latin-American solidarity for building a better world! The first ever tricontinental conference had just ended. The dynamic little country Cuba had played host to over 1,000 delegates. We were 14 members from India with Aruna Asaf Ali as our leader.

Two hours into the Atlantic airspace. Suddenly we heard a crisp announcement from the captain: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to say that we have some problem. One engine has failed. Never mind, I shall take you safe. We have 10 more hours to go. Don’t be afraid; play pingpong.”

Instant sharp glances flew between passengers and cabin crew. Whispers and sighs; some eyes closed; prayers on the lips.

Pingpong, lunch, a couple of movies and a snooze. Suddenly another announcement: “Your captain speaking. We will not be able to land in Moscow. Instead we will land in Mormansk after an hour.”

Surprise visit

An air of relief, mixed with doubt and palpitation of heart could be seen reflected on several faces. Cheerful hostesses began distributing sweets and hot towels. The landing was normal. Then came another shock: “Friends, we have made it safely. However, now this aircraft will not take off again for Moscow. We have to wait for a relief plane. Enjoy some rest in the Eskimoland.”

The huge waiting hall with steel and glass walls. All around nothing but several feet of snow in the gloomy atmosphere. Here and there some eskimo-dogs were pulling sliding carts on snow.

Eight hours passed. In between the sun rose and set after two hours! An unexpected glorious experience of two-hour-day near the North Pole!

The relief plane that came from Moscow comfortably landed us in the afternoon, while another agonising shock was waiting.

“India’s great scientist is no more. Air India plane crashes over the Alps.” Newspaper headlines greeted us in the arrival hall.

Here was one of the great builders of modern India. Dr Homi Bhabha’s death in that plane crash will be felt for ever among the Indian science community and think-tanks. He had a vision and mission for India. Fortunately he was in the company of other contemporary visionaries.

Bangalore had a special relationship with Dr Bhabha. It was at the invitation of Prof C V Raman that Bhabha joined the Indian Institute of Science as Reader in physics. When he felt that the institute was not ‘big enough’ for his future dreams to be materialised, he approached the Tata Trust with a simple appeal: “When nuclear energy has been successfully applied to power production, in a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts, but will find them ready at hand.” And the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research came into being.

The common vision shared by Nehru and Bhabha is there today for everyone to see as India is playing an important role in the development of science as a major source of our progress and prosperity.

‘Atomic energy for peaceful purposes’ was the basic philosophy of Dr Bhabha, for he was deeply committed to human welfare and peace. In 1941 C V Raman had introduced him as a “great lover of music, a gifted artist, a brilliant engineer and an outstanding scientist.” This shows he was a multi-faceted personality whose mission for India was a comprehensive and humanitarian development for all.

As the country will be celebrating Bhabha’s birth centenary, let his memory keep inspiring the budding scientists of India to dedicate themselves for the building of a peaceful, progressive and prosperous society.

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