Vikram Sarabhai (1919-71), the renaissance man of Indian science, thought up the impossible and often made it happen. Founder of India's space programme (ISRO), Vikram dreamed of communication satellites that would educate people at a time when even a modest rocket programme seemed daring; of huge agricultural complexes serviced by atomic power and desalinated sea water. He envisioned research technology that would free Indian industry from foreign dependence, and of a world-class management college that would train managers for the public sector. Between 1947 and 1971, he built a thriving pharmaceutical business, conducted research into cosmic rays, headed the Atomic Energy Commission; set up India's first textile research cooperative, ATIRA, the first market research organization, ORG, the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and the dance academy Darpana. Handsome, charismatic, married to pioneering classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai and closely associated with the most influential figures of his time—everyone from C.V. Raman and Jawaharlal Nehru to Bruno Rossi, Louis Kahn and John Rockefeller III—Vikram led what seemed like a charmed existence. Yet, his personal life was troubled and his strong resistance to India's move towards a nuclear explosion in the late 1960s put him at odds with powerful lobbies and fellow technologists.
In this vivid and intimate account, Amrita Shah delves into the life and mind of a fascinating, complex individual, a multifaceted genius who died young, but whose vision still drives India's ambitious space programme—and continues to inspire India today.