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19 August 2002 Society outlook's choice

Vikram A. Sarabhai

The term "Renaissance man" may have well been invented for Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai. Space scientist, builder of institutions, industrialist, management expert, educationist, connoisseur of the arts. Student of Nobel laureate C.V. Raman, he founded the Physical Research Laboratory in 1947, which would turn out to be the cradle of India's space research efforts. In 1962, he took over responsibility of organising space research in India as chairman of the Indian National Committee for Space Research. He directed the setting up of the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and initiated a programme for the manufacture of the French Centaur sounding rockets in India. In 1966, he was appointed chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and dreamed up ambitious plans to use nuclear power for the industrial development of backward areas. A visionary and a firm believer in the power of science to transform lives, he planned to take education to remote villages through satellite communication, implemented years later under the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE).

If this wasn't enough, he also set up at least eight companies between the years 1950-66, including Sarabhai Glass, Symbiotics Ltd, Sarabhai Merck Ltd and the Sarabhai Engineering group. In 1960, he set up the Sarabhai Research Center in Baroda which focused mostly on natural and synthetic medicinal products. He also took over the management of at least two more companies, one of which was Standard Pharmaceuticals Ltd which pioneered the large-scale manufacture of penicillin in India.

Dr Sarabhai was deeply interested in the intricacies of management and to this end he founded the Ahmedabad Management Association and in 1960 the Operations Research Group (ORG), now based in Baroda. In 1962, he established the first Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad, and was its honorary director till 1965. He also set up several other institutions to popularise science and propagate the traditional arts of India including the Community Science Center in Ahmedabad, where new ideas in science education could be tried out.

The scientist in him also did not prevent him from other deep cultural interests, including in the fine arts. Along with his wife, the danseuse Mrinalini, he had set up Darpana in 1948, an institution devoted to the performing arts and the propagation of Indian culture. All this in a life spanning just 52 years.
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OUTLOOK: 19 August, 2002
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