There is nothing like it in India and nothing better in Great Britain
- Morris Travers, IISc's first director.
It did turn out to be providential - the chance meeting between
the father of Indian industry, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, and saint-philosopher
Swami Vivekananda on a ship from Japan to Chicago in 1893.
And like the epochal speech he was to make later in Chicago, the
germ of an idea he shared with J N Tata has become a monument to
the very idea of India. Or what would you call the city's proud
and over 100-year-old Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which
has been the beacon and sets the standards for everything science
in the country - be it mathematical, physical or space sciences?
The superlatives, though, have been earned. From the 13 years it
took for the institute to became a reality in 1909, with generous
gifts from the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, and the
backing of Lord Curzon, to being the cornerstone of science in the
country and the world, the institute was built brick by brick.
Others like Burjorji Padshah, a close associate of J N Tata, also
played a key role in setting up the institute. Writing in Current
Science, P Balram, director of IISc, described how the institute,
which has many firsts to its name, came into being. "J N Tata
died in 1904, unaware that his vision would indeed be realised a
few years later. When the British government finally issued the
Vesting Order in 1909, an unmatched experiment in higher education
and research was launched in India. IISc is truly the first example
of a public-private partnership in this country, an institution
whose evolution over a century is testimony to the robustness of
The institute occupies nearly 400 acres of prime land in Bangalore,
generously donated by the Maharaja of Mysore in March 1907. Indeed,
the contribution from the princely state of Mysore was the decisive
element in determining the location of J N Tata's proposed institution.
Remarkably, in a gesture unmatched in the annals of private philanthropy
in India, Tata did not wish his name to be associated with the institute.
His dream was to create an institution that would contribute to
the development of India.
The name, Indian Institute of Science, which was finally chosen,
reflects in every way the wishes of J N Tata. "Visitors to
Bangalore who seek out IISc still have to ask local residents for
directions to the 'Tata Institute', a clear recognition that Jamsetji
Tata's act of generosity has remained undimmed in public memory,
despite the passage of a century," Balram writes.
When the institute started, it had only two departments. The institute's
first director, Morris Travers, oversaw the construction of the
campus building. The main building, which houses the director's
office, is one of the prominent landmarks of Bangalore. The lab
of the physics department came up when C V Raman became the director.
As the campus expanded, so did its attraction for researchers from
all over the world. The institute now has departments in fields
ranging from nano technologies to aerospace and continues to churn
out the country's pioneering scientists.
A quick glance at the alumni and associates reveals the who's who
of Indian science. Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan and
JC Ghosh, were all associated with the institute.
Many like G N Ramachandran, Harish Chandra, S Ramaseshan, Brahm
Prakash, A Ramachandran, C N R Rao and R Narasimha make up its illustrious
alumni. While the institute's second campus coming up in Chitradurga
is a pointer to its ambition, the opening of its hallowed research
portals for graduation courses from this year clearly marks a new
beginning. "To live and work at the institute is a special
privilege. In reflecting on the past, present and future of the
institute, an exchange between Morris Travers, the first director,
and Lord Willingdon, the then viceroy, is worth recounting. Willingdon
went around the institute in June 1914 and said: 'I had no idea
that there was anything like this in India'. Travers responded:
'There is nothing like it in India; and nothing better in Great
Britain'. In ensuring that this sentiment is true, a great deal
of work remains to be done", writes P Balram. For us ordinary
mortals, to be living in the same city is a privilege.
You Must Know !
* The main building of this institution was completed in 1912-13.
The colonial style building was designed by C F Stevens & Company
of Bombay. The work was executed by TCW Skipp of Bangalore at a
cost of Rs 4.11 lakh.
* A statue of J N Tata, designed by famous English sculptor Gilbert
Bayes, stands in front of the main building.
* Sir William Ramsey recommended locating the institute in Bangalore,
after the Royal Society of England requested him to give his views
on setting up the campus.
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