Let us start at the very beginning: The birth of the Institute
It was on May 27, 1909 that Lord Minto, the then Viceroy of India, approved the Resolution and the Vesting Order leading to the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Over the past century the Institute has grown to be a formidable centre for research and development, and in many ways ushered in India's renaissance in science through the many institutions whose seeds were sown at IISc. These include TIFR, the IITs and NIAS among others. While the birth has a definite date and has been rightly chosen by the Institute in setting the auspicious start for its centenary, its conception and gestation preceding this date by nearly two decades forms the stuff of fascinating history.
The official account entitled “In Pursuit of Excellence” authored by the eminent historian Prof BV Subbarayappa traces the many events of this period. The extraordinary vision of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata is brought out in detail. His meeting with Swami Vivekananda on a voyage over the Pacific is part of our folklore. The years were marked by high purpose and noble ambitions, but were also dotted with intrigues and acrimonious exchanges. The colourful roles played by Lord Curzon, The Royal Society, William Ramsay, the hapless first Director Morris Travers, and of course the Maharaja, Maharani and the Dewan of the princely state of Mysore give grist for this epic.
Everything then is known of the start of the IISc. But Prof P Balaram, who is at once the Director of IISc and also the Chief Editor of Current Science got drawn by this drama. After assiduous searching in the National Archives and surfing the internet he has reported his research as a sparkling editorial in the January 2008 issue of Current Science. Prof Balaram draws out Burjorji Padshah from the shadows of history. He demonstrates the extraordinary contributions of Padshah, who enjoyed the confidence of JN Tata and can be described as his alter ego. In many ways he carried on with the project after the demise of Tata in 1904.
It is also clear that Tata made his fortune with an unprecedented industrial entrepreneurship by trade with China in cotton and opium. Then he decided to dedicate this wealth to the nation. His passion for education found its outlet in setting up the JN Tata Trust for the Higher Education of Indians in his lifetime. In many ways IISc was to be a magnified version. He also saw the need for steel and electricity. Again, he did not live to see these projects come on stream. It is clear that Padshah played a crucial role in the realization of Tata Steel, as Dorab Tata himself thought that his father’s dream was a wild-goose chase.
We are fortunate that in this centenary year we can see all the three dreams of Tata at the centre of IISc. In the monument designed by Gilbert Bayes Tata holds a miniature of the Central Edifice in his hands, and looks longingly at the reliefs figuring Jove with his thunderbolt for electricity and Vulcan with his anvil standing for steel and metallurgy.