The house, watched over by tall trees, stands in the silence of a summer morning on Malabar Hill, Mumbai. From its padlocked gates is visible the peeling plaster, but also the profusion of its garden, the many tints of green shading into the pink and white of flowers. The long windows are shut, and the Juliet balconies empty. Here, once lived Dr Homi J Bhabha, the architect of India’s nuclear power programme, with his parents, brother Jamshed and his dog, Cupid. If walls could speak — and bare walls are all that remain of a thing of great elegance and beauty—they would tell of a house that came alive with people, conversations and music, its spirit warmed by the glow of a great mind.
Mehrangir, as the house on 12, Little Gibbs Road was called, was sold earlier this month for Rs 372 crore by the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), despite demands from scientists to turn it into a museum. (Jamshed became a custodian of the house after Bhabha’s death, and willed it to NCPA.) Towards the end of 2011, the NCPA had gone ahead and auctioned the contents of the house, from silverware, to carpets, furniture and paintings from the Bhabhas’ enviable art collection. Those pushing to preserve it as a memorial argue the four-storied bungalow, built on a 1593.29 square metre plot, amounts to more than its considerable real estate price. “Mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’s house in Torun, Poland, has been preserved as a museum, where visitors get acquainted with his life and work, and get inspired. We should have done the same thing for Bhabha’s house. Memorials and associated museums of great scientists and leaders do inspire young students and others,” says Dr Govind Swarup, a pioneer of radio astronomy and a honorary fellow of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), who joined the institute on Bhabha’s request in 1963. That wish might yet come true. The central government told the Bombay High Court on June 23 that it has sought the Maharashtra government’s intervention to declare it a “protected monument”.
Homi Bhabha grew up in Mehrangir. Theirs was a wealthy Parsi home, where the language spoken was largely English, and where music and art were a part of everyday life. His father, Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha, was a well-known lawyer and his mother Meherbai was the granddaughter of philanthropist Sir Dinshaw Petit. Bhabha went to the Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay where he learnt Latin and French, developed a great fondness for the poetry of Shelley and discovered his deep interest in science. He left to study mathematics at Cambridge in 1927, continued…