10 photos that cover the trajectory of India’s evolution and culture, and mark its milestone moments -- from Homi Bhaba’s scientific discovery to independent India’s first woman pilot.
Browse through history and you will come across numerous figures, heroes in their own right, who took the country to great heights.
Right from the leadership of JRD Tata and the scientific prowess of Homi Bhabha, to the strong women who came forward during crucial moments in India’s freedom struggle, these figures cannot be forgotten.
Take a trip down the bygone eras through these pictures, which are an ode to the India of the past.
1. Homi Bhabha with his counterparts
In the picture, one can see the men who would go on to change the course of history — Homi Bhabha with Albert Einstein (the man behind relativity), Yukawa (the 1st Japanese to win a Nobel Prize), and John Wheeler (who coined the term ‘black hole’).
Bhabha, who was from an influential Parsi family, had his trajectory planned out — to pursue metallurgy and lead the Tata Steel Mills at Jamshedpur. Instead, he went on to study cosmic rays at the iconic Cavendish Laboratory in the University of Cambridge, and computed the interaction between electron and its antimatter (positron). This later came to be named as ‘Bhabha Scattering’ in his honour.
2. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s plan for self-sustenance
When India faced a grain shortage in 1965, then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri appealed to the people to grow wheat or rice themselves. To set an example, he started growing wheat at his official bungalow at Delhi’s Janpath.
Months after his demise, his wife Lalita Shastri (in the picture) can be seen cutting the crop planted by him.
3. Amar Kaur — A stalwart during Partition
In the frame, one can see Amar Kaur (third from top right). Better known as Bhagat Singh’s sister, she was jailed for her fiery speeches against the British government. Her role in history is significant, as she helped rescue and rehabilitate refugees during the Partition of 1947.
4. Mobile libraries
Free and compulsory primary education in India was introduced for the first time by the state of Baroda in 1906. In this picture, one can see a vehicle filled with books from front to back. What is surprising is that this picture was taken at a time when motorised vehicles were rare. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda went down in history for introducing 500 public mobile libraries on wheels.
5. JRD Tata and his 10-day crash course
In the picture, JRD Tata can be seen with his sister Sylla during their time in Japan. An interesting story is that he learned typing during the 10 days he spent on a Japanese boat while coming back to India in 1918.
This helped him years later, when he went on to lead the Tata empire.
6. India’s first chess Olympiad medal
Rafiq Khan from Bhopal was the son of an impoverished carpenter. While he was all set to follow in his father’s footsteps, the sport of chess caught his attention eventually.
His journey from then on was filled with accolades and awards. His win at the National B Championships in 1976 with a massive score of 13/15 caught the attention of the chess community. However his financial struggles continued, as his salary as a carpenter for the municipal corporations wasn’t sufficient for him to focus adequately on his chess career.
Fate turned its wheels when a story on him in a magazine reached then industry minister George Fernandes. The minister helped him get a better livelihood by giving him a job in Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), which was a milestone in Rafiq’s chess career.
In 1980, in Malta, he won silver, becoming the first Indian to win a medal at a Chess Olympiad.
When Khan returned home, he received a hero’s welcome in Bhopal, and continued playing chess till his very last breath.
7. The story of how British India lost control of its Navy in 48 hours
On February 17, the naval ratings on HMIS Talwar reiterated their demand for decent food. The British officers sneered that ‘beggars cannot be choosers’. On the morning of February 18, 1,500 ratings walked out of the mess hall in protest. Following this clear act of mutiny, they claimed they were ‘about to create history…a heritage of pride for free India’.
By that night, AIR and BBC had to broadcast the news of the RIN strike and it spread like wildfire across the country. The next morning saw 60 RIN ships harboured at Bombay and 11 shore establishments, pulling down the Union Jack and in place of it, hoisting three flags of the parties that had fought for freedom.
The ratings then marched in thousands towards the epicentre — the Talwar — and in total, 80 ships, four flotillas, twenty shore establishments and more than 20,000 ratings were part of the mutiny.
In its last statement, released on the night of 22nd February, the strike committee concluded, “Our strike has been a historic event in the life of our nation. For the first time, the blood of men in the Services and in the streets flowed together in a common cause. We in the Services will never forget this. We know also that you, our brothers and sisters, will not forget. Long live our great people. Jai Hind.”
8. Usha Sundaram — the first woman pilot of Independent India
In 1950, the Government of Madras approached Usha Sundaram and her husband V Sundaram to purchase the de Havilland Dove — a British short-haul airliner. This was considered one of Britain’s most successful postwar civil designs and was noted for its modernity, load-carrying capacity, safe engine-failure performance, and easily interchangeable and removable parts.
The couple travelled to England by ship and purchased a brand new de Havilland Dove, which they co-piloted from London to Bombay the following year.
The journey was completed within 27 hours, setting a world record for an England to India flight on a piston-engined Dove. The record remains unbroken till today.
9. The last Maharaja of the Mysuru kingdom — Jayachamaraja Wadiyar
Having ascended the throne in 1990, Jayachamaraja Wadiyar went down in history for being the ‘humanist’ Maharaja of Mysuru. Under his regime, Mysore was rapidly industrialised and educational institutions multiplied.
Furthermore, he was known for his governance, his philosophy, and his Carnatic music kritis. He was an ardent patron of art and music.
As the first ruler to merge with the newly formed Indian Union, he was remembered for encouraging the setting up of the HAL (Hindustan aircraft Private Limited) factory by granting 700 acres of land for free to the state.
He also called for ecological surveys to precede large irrigation and power projects. His concern for ecology and wildlife saw him serve as the first chairman of the Indian Wildlife Board.
10. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the inscription on the currency
In the 1980s, when Ram Kishore Dubey, a retired contractor with the State Irrigation Department, discovered a currency note of denomination one lakh in his grandfather’s Ramayana book, he did not realise its historical significance until later.
According to Kanailal Basu’s book ‘Netaji: Rediscovered’, the Azad Hind Bank was formed in Rangoon in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1944 to organise funds to finance the war effort against the British.
Dubey’s grandfather Praagilal worked for Netaji in the Azad Hind Fauj, and passed away in 1959. “He used to stay away from the family for months on end, working covertly for the INA,” says Dubey. “He gave up his land for the cause of the army, and so Netaji rewarded him with this note promising him the amount in independent India.”
The currency note that Dubey found had a photograph of Bose on the left side and a pre-independence map of the Indian territory with the inscription ‘swatantra bharat’ in Hindi on the other.
Inscribed in the middle were the words ‘Jai Hind’ in English with the words ‘I promise to pay the bearer the sum of one lac’ below it.
On the top of the note are a series of flags of the Azad Hind Fauj over a bold inscription saying ‘Bank of Independence’ with ‘good wishes’ inscribed at the bottom.