10 rare photos from history that broaden our understanding of India

Bbrowse through history and you will come across many personalities, heroes in their own right, who have taken the country to great heights.

From the leadership of JRD Tata and the scientific prowess of Homi Bhabha, to the strong women who stepped forward at crucial moments in India’s freedom struggle, these personalities cannot be forgotten.

Take a trip back in time through these images that are an ode to India of yesteryear.

1. Homi Bhabha with his counterparts

Pictured are the men who would 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 – to pursue metallurgy and run the Tata Steelworks in Jamshedpur. Instead, he went on to study cosmic rays at Cambridge University’s iconic Cavendish Laboratory and calculated the interaction between the electron and its antimatter (positron). This was later named “Bhabha Scattering” in his honor.

2. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s self-sufficiency plan

When India faced a grain shortage in 1965, then-Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri called on people to grow wheat or rice themselves. To set an example, he started growing wheat in his official Janpath bungalow in Delhi.

Months after he disappeared, his wife Lalita Shastri (pictured) can be seen cutting the crop he planted.

3. Amar Kaur — A pillar during the score

In the frame, we can see Amar Kaur (third from top right). Better known as the sister of Bhagat Singh, she was imprisoned for her fiery speeches against the British government. Her role in the story 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 first introduced by the state of Baroda in 1906. In this photo, a vehicle full of books can be seen from front to back. What is surprising is that this photo was taken at a time when motorized 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

Pictured, JRD Tata can be seen with his sister Sylla during their stay in Japan. An interesting story is that he learned typing during the 10 days he spent on a Japanese ship returning to India in 1918.

It helped him years later when he continued to lead the Tata empire.

6. India’s first Olympic chess medal

Rafiq Khan from Bhopal was the son of a poor carpenter. While he was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps, the sport of chess eventually caught his eye.

His career is therefore filled with distinctions and rewards. His victory at the National B Championships in 1976 with a massive score of 13/15 caught the attention of the chess community. However, his financial difficulties continued, as his salary as a carpenter for municipal corporations was not enough to allow him to adequately focus on his chess career.⁠

Fate turned its wheels when an article about him in a magazine reached the then Minister of Industry, George Fernandes. The minister helped him earn a living by giving him a job with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), which marked 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 was welcomed as a hero in Bhopal and continued to play chess until his very last breath.⁠

7. The story of how British India lost control of its navy in 48 hours

On February 17, naval teams from HMIS Talwar reiterated their request for decent food. The British officers sneered that “beggars can’t choose”. On the morning of February 18, 1,500 sailors left the mess hall in protest. Following this overt act of mutiny, they claimed they were “on the verge of creating history…a proud legacy for free India”.

That night, AIR and the BBC had to broadcast news of the RIN strike and it spread like wildfire across the country. The next morning, 60 RIN ships were moored in Bombay and 11 establishments ashore, pulling down the Union Jack and in its place hoisting three flags of the parties that had fought for freedom.

The odds then marched by the thousands towards the epicenter – the Talwar – and in total 80 ships, four flotillas, twenty shore establishments and over 20,000 odds became part of the mutiny.

In its latest statement, issued on the night of February 22, the strike committee concluded: “Our strike was a historic event in the life of our nation. For the first time, the blood of men in the Services and on the streets ran together for a common cause. We in Services will never forget that. We also know that you, our brothers and sisters, will not forget. Long live our great people. Jai Hind.

8. Usha Sundaram — India’s first female pilot

In 1950, the Madras government 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 post-war civilian designs and was noted for its modernity, load capacity, safe performance in the event of engine failure and easily interchangeable parts and removable.

The couple traveled to England by boat and bought a brand new de Havilland Dove, which they co-piloted from London to Bombay the following year.

The trip was completed in 27 hours, setting a world record for an England-India flight on a piston-engined Dove. The record remains unequaled until today.

9. The Last Maharaja of Mysuru Kingdom — Jayachamaraja Wadiyar

Ascended to the throne in 1990, Jayachamaraja Wadiyar went down in history as the “humanist” Maharaja of Mysuru. Under his regime, Mysore industrialized rapidly and educational institutions multiplied.

Moreover, 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 is remembered for encouraging the establishment of the HAL (Hindustan Aircraft Private Limited) factory by granting 700 acres of land free to the state.

He also called for ecological studies to precede major irrigation and electricity projects. His concern for ecology and wildlife led him to become the first chairman of the Indian Wildlife Board.

10. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the Coin Inscription

In the 1980s, when Ram Kishore Dubey, a retired contractor from the State Department of Irrigation, discovered a banknote with a face value of one lakh in his grandfather’s Ramayana book , it only realized its historical significance later.

According to Kanailal Basu’s book “Netaji: Rediscovered”, the Azad Hind Bank was established in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1944 to organize funds to finance the war effort against the British.

Dubey’s grandfather, Praagilal, worked for Netaji in the Azad Hind Fauj and died in 1959. “He used to stay away from the family for months, secretly working 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 banknote Dubey found featured a photograph of Bose on the left side and a pre-independence map of Indian Territory with the inscription “swatantra bharat” in Hindi on the other.

In the middle were inscribed the words “Jai Hind” in English with the words “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of a lac” below.

At the top of the note are a series of Azad Hind Fauj flags on a bold inscription saying “Independence Bank” with “good wishes” inscribed at the bottom.

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