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Architect of Smiling Buddha passes away

Nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna passed away in a Mumbai hospital on Friday morning following an intestinal problem. Ramanna, 79, was admitted to Bombay Hospital on Thursday after he complained of giddiness and sweating.

Regarded as the father of the country's first nuclear bomb, Ramanna died at 3.15 am at Bombay Hospital due to bleeding in the stomach, said Dr B.K. Goyal, dean of the hospital.

A multi-faceted personality, who loved nuclear physics and music and called both 'irrational', Ramanna is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. Ramanna, who divided his time between Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai, was visiting his son in the city.

On Thursday night, Ramanna's family members and officials at the department of atomic energy, of which he was once chairman, had said he breathed his last at 7.30 pm, but the doctors at the hospital said his condition was critical and he was on a ventilator.

Goyal told reporters at midnight that he was 'clinically alive'. Reminiscent of the wrong report of Janata Party leader Jaiprakash Narayan's death, the hospital's assurance gave hope, but in the morning, authorities confirmed the news of his death.

The report last evening prompted a visit from President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to the hospital. Kalam, who left for Delhi soon after, condoled his death today.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is visiting the US, said India had lost one of its most outstanding nuclear scientists. Singh said Ramanna's contribution to the development of India's nuclear capabilities would be remembered for a long time to come.

Ramanna held the posts of chairman of the department of atomic energy (1987), director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (1972-78, 1981-83), was minister of state for defence (1990) and a member of the Rajya Sabha (1997-2003). He was a recipient of Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awards and was director-emeritus of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies.

He had also served as scientific adviser to the defence minister.

It was to Ramanna that the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, while visiting Barc in 1972, had entrusted the responsibility of building India's first nuclear bomb and preparing it for a test.

The experiment, formally called a Peaceful Nuclear Explosive or PNE but popularly known by the phrase Smiling Buddha, was carried out with very few written records. Ramanna, then director of Barc, led the team, with scientists P.K. Iyengar, R. Chidambaram and Basanti Dulal Nag Chaudhuri working on different aspects of the programme. The test, known now as Pokhran I, was carried out successfully in 1974.

But there were many other sides to his personality. He was an adept pianist. He had given a piano recital at Mumbai's home to high culture, the NCPA, where he had played Liszt's Benediction of God in his Solitude and Valse Oubliee, as well as Beethoven's Moonlight sonata. One of his books, written in 1993, is titled The Structure of Music in Raga and Western Systems.

He was known for his plainspeaking. As a Rajya Sabha MP, he rued the lack of capital to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

In an interview, asked what he had accomplished as an MP, he had said that he had become a specialist in watching changes of government.

About Pokhran I, in an interview to PTI in 1997, he said: 'The Pokhran test was a bomb, I can tell you now. An explosion is an explosion, a gun is a gun, whether you shoot at someone or shoot at the ground. I just want to make clear that the test was not all that peaceful.'

Iyengar, former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, said Ramanna was the most practical nuclear scientist who put India on the world map in the field of nuclear science.

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