Sony Liv’s latest web series Rocket Boys is based on the lives of two of the most prominent Indian scientists – Dr. Homi J Bhabha and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. The duo together revolutionised the space and nuclear science research in India.
Apart from the professional work, the series also delves into the personal lives of these scientists. Regina Cassandra plays the role of Vikram Sarabhai’s (Ishwak Singh) wife, Mrinalini Sarabhai. As the story goes, the duo falls in love and get married.
In the series, we get a glimpse of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai’s love affair with one of Mrinalini’s friends, Kamla Chaudhary, who later went on to become the first faculty member and de-facto Director of IIM Ahmedabad until 1972. Earlier too, there have been stories about his extramarital affair.
Kamla was married to an Indian Civil Service officer Khem Chaudhary. In the 1940s, he was murdered while posted in Lahore. After her husband’s death, Kamla moved to the USA to obtain a MA in Social Psychology at Michigan University and also pursued a PhD in Social Psychology.
She returned to India in 1949, when Mrinalini (Dr. Vikram’ wife) forced her to come to Ahmedabad and spend some time with them. At this time, Vikram Sarabhai was struggling to address the problems of textile mill workers that he wanted to upgrade.
Kamla’s profile impressed him and he offered her a job with the Ahmedabad Textile Industry Research Association (ATIRA). She headed the Human Relations Division at ATIRA until 1961.
The relationship between Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Kamla gained intimacy. Mrinalini would often be travelling for her dance shows abroad and this reportedly gave time for the affair between Vikram and Kamla to blossom.
Kamla started feeling uncomfortable around the family and decided to leave the city and move to Delhi. But it is said that Dr. Vikram Sarabhai did everything possible to make her stay in Ahmedabad.
Kamla Chaudhary’s nephew and popular psycho-analyst, Sudhir Kakar has talked about their affair in his book, ‘A Book of Memory: Confessions and Reflections’. According to him, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai went to the extent of convincing then PM Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru to bring the second Indian Institute of Management to Ahmedabad. Dr. Kamla was appointed as the research director of the prestigious institute.
Following this, she decided to stay in Ahmedabad until the demise of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai in 1972. Vikram’s daughter, Mallika Sarabhai, who is also an accomplished classical dancer, has spoken about her father’s affair multiple times, although she has dismissed the claims that the founding of IIM-A was associated with her dad’s love affair with Dr. Kamla. In conversation with The Quint, she once said:
Till I was 13, I hated him for his relationship with Kamla Chowdhry and the pain it caused my mother. I didn’t speak to him. I was often rude or curt. Then I started having conversations with him and our relationship deepened. I realised that he was doing what he thought was right—I still didn’t agree with it. That he, too, was deeply pained by the pain he was causing. I understood that he did love the two women very deeply. Now I realise that it is possible. Although, I still think you need to have the gumption and make a choice if either of them is unhappy. You can’t play it both ways.
Mrinalini, the late dancer, wanted the world to remember her husband for his immense contributions to the field of science.