He attended functions with an oxygen bottle in tow. Climbing stairs had become a daunting task, but that did not deter him from taking the podium. This was the spirit nuclear scientist Homi Sethna displayed despite age and debility. The funeral of Sethna, who passed away on Sunday night, was held here on Tuesday morning. It was attended by his family, friends and colleagues from the scientist community. “He was a loving father and a doting husband. It was always a pleasure to be around him,” Sethna's son Rustam Sethna told The Hindu.
“Frankly anybody can make the atom bomb, but the most impressive thing about Pokhran-I was how secretive it was. I told him and he agreed. No one knew about it. Even the Americans were fooled; their satellite did not catch it. That's my memory of him,” Sethna's brother Rusi Sethna said.
Sethna's body was brought to the Doongerwadi Tower of Silence at 8 a.m. After the paying of respects, the last rites were performed.
“He was a colleague,” said Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, who came to express his condolences.
Srikumar Banerjee, Chairperson, Atomic Energy Commission, who attended the funeral, recalled receiving an award from Sethna. “He was the president of The Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar at the time. He was interacting with us and he asked me many questions. We were in a small classroom. He was a friendly man. He would carry his oxygen bottle, but was present at all the occasions. We had so many celebrations. He used to say I must bring my grandchildren to the BARC [Bhabha Atomic Research Centre] and he spent a whole day there with them. He found it difficult to climb steps, but that did not bother him,” he said.
Sethna has three grandsons. “I admired him from a distance, since I was very young when I was at the [Atomic Energy Establishment, now BARC]. His was one of the longest tenures. The circumstances that brought him to the position [of Chairman] after Homi Bhabha's demise [were tough]. He was a great manager and had a great sense of humour. He constructed the plutonium facility. We had to wear helmets when we went to the plant, but he ignored that. When he visited the plant, we would wear helmets. Once, he did not recognise me, because the initials on my helmet were different. He had a keen eye,” BARC Director R.K. Sinha said.
He recalled the witty side of Sethna. “Two years ago, he came for a programme. We asked him to say a few words. Since he found it difficult to climb stairs, we suggested passing the microphone. To that he said, ‘I know privately that I am old. Why let them know that?'”