(From L to R) Narayana Menon, Dr Bhabha, Alla Rakha Khan, Ravi Shankar and a young Zakir Hussain © NCPA Archives

Dr. Jamshed J. Bhabha’s last legacy

This month, the NCPA inaugurates the Dr. Jamshed J. Bhabha Memorial Exhibition, a collection of artefacts, rare photographs and stories from the illustrious family’s oeuvre.

Once upon a time, Mehrangir, the beautiful art deco bungalow in Malabar Hill, was home to two overachievers: Dr Homi Bhabha, nuclear physicist and founding director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and Dr. Jamshed J. Bhabha, Tata man and founder of the NCPA Mumbai. There are those who think Dr. Homi’s work was of more use to the country than Dr. Jamshed’s. To them, an anecdote from the time the NCPA was founded (1969), when Dr. Jamshed had sought out J. R. D. Tata’s help with respect to the NCPA. Dr. Jamshed recalled, “I apologised for taking up his time when he had to attend to so many matters regarding the steel company. I shall never forget his reply: ‘No, Jamshed, you should not underestimate what the NCPA is doing. One day, perhaps, the NCPA’s work may be more important for the country than the work of the steel company.’”

Dr. Jamshed gave his all to fructifying the NCPA dream, while he was alive, and even beyond his grave: he bequeathed everything to the NCPA. As Mr. Khushroo N. Suntook, current chairman at the NCPA, says, “It was a combination of his familial privileges and intellectual development that gave him a vision beyond the ambition of normal people. Without that, the NCPA would never have been envisioned or established. He had courage of conviction. He always fought to set up and sustain things when the cause was right and something he believed in. Look at the pipedream that was the NCPA originally, and look at where he brought it to.”

Dr. Jamshed J. Bhabha © NCPA Archives

This month, the NCPA inaugurates a permanent exhibition to honour his legacy. A photographic timeline of Dr. Jamshed’s extraordinary life and contributions, snapshots from some of the NCPA’s most memorable performances by leading artistes, and a few cherished family heirlooms, including a silver frame gifted to Dr. Jamshed by his aunt and Dr. Homi’s pocketbook filled with his handwritten notes comprise the exhibition. The museum launch will be followed by a panel discussion in the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre. The discussion on 16th May will be moderated by Anil Dharker, with panellists such as Mr. Suntook, Mr. F. K. Kavarana (chairman of Tata Trusts), poet Arundhathi Subramaniam and film-maker Shyam Benegal, who will discuss the legacy and value of patronage to the arts.

The exhibition is a small way of showing the immense contribution of Dr Jamshed to the performing arts in the country: a measure that will hopefully inspire other philanthropists and visionaries to act on their dreams.

The exhibition will be inaugurated on 16th May in the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre foyer. This will be followed by a panel discussion that is open to all.

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the May 2018 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.