Diaspora: Dr Mani Bhaumik

Laser Sharp

Mani Bhaumik’s life is the stuff dreams are made of. As a child he battled hunger, witnessed the hostility of colonial powers from his mud house home, and then went on to enjoy the freedom of a millionaire playboy

RAGS TO RICHES: Bhaumik grew up in penury and went on live in mansions like the one (left) at Bel Air, California
Even today multimillionaire laser scientist Mani Bhaumik sometimes wakes up in his Bel Air marble mansion wondering why he is alive and here. Considering his poverty-stricken childhood in famine-hit Bengal in the early 1940s, he was supposed to be doomed. However, the poor village boy defied all odds, won scholarships for higher education in India, came to America on a Sloan Foundation fellowship, co-invented the excimer laser and became rich and famous. Truly, Mani Bhaumik's story is the stuff of fairy tales.

He was born in a mud hut but went on to own marble mansions at Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Malibu and Palos Verdes. He almost died of hunger in the 1942 Bengal famine but went on to wine and dine Hollywood stars and celebrities. He walked barefoot four miles daily to school but went on to become a jet-setter and own limousines. He studied by lamp at night but went on to become India’s first to receive a Ph.D in 1958 from the IIT system.
For a year I dated the famous Eva Gabor. She introduced me to Gregory Peck, Neil Diamond

Today, it seems as if he has moved light years away from his origins. Cruising in his limousine on the way to the famous Bel Air Hotel for his dinner, the septuagenarian physicist, who is listed in American Men and Women in science and Who’s Who in America, says, “I am alive because my grandmother died giving me her portion of the food during the famine that killed three million in Bengal. I was 12. Whenever I tell people my story, they cannot believe that I have come from that kind of background..”

Indeed, poor Mani was inspired to come out of the black hole of his childhood poverty by two figures: his father Gunadhar and Mahatma Gandhi. “Our area of Midnapore was the hotbed of revolutionaries—Satish Samanta, Ajoy Mukherjee, Sushil Dhara and Rajani Pramanik—fighting colonial rule with fervent passion. My schoolteacher-father was mostly underground. So I rarely saw him. But whenever he was around, he always drummed only one thing into me: excelling in whatever you do. He persistently encouraged me to be pretty sharp. When Gandhiji came to attend a Congres camp in our area in 1945, my father managed to get me to personally serve the great soul. The Mahatma rarely spoke. But when he did, I was profoundly touched by his words of wisdom. I was assigned to clean his toilets. That was my first lesson in devotion to duty, no matter what it entailed,” he remembers.

As he walks into the Bel Air Hotel, he says, “The IIT was my first taste of cosmopolitanism. I was there for four years. Professors from all over the world came to lecture there. Prime Minister Nehru called the IIT’s his answer to MIT.” At the IIT, young Mani fell madly in love with a girl whom he had known from his Calcutta days. He dreamt of her as his wife but had no courage to pop the question.


December 2006

 >> Cover Story
 >> From the Editor
 >> Pravasi Bharat
 >> Hot Types
 >> Bollywood
 >> Mail From Reader
 >> Business News
 >> India Corner
 >> Realty Check
 >> City Bites
 >> Travel and Tourism