WHY THEY GIVE
Mani Bhaumik was an impoverished teenager in the 1940s when he spent a week in Mahatma Gandhi’s compound. Mr. Bhaumik’s
father had abandoned a subsis-tence-level teaching job to join the
fight for India’s freedom from British
rule and had brought his son to visit
Today, the 85-year-old Indian-American physicist and philanthropist says he will never forget the
lessons he learned. “I was surprised
to see how humble, simple, and
human he was, but behind that was
a steely determination,” he says.
Mr. Bhaumik had no intention
of replicating the spiritual leader’s
ascetic lifestyle, though. He used education and the levers of American
capitalism to climb out of poverty
and transport himself to a life that
included hobnobbing with the rich
and famous in Hollywood.
Today he calls education “the
golden key to opening up the door
to prosperity,” and it is where he
focuses his giving. He launched the
Bhaumik Educational Foundation
in 2000 to help poor students from
rural villages in West Bengal, India,
attend college for free.
Mr. Bhaumik has put about $2
million toward the effort so far, and
the foundation pays all the expenses of roughly 75 students a year.
He sees his philanthropy as a way
to honor those who redirected the
trajectory of his life.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today
unless my predecessors had paved
the way for me,” he says.
A Life Transformed
Growing up in the Midnapore
district of West Bengal, Mr. Bhaumik
was the oldest of six children. His father was usually away, and the family lived on about $5 a month. Often
there wasn’t enough food. He credits
his mother and grandmother with
shepherding him safely through a
He flourished in college and became the first person to earn a Ph.D.
from the prestigious Indian Institute
of Technology Kharagpur, where he
specialized in quantum physics and
supported himself by tutoring other
A Sloan Foundation fellowship in
1959 brought him to the University
of California at Los Angeles for post-
doctoral studies. Passionate about
science, he considered an academic
career but pursued another path.
“I came here with $3 in my
pocket, and I wanted to get rid of my
poverty,” he says. “I knew I couldn’t
do that in academia.”
He parlayed his UCLA research
into jobs at Xerox Electro-Optical
Systems and Northrop Grumman,
where he helped in the development
of Lasik eye surgery.
Cash from Northrup stock options allowed him to invest in California’s booming real-estate market,
and he slowly built a fortune.
Passionate About Research
Mr. Bhaumik has been particularly generous to UCLA, where he
still conducts research. He endowed
a professorship in theoretical physics and supports research there.
He recently gave the university $11
million to launch the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics,
aiming to further build the track record of technological breakthroughs
in a field he considers underfunded.
“The quantum physics that start-
ed with Einstein and Max Planck,
Mr. Bhaumik hopes the institute
will become a top center for theo-
retical physics and produce a Nobel
In India, he donated 15 acres of
land in Kolkata to the Indian Institute of Technology and is working
with officials to build a center for
advanced research on the site.
Lost and Found
Some of Mr. Bhaumik’s life
pursuits veered away from his
philanthropy. In the 1980s he threw
lavish parties at his mansion in Los
Angeles’s tony Bel Air neighborhood.
He hung out with famous Hollywood types. He dated the actress
Eva Gabor and other stars.
“For a while I gave James Bond a
run for his money,” he says, describing those days as “exciting
and intoxicating.” But something
was missing, he says, and Gandhi’s
lessons about the sources of true
happiness stuck with him.
“I enjoyed it, but at the end I
He returned to his spiritual roots
and addressed a nagging desire to
flex his creative muscles. He wrote
t wo books, one of which was Code
Name: God, a bestselling memoir in
which he argues for bridging the gap
bet ween science and spirituality.
And he created the animated series
Cosmic Quantum Ray, featuring a
dimension-traveling teenager who
helps a superhero fight villains.
He also created an annual $10,000
prize at UCLA’s Cousins Center for
Psychoneuroimmunology for scien-
tists studying the role of the brain
and the conscious mind in healing.
Today, Mr. Bhaumik is focused on
furthering his ideas that quantum
physics and modern-day cosmol-
ogy contain important elements of
spirituality. He hopes to support
programs that will meld science and
consciousness, but he admits not all
scientists accept his ideas.
“Consciousness is the window
through which you get all this
knowledge,” he says. “Yet we have no
place for it in science.”
Poor Kid From India Builds Life of Glamour and Charity
VINCE BUCCI PHOTOGRAPHY
REMEMBERING HIS ROOTS
Mani Bhaumik (center), shown at a recent UCLA fundraising event, has given generously to his alma maters in
the United States and India, and to a foundation that helps poor students attend college for free.