When the door to the first-floor apartment of S-523 A in Delhi’s spiffy Greater Kailash-II colony is flung open, a lanky man, dressed in a vest and lungi, greets us with a smile so thin we can barely discern it. You can even say he looks sullen, sour, perhaps irritated at the disruption of his routine. He is former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist K. Santhanam, who was the field director during the Pokhran-II nuclear tests. It was he who stoked a raging controversy when he claimed at a seminar in August that the thermonuclear device tested on May 11, 1998, at Pokhran didn’t perform as expected.
We follow Santhanam into his spacious drawing room. There are no neat arrangements here, no particular method—sofas are placed to leave large vacant spaces; the table is cluttered with books, sheafs of papers, an ashtray with stubs. The TV screen, hanging from the wall, beams a slice of the past from the History Channel, accidentally symbolic of the Outlook team’s desire to know what exactly happened on that scorching May 11 afternoon.