Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beyond the Last Blue Mountain - A Life of J.R.D. TATA

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (29 July 1904 – 29 November 1993) – (Could be avittam)

In the epilogue ‘He said that though at moments when his beloved ones had died he had said a word of prayer that their souls rest at peace, he had not prayed all his life, not for any other reason but that he felt the Creator of this world had so much to do that one did not intrude with small personal requests’ made me think about my never ending trivial prayers.

The message of his former company on his death on 29th November 1993
He touched the sky and it smiled.
He stretched out his arms
And they encircled the globe
His vision made giants out of
Men and organization

summed it all.

JRD Tata, the visionary man who took India forward, strengthened it and gave it its lasting foundations. To give alms is very easy, but to motivate that beggar, provide him a livelihood requires something beyond generousity and philanthropy. The fact that he wanted to die abroad, so that he would not bother people here; made him the epitome of a leader, against the present day politicians, and leaders for whom the state stops functioning, or riots break up. When I die, except for my eyes and any other organ that others might want to use, I would want to be incinerated in a jiffy, I would not want vultures or worms and rats nibbling this body, I think I will feed them with something else in my lifetime. It is no wonder that JRD did not like Zoroastrian funeral rites as well.

Part I Childhood and Youth

His passion for flying, made me go back to my dreams of travelling fast as well. I always liked the thought of flying, experiencing the high speed rush of air on my face and experiencing the thrill of speed, going zoom and zig zag in small planes up in the sky, used to envy the birds that they could fly. And came this science magazine when I was around 5th standard, believe it was a magazine 2020, that described the space ship accident where astronauts died in burning oxygen inside the space craft and I restricted my dreams to zooming fast in an open trax. Flying still brings the child in me, but my dream stops with enjoying a thrilling flight rather than pioneering an aviation industry, that JRD did in his time.

“What I remember most vividly is that we always seemed to be on the move, and that my lovely and cultured mother had to uproot herself every two years or so to find a new home – alternatively in France and in India”
He would feel bad, when his guests would add salt to his mother's french cooking. Reminded me couple of other son moonies who doted on their mothers.

JRD’s experience with Japanese typhoon, made me remember the only time, I experienced what I thought was an earthquake that turned out to be a tsunami on Dec 26th. 1918, aboard a ship, JRD spent learning typing on an old Remington machine. 82 years later, I learnt typing in Remington machine in women’s association building and later forced to key in question papers for my brother’s 12th board exams on dad’s insistence.

I was not comfortable with JRD’s poor chap remark on the Elkingon kid. I would not have joked on his embarrassment. He was 19 years old, when he lost his mother, who he had admired so much. So impressionable then. Young Jehangir being presented with a French racing bicycle suddenly reminded me of Harry Potter getting a fancy broom which was the awe of his school friends.

When the introduction of Steel Industry Protection Bill came in 1924, when JRD was 20, RD was going through turmoil. The crisis was at the highest when Sir Dorab pledged his entire fortune for 10 million towards the loan of 20 million to pay out the salaries and other needs.

There was a period in 1924 when a good friend of R.D. Tata would call on him every day to ask when he was going to close down the works. Each day R.D. would reply: Ask me again tomorrow. We will be able to manage for today….He went on dancing in the evening and mixed with friends. But when the children had retired to sleep, in the still of the night, Rodabeh recalls her father pacing up and down on the veranda of “Sunita” overlooking the Chowpatty. He was praying.

What tests a man’s greatness is not how he carries himself when the times are good, but how he carries himself when the whole world is against him. To keep going, amidst all odds, no matter what brought out my memories of crisis as well.

Jamshetji, appointed Peterson under his employment. The way he recruited Charles Page Perin and Perin’s recollection of that moment that says ‘I was dumbfounded, naturally. But you don’t know what character and force radiated from Tata’s face. And kindliness too.’ And that reminded me a favourite Abraham Joshua Heschel’s quote: 'When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people’

‘I had no inkling that I was not going to see him around…’ He was just 22. ‘His responsibility as the head of the family began to dawn on him’.

When JRD missed Cambridge and the book says - ‘Of this period of self-study Churchill said – First we shape our dwellings and then our dwellings shape us.’ Wish this society, did not play emphasis on formal education for suitable employment; let people come up based on their abilities rather than going by the certificates of formal education. Even when JRD was caught up with typhoid and paratyphoid, he read business magazines instead of resting. ‘I want to be worthy of Tatas.’ If I could inspire this for the small kids in my large family, then I can consider a part of my life worthwhile.

‘I like everything that is a little on the edge, on the verge of disaster – living dangerously…The car was the love of my life then’ sounded like my own words.

Reading about Humata, Hukhta, Hvarashta (Good thoughts, good words, good deeds) inscribed on Lady Meherbai’s mausoleum made wonder about Zoroastrian faith.

Part II Eyes on the Stars

“When asked what has been the most satisfying experience of your life? he replies instantly: ‘the flying experience has dominated. No other can equal the excitement of a first solo flight” for me the most thrilling one was when I raced over 100 kmph in my driving school’s trax after I had missed my college bus by matter of few minutes.

Speaking about his flying, JRD replies “The fact that you found yourself totally alone in the immense space made you feel very humble and made you see of what little consequence you were. And you identify God with the immensity of nature. These are the only times, I feel totally alone and was conscious of that loneliness.” Made me wonder about how truly small I am in the bigger scheme of things. Imagine how huge a solar system will be for that universe, where earth’s solar orbit is of the size of the existing atom’s orbit.

JRD’s issue of not sharing promised one third of aviation profit with Nevill made me reflect on Forrest Gump where Gump shared half the profit with the Bubba for just the idea of shrimping business.

It was really amazing to know that at 78, having just had a heart attack few weeks earlier, JRD actually repeated his inaugural solo flight and says “This flight of today was intended to inspire a little hope and enthusiasm in the younger people of our country that despite all the difficulties, all the frustration, there is a joy in having done something as well as you could and better than others thought you could.” True indeed, joy of achieving something is indeed has its own alluring charm, especially, when people say it is too difficult for you do it.

Part III Captain of the Industry and Patriarch

Speaking of aviation JRD says “With Air-India I was the creator. I was the founder so I could afford to make mistakes without undoing the good that was done by others in the past” made me think about Atlas Shrugged and the strike by the creative people.

JRD’s love for Other Men’s flowers made me go to poemhunter and search for “The Hound of Heaven.” After reading the first few verses, I decided, I will stick to Blake for now.

For almost half a century two men held the commanding heights of the Indian industry: JRD and “GD Birla” made me reflect on leaders who came without peers like Alexander and Ashoka; and those who came in pairs like say Gandhi and Hilter, cine actors MGR and Shivaji Ganesan, Rajni and Kamal, who brought in the contrast and complemented each other and yet had their own identity.

Wavell finds JRD supercilious which he mentions so. There are many instances in the book, where JRD’s high handedness comes to light. But beneath all that is the caring generosity, benevolence and the will to do good for the greater masses, by achieving something significant. Right from punching his brother and then regretting mon petit frère; JRD is kindness beneath a cloak of tasking pursuer of excellence.

“In a more general context JRD told me, ‘If I have any merit, it is getting on with the individuals according to their ways and characteristics. In fifty years, I have dealt with a hundred top directors and I got on with all of them. At times it involves suppressing yourself. It is painful but necessary… To be a leader you have to lead human beings with affection.” brings out the great leader in him.

Reading about the relations he had with Nehru, Gandhi and Patel, where he describes how he feels after coming from a conversation with them, made me curious about Patel. Had Patel been the prime minister, things would have changed so much.

JRD’s support for Ratan as in “when you are confident he will question you and grill you, but if you are fighting with your back against the wall, he will come and duel beside you” only demonstrates time and again the causes he took up and kingly manner of caring for his citizens, be it for a family member or an outsider.

The fact that JRD states to his driver “whom are you fooling” on keeping watch fast in order to be punctual reminded me of dad who was punctual to the dot. Even if he had made someone resign, he went out of his way to do something for the other person. It was indeed a pleasure to know JRD through Lala.

1 comment:

Baldev Mahar said...

The Death Anniversary of business tycoon and the chairman of Tata Sons Mr. #JRDTata was on 29thNov. Let us all pay a heartfelt #tribute to him on http://jrd-tata.tributes.in

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