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

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

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’.

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

“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.

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 of 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, R.D. Tata recalls his 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.

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 pay 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.

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.

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 do better than what others thought you could.” True indeed, joy of achieving something 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.

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.

“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.

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.

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One thought on “Beyond the Last Blue Mountain – A Life of J.R.D. TATA

  1. The Greatest Indian:JRD TATA

    Everyone must be aware of the show “The Greatest Indian” after Mahatma Gandhi which was launched by History Channel in association with CNN-IBN.

    JRD TATA has been nominated,J R D Tata was known as a perfectionist among his peers. The only industrialist to get India’s highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna, JRD was a pioneer aviator who started civil aviation in India.

    Amitabh Bachan shares his view and experince about TATA in this Video.

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