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For the love of India: The life and times Of Jamsetji Tata - R. M. Lala

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Jamshedji Tata was born to Nusserwanji and Jeevanbai Tata on 3 March 1839 in a family of Parsi Zoroastrian priests of Navsari, a small town in South Gujarat.

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Publisher Penguin India (17 May 2006)
Pages 247 pages
I S B N No 0143062069
Language English

Tata World - J N Tata

Early Years

Jamshedji Tata was born to Nusserwanji and Jeevanbai Tata on 3 March 1839 in a family of Parsi Zoroastrian priests of Navsari, a small town in South Gujarat. Nusserwanji Tata was the first businessman in a family as he moved to Bombay and started trading. His early education took place in Navsari later Jamshedji also joined his father in Bombay at the age of 14 and enrolled as 'free student' at the Elphinstone College. He was married to Hirabai Daboo, while still being a student. He graduated from college in 1858 as a "Green Scholar" which was then the equivalent of a degree and joined his father's trading firm. It was a turbulent time to step into business as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 had just been defeated by the British government.

Business Ventures

His initial trading ventures in the Far East and Europe Jamsetji started his own private firm with a capital of Rs.21,000. Unlike his contemporaries, he went to Nagpur, from where the cotton came from and established a mill there. It was named the Central India Spinning, Weaving, and Manufacturing Company. On January 1, 1877, when Queen Victoria became the Empress of India, the mill opened, and was called Empress mill.

His Vision

He personally looked after every little detail of its growth. Here he tried experiments in technology and labour. He was man with great quality consciousness and nothing but the best was good enough for him. Jamsetji realised that India's greatness would depend on the widespread advancement in learning and industrialisation. In 1900, Jamsetji won the support of Britain's Secretary of State for India, Lord George Hamilton. He visited the United States, studied coking processes, and inspected the ore markets there. The Tata Iron and Steel Company(now knows as Tata Steel) situated in Jamshedpur was a result of this learning.

He felt Bombay needed a modern hotel in keeping with its importance and also to attract more people to India. Since no other businessman would venture it, he decided to build it himself. It was Jamsetji's gift to the city of Bombay and The Taj Mahal continues to inspire millions of Indias, to this day.



Philanthropy & Business of values

Advanced learning was not available in India at that time. In 1892 Jamsetji endowed a fund for the higher education abroad for deserving students. In September 1898, he set aside fourteen of his buildings and four landed properties in Bombay for an endowment to establish a University of Science. His donations were worth a staggering Rs.30 lakhs in those days.

After a chance meeting between Jamsetji N. Tata and Swami Vivekananda on a ship in 1893 where they discussed Tata's plan of bringing the steel industry to India. Impressed by Vivekananda's views on science and leadership abilities, Tata wanted him to guide his campaign in establishing a research Institute in India. Vivekananda endorsed the project with enthusiasm. The Maharaja of Mysore, the then British government of India and Tata together established the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore in 1909.

He passed away in Germany, on May 19, 1904.

Legacy

The company started by Jamsetji Tata came to be known as the Tata Group and is today among the largest and most respected companies of the world. Jamsetji, was however, known for much more than just starting a company. He was a pioneer in his field.

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Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata

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FRUITFUL ENCOUNTER

o.gifn his visit to the United States in September 1902, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata excited the insatiable curiosity of American newspaper reporters, wrote Frank Harris in the first (published in 1925) and thoroughly researched biography of the great industrialist. Jamsetji also fired the imagination of these journalists, for quite often they made him out to be other than he was. "A jolly good fellow," one Cleveland writer is quoted as saying, "the J.P. Morgan of the East Indies," whose partner was "the Nizam of Hyderabad"… "So rich that he has little idea 

of his own wealth, his possessions even exceeding those of the late Li Hung Chang, who was reckoned the richest man in the world"… The Birmingham Ledger is quoted as stating that "he enjoys the distinction of having refused to be knighted by Queen Victoria at the sacrifice of his religion" and asserted that "he wore a large diamond in his shirt"… The Birmingham News was much more sedate and on the whole more accurate also, but insisted on christening him "John N. Tata".

Frank Harris maintains, however, that some sketches were admirably done and did justice to the great Indian industrialist. The Washington Post, for example, described him as "a merchant prince, manufacturer and importer and likewise philanthropist, scholar and philosopher". On the other hand, in New York, an interviewer one day followed him into a shop where he was buying some boots. Jamsetji refused to be interviewed by him. But the next day a New York newspaper gravely announced that "the Pierpont Morgan of the East was trying to acquire a monopoly of the American boot trade"!

Among the many achievements to Jamsetji's credit, the most widely known and appreciated is the Taj Mahal Hotel, opened in 1903, which has come to be ranked over the years as one of the world's finest hotels in the five-star company of Shepherds in Cairo, Raffles in Singapore and the Peninsula in Hong Kong (see box below). 

It was in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, however, that Jamsetji found precisely the advice and help he had been seeking to fulfil his long-cherished dream of establishing a steel industry in India. Writes Harris: "Pittsburgh ranks first among the cities of the U.S.A. in the manufacture of iron and steel products, of which it sends forth more than 50 per cent of the output of the whole country. It stands in the midst of productive coal-fields, and absorbs a large proportion of the iron ore produced in the Lake Superior region. Its neighbourhood contains the chief plants of the immense United States Steel Corporation. It is the home of the Westinghouse Company, the famous organisation which manufactures electrical apparatus, air brakes, railway signals, and other devices." Impressed by the Indian visitor, Mr. Westinghouse entertained him privately at his residence, Solitude.

Above all, it was at Pittsburgh that Jamsetji encountered the man he had been seeking — Julian Kennedy, of the firm of Julian Kennedy, Sahlin and Co. Ltd., Engineers, one of the foremost metallurgical engineers in the world. It was his life's most fruitful encounter. "He told Mr. Tata that he must first institute a far more thorough and scientific investigation of the local conditions, the raw materials, and the markets of India, than he had hitherto done." Kennedy also recommended Charles Page Perin and his associate C.M. Weld to undertake the geological work. Jamsetji employed both the experts. Weld, in fact, started for Bombay immediately.

On his return to India, the aging Jamsetji entrusted the responsibility of concentrating upon the steel scheme to his son Dorabji who was one day to bring it to successful fruition. As Sir Stanley Reed, then Editor of The Times of India, wrote in his Introduction to Harris's biography, "It was Jamsetji's cherished belief that no country could become industrially great, which did not manufacture iron and steel, had no provision for first-class Science education and for hydro-electric schemes to provide cheap, clean power." Jamsetji died, however, before any of these three projects — the Iron and Steel Works at Jamshedpur, the Tata Hydro-electric Scheme and the Indian Institute at Bangalore — were established: "By the time Mr. Tata's own life was spent, the foundation work had been so well and truly accomplished, his sons and lieutenants were so firmly imbued with his own ideals, that the momentum he had given to these great ideas drove them irresistibly forward … Others reaped, but he sowed; the harvest is as assuredly his as if he had actually garnered the fruits of his careful, courageous, and imaginative 
sowing."

The taj of the Tatas

w1.gifhen Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata's grand creation, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, opened in Bombay on 16 December, 1903, it stood in solitary splendour — on the all-quiet eastern waterfront. Each dawn, starbursts of the golden orb of day touched its magnificent onion-shaped cupolas, cusped arches and carved cornices; the moon over the midnight blue waters of the Arabian Sea sent in its silver through the 125.5 ft central cupola which stood vastly taller than the surrounding structures.

Its famous next-door neighbour — the honey-coloured basalt arch of the Gateway of India — did not exist. It was built on land reclaimed from the sea and inaugurated 21 years later! The Indian Electricity Act was still being framed by the British colonial masters, there was no telephone. The plebeians travelled by ox-drawn carts or in trams drawn by horses clip-clopping through the streets; the gentry used the horse-drawn victorias (carriages) or elegant gigs and landaus.

"Ahead of its time since 1903," states the Taj's motto. When the first 17 guests checked in, the Hotel was well ahead of its time! Scouring the cities of the world — London, Paris, Berlin, Dusseldorf — Tata imported for his luxurious hotel "the latest arrangements and contrivances". While the Hotel was being constructed, he had visited an exhibition in Dusseldorf and contracted with a German firm to electrify the Hotel at a cost of two annas per unit! The Taj was the first commercial establishment in Bombay to be electrified ("…and then the lights came on," by Goolam E. Vahanvati, advocate general of Maharashtra, published in The Taj, Volume 32, No. 1, Centenary Issue 2003). It had electric lights, fans, bells and clocks and four electric passenger lifts! Its laundry had electrically heated irons, the kitchens, cellars and services were of the latest type. The sanitation was modern; exotic Turkish baths enveloped guests in a cocoon of relaxed luxury. "A 15-ton carbon dioxide ice-making plant provided refrigeration and cooled suites of rooms, and the mechanical marvels of the Hotel were nicely rounded off by a soda water factory, an electroplating plant, machines for washing plates and burnishing silver…"

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Photo courtesy: Fatima Zakaria, Editor, Taj Magazine.

Built at the then phenomenal cost of £500,000, World War I saw the Hotel being partly converted into a 600-bed hospital; it felt the reverberations of World War II and its economic aftermath. When India "awoke to life and freedom", the Taj took a while to find a fresh avatar in independent India. The elegant soirées, the live orchestras, the beat of the British regimental bands had made their passage out of India from the Gateway. In place of royal privy purses came the deep plastic of corporate clients; the lilt of the waltz and the swirling skirts were replaced by the dulcet notes of the shehnai, the red and gold of brocade and zardozi as welling guests swished their way up the staircase to the Crystal Room shimmering in the crystalline clarity of the enormous Belgian chandeliers.

History and the Hotel are intertwined. The rites of passage will go on with cosy conferences, international conventions, wedding nights spent in suites, golden anniversaries celebrated. The small picture changes, the large palette stands. One hundred years on, the Taj remains one of the most precious jewels in the Tata crown

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The steelman who made silk

R. M. Lala

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JAMSETJI took his experiment to grow silk seriously. In France he studied the silk industry, particularly the growing of the silk worm, which was a cottage industry. In 1893, on a visit to Japan he found the Japanese skilled at sericulture. He invited two Japanese experts, a husband and wife, to India. His cousin R. D. Tata's Japanese servant who had picked up English became their translator. Jamsetji sought out a suitable site with a fairly temperate climate and selected Bangalore where he had observed mulberry trees. 

With his contact with the State of Mysore he obtained a site. He found out that Mysore had a silk industry at the time of Tippu Sultan which had fallen into disuse, still existed in some villages but their methods were primitive. He directed the Japanese experts to Bangalore. 

It appears that Jamsetji had little interest to go into the silk business. Jamsetji was able to get a suitable site. "He endowed a small farm where Indians could study how the mulberry tree grew, how the silk-worm was to be reared, how the diseases that affected it could be treated, how the cocoon should be looked after, how the silk should be reeled, and how it was prepared for the market. The farm was run on Japanese lines. Indian children were trained to resuscitate the ancient industry of their ancestors. Apprentices were engaged for a minimum period of three months, during which they were given free instructions in all aspects of the industry, from the growth of the mulberry tree to the marketing of the final product. Jamsteji's experiment in silk farming proved a success from the start." (Saklatvala and Khosla: Jamsetji Tata, p.54)

While in Bangalore in 1980s this writer was intrigued by a signboard near the Institute of Culture which read, `Tata Silk Farm Crossroads'. He searched for the background. Finally the Mysore State Archives was found to harbour a document that reveals what the farm was all about and what happened to it.

Jamsetji got the help of the Salvation Army. In a booklet by F. Booth Tucker: Experiments by The Salvation Army with French, Italian, Mysore and Erie Silk Worms in India and Ceylon 1910-1911 (Published by The salvation Army Headquarters, The Mall, Simla (Price 2 annas), 1912) says: "A few particulars regarding some of our Indian experiments in sericulture may perhaps be of practical interest.

"The Tata Silk Farm in Bangalore. This Institution was established some eight years ago (1902-1903) by late Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata. He felt satisfied that what the silk industry required in India was to introduce the same business principles as had been pursued with such success in Japan.

"A Japanese expert and assistant were brought over. The Mysore Government gave a rent-free grant of land and an annual subsidy of Rs 3,000. A small filature of 10 basins were erected, and a garden was planted with various varieties of mulberry bush."

It is perhaps a little singular that two such able businessmen as Mr. Tata and Sir Thomas Wardle should have gone, one to Japan and the other to France, in search of their models for India. Mr. Tata, who was familiar with both countries, gave preference to Japan.

"In choosing Mysore as a centre for what he hoped would ultimately develop into a Silk School for India, he was guided by the fact, that the climatic conditions were favourable and that there was a healthy indigenous worm producing an excellent quality of silk. 

"In this again he gave the preference to the Polyvoltine Mysore worm over both the Japanese and French varieties, though he hoped by interbreeding with the latter that the best features of both races might be combined. 

"In January 1910, we were requested by his son, Sir Dorabji Tata, to take over the Bangalore Silk Farm, the Mysore Government consenting to the arrangement and continuing the subsidy for a period of three years.

"Ensign and Mrs. Graham were placed by us in charge of the Institution, and have proved to be capable and energetic managers. Already seven of our European Officers have just been trained and Indian students and ryots have been received and trained from Mysore, Travancore, Madras and Bombay Presidencies, etc. Supplies of eggs and mulberry cuttings have been distributed not only in Mysore but in the United Provinces, Punjab, Baroda, Gwalior, etc. Villagers and students have been trained in the Japanese system of reeling and rereeling silk. 

A cheap and convenient reeling machine has been manufactured for cottage use. The acreage of mulberry has been considerably increased, several new buildings have been erected, and a number of basins doubled in the filature. Visitors from different parts of India have called, and advice has been sought by numerous correspondents.

"Already the Tata Silk Farm has given birth to three other Institutions of a similar character under our auspices in Ceylon, the United Provinces and the Punjab.

"Thus the aim and object of its founder, that the Tata Silk Farm should be a Pan-Indian character, is already being realised.

"During the past few months this Institution has been awarded a gold medal in Bangalore, and a silver medal in Madras for its exhibit of the entire process from the silkworm egg to the woven article.

"A small weaving school under a trained weaving master now forms a part of this interesting Institution, which is at present still in its infancy, but which possesses in it the nucleus of great future possibilities."

Jamsetji was not interested in it for the sake of business as a follow-up to textiles. He wanted to give the poor a livelihood and India an industry.

When the Salvation Army first came to India it found in Mr. Tata a helpful friend. Its accent was on temperance and Jamsetji favoured their movement.

Mr Booth Tucker of the Salvation Army in a letter to Burjorji Padshah, November 1, 1912, wrote: "The impetus thus given to the silk industry in India can hardly be over-estimated. Government, which before had given up the effort in despair, have now recommended operations. Orders have been issued for the general planting of mulberry trees and bushes. 

Bulletins and pamphlets have been issued giving instructions regarding the cultivation of silkworms. Public demonstrations have been made in connexion with Exhibitions... In the not distant days when silk will have become to India what it is already in such countries as Japan, China, France and Italy, the name of the man who launched the enterprise will be held in grateful remembrance by those who will have been benefited by his forethought and labours."

In India of today, it is little known that the flourishing silk industry of South India especially was revived by the same man who was to give it iron and steel and hydroelectricity.

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