Book: J. R. D. Tata Keynote

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Down Memory Lane

Address to the Lions Club of Jamshedpur, August 22, 1963.

 

 

wish I were big enough, like Einstein, to do what he did on one occasion. A hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner was organised for him to speak, and leaders of America in all fields, particularly in the field of science, were invited to hear the great man. When his turn came, he rose and said: 'I've nothing to say,' and sat down. You can imagine the consternation, quite apart from the wasted cost of the dinner! Realising the frightful effect his remarks had on the audience, Einstein got up again and said: 'When I've something to say, I'll let you know.' About six months later, another hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner was arranged, and Einstein did make a speech! I have no intention to follow this example!

My association with Jamshedpur began when I came here with my father in the second decade of the century. And I still remember the tremendous excitement it was for me to come here and to be allowed to go into the Works.

In those days, and for a few years more, the dominant figure at Jamshedpur was the General Manager, T.W Tutwiler. He was known, respected, feared and loved as the uncrowned king of Jamshedpur, and he behaved like a king. Tutwiler thought that among his many accomplishments, he could play poker. In those years, the Board of Directors of the Tata Iron and Steel Company met every year at Jamshedpur during Christmas (they have rarely done so since Tutwiler left), not to do any useful work, but to play poker with Mr. Tutwiler and to go back with a little of his savings. As a matter of fact, I remember four consecutive years in which Mr. Tutwiler was well and truly trimmed and still could not understand how mere Indians could win poker against the son of the very nation that invented the game, or, if not 'invented', made poker what it was in his time!

Tutwiler was also known for his lurid language, which, on one famous occasion had unexpected and unfortunate consequences, for it was largely the cause of the first major strike at Jamshedpur. At that time, there was a Parsee gentleman who was a Foreman in Coke Ovens and used to come to work in a tie and collar. That upset Mr. Tutwiler who thought that a steel worker should not wear a tie and collar. One day, something had gone wrong and Mr. Tutwiler, in an angry mood, caught hold of his tie and said: 'If there is a god-damned son of so-and-so in this town who can wear a tie and collar, it's me.' Mr. Maneck Homi – now to name him – promptly resigned and formed a labour union. And this led ultimately to quite an interesting strike and sequel.

Today, we think only in terms of crores and hundreds of crores. But in those days, our concern was with thousands and lakhs. And when we thought of them, it was not so much of how we were going to spend them but where they were coming from. I well remember one of those early days, shortly after the First World War, when we literally did not know in Bombay where the money was going to come from to pay the wages for the month, and for the following months. That was before the Protection was introduced and when Sir Dorab pledged his fortune to the bank to save Tata Steel.

Steel prices were incredibly low then, and I well remember that joists were imported in India for Rs.110 a ton. And, then, we still had the pre-War plant; the new plant had not been completed.

It took three or four years of great effort by my father – political agitation and setting up of the Tariff Commission with the help of Pandit Motilal Nehru, father of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – to get through a measure of Protection. Incidentally, that reminds me, the first President of the Tariff Board then was Sir George Rainey, a distinguished British civilian. When he came to Jamshedpur to hold the first meeting of the first Tariff Board, he addressed Mr. Peterson, who was representing us, in a very dignified way 'You are Mr. Peterson, the Managing Director of the Tata Iron and Steel Company?' Peterson said: 'Yes, sir.' Then he turned to Mr. Tutwiler and said: 'Mr. Tutwiler, you are the General Manager?' He replied: 'You are god-damn right, I am.'

Well, thanks to the Protection and completion of the plant, and to the efforts of everyone concerned then, we did overcome the stormy period of those days.

Life was carefree and living was cheap, in those days. Rs. 1,000, which was a little more than I got, was a princely salary. A rupee of those days was probably Rs.7 or Rs.8 of today (1963). There was no talk of communism, socialism, planning, bureaucracy; there was little taxation, or it was not felt; there were no shortages for people who had a little money. But the masses were miserable; poverty and ignorance were rampant in the country and there was an underlying sense of frustration and bitterness. In 1930, there was a devaluation of sterling, and the rupee followed automatically. This led, for a period of ten years, to an exodus of gold from the country. That gold came mainly from the peasants' ornaments. It was distressed gold, a symptom of the very depressed and miserable economic condition of those days.

That was the time (1929), incidentally, when I began to devote myself to my greatest love – flying.

As I said, life was simple in those days; there was very little stress and strain. The British regime was supreme; the coming Disobedience Movement, the struggle for Independence, and ultimately the loss of the Empire, was something so far away that nobody thought about it. In 1932, we saw the beginnings of really active civil disobedience, which cast its shadows ahead. Then we come to 1938 – the year I had to become Chairman. But far more important events took place in the world that year. That was the year when Austria and Czechoslovakia were taken over by Hitler. It was the degrading year of Munich, a year of desperate preparations for war, which, however, hardly caused a ripple in India at that time. There had been some kind of a settlement with the Congress ministries in six provinces. And, the 'gentleman with the umbrella' having announced 'peace in our time,' it was still hoped that we had a few years of peace and simple life ahead of us.

For me, it was a fateful year. I was only thirty-three years old, and, with Sir Nowroji Saklatvala, the then Chairman, hale and hearty, I hoped I would be in the background for quite a few years more. But, he died that year, and, probably in a fit of absent-mindedness, my colleagues elected me Chairman. The happy and carefree life that I had led up to then suddenly came to an end, and I found myself shouldering responsibilities, which I would have been delighted to see in other hands. I must, admit, however, the twenty-five years since then have been easy ones for me. A lot of credit has been given to me for progress achieved through everybody's efforts.

Incidentally, that was the year when Sir Jehangir Ghandy became the first Indian General Manager of Tata Steel. That was also the year in which my friend, Mr. J.D. Choksi (Vice-Chairman of the Steel Company), joined Tatas.

Then, of course, came the Second World War. And with that an entirely new era came into being; probably the most momentous one since the advent of British rule in India. The whole country was, at first, electrified by this tremendous event and by the disasters with which the War began in Europe. There was an underlying realisation that this meant much more than a mere quick war of conquest by one country against another. There was a deep understanding that something big was happening. Unfortunately, the upsurge of enthusiasm and interest in the subject was pretty frustrated in India at that time by the conflict between the British and the Congress, which spearheaded the Quit India Movement. And the loyalties of people, including myself, were torn between the wish to see the great events in the rest of the world come to a safe end and, at the same time, to see India gain the freedom for which she had yearned for two hundred years.

Well, history is so recent that I need not dwell upon it. You all know what happened. Congress ministries resigned and most of the leaders went to jail. There was even a strike at Jamshedpur, not at all due to a labour dispute, but in protest against the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi. Mr. Nehru himself spent nearly fourteen years in jail. Those were difficult times indeed.

What comes out of them today more than anything else, is, I think, the remarkable heartwarming fact that no bitterness has remained. Through the statesmanship of the leaders in both India and England, Independence came to India in peace and goodwill.

 

 

 

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Sir Jehangir Ghandy was appointed Resident Director-in-Charge from 1946 to 1954 and Director-in-Charge from 1954 to 1964.

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