'Together we dreamed and toiled'
On February 1, 1978, Mr. J.R.D. Tata ceased to be the Chairman of Air-India. Messages poured in from many parts of India and abroad. In a letter to the staff of Air-India published in their journal 'Magic Carpet' he wrote:
I have been deeply touched by the countless messages of goodwill, affection and regret at my leaving Air-India.
What can I say to you who have shared with me the task of fulfilling my dream of building for India an airline worthy of her, except to say thank you with all my heart? Thank you for the love, loyalty and support you have given me in such abundance all these years and for the lifetime of work so many of you have given to our joint endeavour as, together, we grew and spread our wings to new skies, carried our country's flag to distant lands, and brought closer together their people and ours.
I cannot hide the sorrow I feel at our parting, for as a French poet so aptly said, to part is to die a little, and the part of me that died on February 1 represented more than half of my life. But memories do not die, and to the end of my days I will retain the happy and sometimes bitter-sweet memories of those exciting years in which together we dreamed and toiled, exulted in our achievements, suffered in our failures with fortitude, fought to retrieve them, strove endlessly for perfection in the pursuit of excellence, and always kept our eyes firmly on the stars.
Apart from the pain and sense of bereavement I feel at being suddenly cut off from Air-India and the world of aviation which I loved so much and which filled so much of my life, my greatest regret is that I am no longer a member of the Air-India family, working closely with you for the cause we have served so long together.
As I bid you good-bye, I am comforted in the knowledge that the Airline is safe in your hands and that the high standards we set from the start will never be lowered. Though now on the sidelines, my thoughts will always be with you and my prayers for the continued success of Air-India and the safety and happiness of those who work for it. Bless you all.'
Rekindling a Spark of Enthusiasm
On October 15, 1962, the thirtieth anniversary of his solo flight and again on the same day in 1982, the fiftieth anniversary, J.R.D. Tata re-enacted the flight from Karachi to Bombay in a Leopard Moth. When he landed at Juhu airport on the fiftieth anniversary flight, a galaxy of personalities was there to receive him, including the Governor and Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Speaking extempore to the audience after his seven-hour flight, Mr. Tata said:
It has been said at times that there are moments in life when one feels that if there was a nice big hole in front of one, one would gladly plunge into it. This is one such moment, as I have never been so embarrassed in my life as I have been this evening listening to the speeches about me.
His Excellency the Governor has been good enough to say that I am a modest man. I have usually felt that I had plenty to be modest about. And even today, in flying to Karachi and bringing back a perfectly safe aeroplane – an old lady, it is true, but one who gets on very well with her old pilot – I did not feel that I was doing anything that required great skill, courage or competence. I did not have to cross high mountains, or to battle with snowstorms or fog. On both these occasions as also fifty years ago, the flight was a relatively simple one of merely staying the air and navigating with reasonable accuracy. There was, it is true, one difference this time. Fifty years ago, the only means I had to navigate was to look at the map, and at the ground passing below me, follow a compass and hope that I was going to end up where I intended to. Today, there was a radio to help me. I do feel with no sense of undue modesty that the compliments and congratulations showered on me are greatly in excess of my performance. But I won't say that I didn't enjoy hearing them, however undeserving of them I may feel and I am terribly grateful for them.
Right from childhood, I have been mad about flying and anxiously waited for the day when I would fly myself. I read about every well-known pilot from the beginnings of aviation and was enthralled by their feats. Lindbergh's flight in 1927, in thirty-three hours across the Atlantic in a single-engined plane that was at least six years older than this one, was the kind of achievement that would merit all that has been said today.
I am a little disappointed that I have not been asked, 'Why the hell did you do it, if it was so simple?' In fact, I was asked that in 1962 when I did the same thing. At that time I felt – as I feel even more so today – that the birth of civil aviation and commercial aviation in India, and the growth of air transport over a period of thirty years deserved some kind of celebration – I did not think then that twenty years later, at an age approaching seventy-nine, there would either be an aeroplane for me to fly or that I would be fit to fly. So that was the reason then and so was it today.
I felt that I should do something myself to celebrate and commemorate the occasion (Golden Jubilee) and the only thing I was fit for was to fly an aeroplane.
I had also two other reasons. One was that I wanted to dedicate a gesture to those, at first in handfuls, then in hundreds and finally in thousands, the men and women who, over a period of forty-six years had helped me to build up Air-India and Indian air transport. I wanted to express in some way my gratitude and pay tribute to them and I did not know of any other way of dramatising the event than by the personal gesture of this flight. And so to them and to Air-India who sponsored the flight and got the plane repaired, renewed, refurbished and made flyable, I express today my very deep gratitude for the enthusiasm, for the toil and the sweat they contributed to our joint endeavour and for sharing with me the joys as well as the heartbreaks of the past fifty years.
The other reason which I think motivated me was to relive a memorable occasion of the past, something one often wants to do – for instance, one's engagement or marriage. Some people do it by marrying more than once. But nowadays with taxes as they are, very few people can afford more than one wife. In any case, my wife might have taken a dismal view of any such thought on my part.
I also had another reason. As I got older, I felt distressed that in recent times there was a growing sense of disenchantment in our land, that the hopes, the aspirations, the enthusiasm, the zest, the joy with which freedom was received in our country some thirty-five years ago, and even before that, the achievements that we participated in, including the creation of Air-India had faded, that there was a loss of morale, a loss of belief in ourselves.
When you talk to young people today, their main worry is to get a job. I don't blame them. It is a real worry. But also, there seems no longer to be the feeling that we can do things as well or better than others or even things that others haven't done. So I thought that, perhaps, this flight would rekindle a spark of enthusiasm, a desire to do something for the country and for its good name and that it would show that even in these days, when aviation is no longer an adventure but only big business, the times for pioneering are not gone. There are many other things that can be done and many things that the young of this country can do and must steel themselves to doing, however difficult, however discouraging at times the environment, the conditions may be.
And so, in a small way, this flight of mine today was intended to inspire a little hope and enthusiasm in the younger people of our country. I want them to feel, those who are today at a stage of their life I was at in 1932 (fifty years ago), that when they are seventy-eight – and I hope they all will live at least to seventy-eight – they will feel like I do, that despite all the difficulties, all the frustrations, there is a joy in having done something as well as you could and better than others thought you could. I thank you all for your presence.
'I shall come back....'
Speech on receiving the Daniel Guggenheim Medal Award, Seattle, July 31, 1989.
Perhaps, one of the most striking moments of my life in aviation was the day when we got delivery of our first Boeing 747. From that ridiculous little plane I used to fly in those early years, the advent of the 747 photographed with the little Puss Moth next to it, exemplified to me the progress of commercial aviation, and in some ways the progress of India.
I have come to Seattle after many years, and I feel privileged at being received by Boeing and shown round their superb plant, which I used to visit in the old days when I was in the happy position of being a buyer of their planes! I have happy memories of a personal friendship with the great Bill Allen, the then Chairman of the Boeing Board, and it was a matter of delight for me to meet Mrs. Allen again after many years.
We are still historically at the beginning of air travel, and I personally feel very lucky that I was born just about when aviation started and, am still around eighty-five years later. So much so that I have decided to come back some time in the future, hopefully in the very next century. I do not know how many of you believe in reincarnation. We in India do. If and when I do come back, I shall certainly visit Seattle and Boeing again.