Book: J. R. D. Tata Keynote

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IN A LIGHTER VEIN

A Farewell to Sir Homi Mody

A Farewell to Sir Homi Mody

At the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, May, 1959.

 

Sir Homi, Lady Mody, ladies and gentlemen.

 

I address you, Sir, with somewhat mixed feelings and with a sense of uncertainty as to what note I should strike. Saying good-bye is usually, or perhaps always a sad and serious business. Particularly in this case, because it involves saying good-bye to one who has been a mentor, a guide and an intimate friend for two decades and more. I don't feel therefore like cracking jokes this evening but feel rather inclined, had I the courage, to give vent to my emotions and feelings on saying good-bye to Sir Homi. I am, however, somewhat deterred by the fear that it might induce Sir Homi to follow my example because after all, tears and laughter often are not far apart. Furthermore, Sir Homi happily is not leaving us altogether. He is still the Chairman of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Chairman of the Indian Hotels Company and for as long as he likes or thinks us worthy of his advice, chief adviser to Tatas on any and every subject under the sun. Finally, the reason that I do not feel like speaking this evening in too serious a vein is that I do not want to spoil Sir Homi's own enjoyment of this function.

Of all the men I know, none enjoys farewell functions as much as Sir Homi. This is the third he has got from us – in 1941, 1949 and 1959. In between, he has, to my knowledge, extracted dozens from other groups and associations, which he happened to leave either permanently or temporarily. And when there was no occasion for a farewell party, Sir Homi usually managed to get himself knighted or decorated or appointed to the Central Government or to a Governorship all of which happily called for congratulatory functions.

So, I would not like to spoil Sir Homi's evening and the pleasure we have in his being with us. There is also another reason for not treating this function too seriously and that is that I am frankly not at all sure that Sir Homi is leaving Tatas for good. He is a very resourceful man and in spite of all the precautions we have taken on the advice of Mr. J.D. Choksi, he might well infiltrate again into the Board of Tatas. He has done it before. Significantly enough, he has insisted on keeping a room and a secretary in Bombay House.

Ten years ago almost to this day, we assembled in this very hall to bid good-bye and good luck to Sir Homi when he went to Uttar Pradesh as Governor. On that occasion Sir Homi made a memorable and a slightly defamatory speech, which I took the trouble to read again the other day and in the course of which he accused his colleagues of various felonies like plotting to get rid of him, disregarding his advice and starving him of work. In this connection, I thought you might like to hear some of the things that he said ten years ago. He discoursed on his work in Tatas and said:

 

'Happily for me, none of my colleagues thought I was capable of doing any work, with the result nothing was passed on to me. In my earlier years, I used to resent that greatly and when I insisted very hard that I should be given some work and I was capable of doing something, my colleagues met "in camera" and decided that with proper safeguards the Taj Mahal Hotel be passed on to me. The safeguards were that the Chairman was to keep in his own hands all questions of alterations and interior decoration, Sabavala (A.P.) was to look after the hotel, Banerjee was to look after the kitchen, Darab Tata was to look after the Dutch Suite and Choksi (J.D.) was to look after the crooner. Outside these things I could damn well do what I liked. I could run the lunches at Bombay House and I could appear in police courts to answer prosecutions.'

 

Now, ladies and gentlemen, the fact that not less than ten years later Sir Homi is still a Director of Tatas, Chairman of the Trust, Chairman of the Indian Hotels Company, Director of Public Relations and adviser to the firm on every subject including marital relations, and has a finger in every one of the firm's pies, will enable you to judge whether that assault on his colleagues was fair. This is by way of warning him not to do it again today.

You may not know that Sir Homi has been throughout his life a prolific writer of books. In fact, he wrote two. At the tender age of twenty-seven, he wrote The Political Future of India, which seems to have taken a lot out of him because it was only thirteen years later at the age of forty, that he wrote his magnum opus, the Life of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. There is no truth, by the way, in the libellous story that he bought all the books of both the editions. Actually, three of the first and six of the second found a ready sale. Well, exhausted by this double effort, Sir Homi has not published anything since. But I hope, now that he will have little more time, between forays and assaults in various directions, he will take up again his literary career and perhaps write his memoirs.

As for his academic background, I do not know any man, except Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, who has collected so many honorary degrees. The Trusts are still paying for some of them.

However, his intellectual eminence and his distinguished services to the country, to business and to industry, and the honours that have been conferred on him, represent to me only one part of Sir Homi and his life. This evening, talking a little more seriously, we salute in him a great human being, a great gentleman and one of the most lovable men one could ever want to meet. His generosity, his loyalty to his friends and to any cause that he espouses – and he espouses many of them, sometimes lost causes – his political courage, his truculent independence of views, his legendary wit, which he uses as often at his own expense as at that of others, his refusal ever to be cowed down by anybody or by any event, however calamitous it may be, all these form an important and characteristic part of Sir Homi's life. Above all, to me he is one of the staunchest of friends and one ever ready to share one's burden. I shall miss him more than I can say.

In private life, we all know he has been and is a wonderful father. From all accounts, he has also been a tolerably good and faithful husband. I cannot imagine that he could have found any other woman to replace Lady Mody, whom we are happy to see with us this evening, and whom I warmly associate with the tribute that I pay to Sir Homi. Apart from being one of the most delightful persons I know she must be also one of the smartest, if we can judge by the way she has handled Sir Homi all these years and kept him at least in part out of mischief, or out of greater mischief.

To neither of them one can express the usual wishes on such occasions of peaceful and happy retirement. Neither of them is of the retiring kind in any sense of the word. They are both perennially young and both incorrigibly sprightly. So, Sir Homi and Lady Mody, while wishing you both a long life, happiness, health and such prosperity as you may manage to extract from our socialist pattern of society, I do not call upon you the blessings of peace and quiet. On the contrary, I wish you all the fun and excitement that you can find in whatever new activity or commotion or uproar you may create in the life of the country.

God bless you both.

 

Sir Homi's Reply

 

You can imagine I cannot be in too happy a mood on such an occasion. As Mr. Tata has rubbed it in, that this is the third occasion on which Bombay House is holding a function in my honour and I was going to say that it looks like being the last until I heard the heartening words of the Chairman. The very large numbers in which you have gathered here today prove to me that my impending departure has aroused a great deal of enthusiasm.

It may interest you to know that I very nearly went in 1952, when my assignment in U.R came to an end. My colleagues who never had much of an opinion of me – and I would ask you to pay no attention to what our Chairman has said about me, an obituary notice is always full of warmth and enthusiasm – made up their minds that my Governorship for three years must have knocked out whatever little capacity I had for serious work, and they were about to tell me so as politely as they could. But I was a little too smart for them, and before they could move in the matter, they found me on their hands; the very day I came back from U.P., I walked into Bombay House.

Since my colleagues could do nothing about it, they consigned me to a room on the fourth floor approached through a forest of doors. I lingered there for three years, and just when I had finished learning which doors to pull and which to push, they pushed me downstairs and relegated me to my old rooms, where I led a precarious existence for another four years. I might have hung on indefinitely, but I reluctantly came to the conclusion that it was better gracefully to retire than to be served with a notice.

These twenty-five years have seen a great many changes in Bombay House. When I first joined, my friend the late Sir Nowroji Saklatvala was Chairman, an office which he filled with much distinction. He had grown grey in the service of Tatas and he was steeped in the methods and traditions of the House. Its affairs were accordingly conducted in a patriarchal fashion. The Directors did not see much of each other in those days and naturally life was more peaceful.

With the advent of our present Chairman, there was a terrific onrush of new ideas and methods and all manner of American gadgets and devices invaded Bombay House, which got a new look altogether. If any of you want to see a Director these days, you will find your entrance barred by at least half a dozen lights. If it is an orange light then it means that the boss is speaking on the telephone; if it is a yellow light, it means he is dictating something to his secretary; there will be some other light if there is somebody in the room – it would be a pink light if it was a man and if it was a red light then sure enough it would be a girl. Then supposing he was doing a bit of thinking, which of course does not happen very often, there would be a blue light; and you would be very, very lucky if you ever struck a green light. You could then walk in but the Director would probably pretend to be very busy.

We have, as Chairman, a most unusual person. He has a very keen intellect, a little too keen. His versatility is truly amazing. Whether it is a blast furnace or an ice-cream freezer, an aircraft engine or a cigarette lighter, he is equally at home with all of them. He affects to be his own doctor and some of us are agreed that he makes a damned bad doctor and a damned bad patient. The presentation of balance sheets is his special hobby. He has turned them into works of art, and you may have noticed, that the lesser the profits, the more the pictures, the charts and the statistics that he puts into them. All in all, I have great admiration and affection for our Chairman, and I think Tatas are singularly fortunate in having as their Chief a man of such wide vision and such a fine sense of right and wrong.

I feel, friends, that you may want me to say a few words about myself. I have had a varied and interesting career, and sometimes when I look back, I am appalled by the number of things at which I have tried my hand; I must have been a quick-change artiste in my earlier life. Success comes to people in various ways, is not always a matter of merit and when I think – and I am not affecting modesty – of all the foolish things that I have done through my impetuousness, I cannot but regard what I may have achieved as a matter of happy accident. The only thing I can claim for myself is that I have held fast to certain values and ideals, and I hold that it is not so much what one achieves, as what one is, that really matters, and I would count myself fortunate, if I was remembered ever for some friendly word or deed that had brought cheer to another human being. I would deem my life wasted if material success was all that I had achieved.

This personal note cannot be complete without a reference to my wife who has been flattered beyond measure by the Chairman. Her good sense, her warmth of heart and instinct for doing the right thing have exerted a great deal of influence over me, and I can say that she has been a help-mate to me in every sense of the word. She has an annoying habit of taking everything very coolly – you should have seen the cheerfulness with which she bore my illness last year. There is always a perfect understanding between us and whenever we disagree, she goes her own way, and I go hers.

Enough of this, I think, my friends. It is with some difficulty that I have brought myself to indulge in levity on this occasion. I am leaving with a heavy heart, but I am greatly heartened also by the evidence which I have had in these last few weeks of the goodwill which I have earned amongst the members of the staff of Tatas. I have been proud of my association with the House and I have regarded it as an integral part of my life for twenty-five years. The vision which the Founder had, has come true in a way which even he could not have imagined, and whatever part any one of us may be playing in the raising of that edifice, we have all been proud of the work that we have been doing. It is that, more than material reward or any such consideration, that binds us together in ties of loyalty and devotion to the organisation.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I must thank you all very warmly for the kindness and consideration you have always extended to me, and I pray that the prestige, the influence and the power for good of the House of Tata be maintained and strengthened with the passing of the years. Goodbye and good luck to you all.

 

 

 

_____________________

In 1941, Sir Homi Mody was appointed a Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council,- in 1949 he was appointed Governor of U.P.

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