Born in Paris, France in 1904 to a French mother and a father who descended from the distinguished Parsi family of the Tatas, J.R.D. or ‘Jeh’ spent a luxurious childhood shunting between Japan and India and France. He lost his mother at a young age and his father soon after.
When he was small, he got influenced by Louis Bleriot. His love for aeroplanes, even during their earliest days when it was commonly believed that airplanes were only meant for warfare, was to become a lasting passion of his life. He was one of those who foresaw, with a shrewd insight, that airplanes would get commercial in a big way.
When he was 24 he became the first Indian to obtain a flying license. He flew solo from India to England for an organized competition. He lost by a hair’s breadth to an 18 year old Aspy Engineer. Soon after, J.R.D. started India’s first airmail service- which was to grow into a full-fledged airline Air India.
The Tatas have always been one of a handful of Indian industrialists and businessmen who are forever known for giving Indian industries new directions whilst simultaneously maintaining their ethics and value system. J.R.D. Tata undertook tasks with a flourish. Despite his abrupt and unsteady starts, he took upon the challenge of building an empire and helped make it sour to newer heights.
This book also explores his relationships with Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The socialist in Nehru was so adverse to the terms ‘profit’ that it strained his long friendship with JRD Tata, whom he ultimately saw as a businessman obsessed with self-gain. JRD, however, was a lot more than that. He had vision and a sense of what was going to turn out to be important and despite his somewhat cold understanding with both the first Indian Prime Minister, and later his daughter, he did not stop voicing his concerns to them. They both had their own ways of ignoring him. Nehru would just stare dead out of the window and JRD could never be sure if he was listening or not, but he certainly did not respond. In the end, they just agreed to disagree, but there always was an elephant in the room when they were together.
Much worst were JRD’s dealings with Morarji Desai, whom he disregarded from the start. In the early 1990’s, retired though he was, JRD expressed a dissatisfaction given the fact that though the things he had envisioned in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were coming to be, he was too old to actually be an active participant. It was always to be his greatest regret, that despite his farsightedness and vision, he was never able to push past the politics and bureaucracy of a country which went the wrong way…