J R D Tata is a household name in India. We know of the business empire he created, we know of his love for flying and we know the values he stood for. However, most of us never had the occasion to listen to him. A few years back Rupa Publication has released a set of 2 books – one that contains the letters he wrote and the other that is a collection of Keynote addresses that he made during his long-standing career.
This volume that I reflect on here is full of J R D Tata’s speeches. These include speeches that he gave at various places. There are speeches right after independence that talk about the need of that hour. And there are speeches from last years of his life when a lot had changed but maybe a lot was still left to be changed.
J R D Tata comes across as a powerful orator. His language has a heavy influence of British English as was the order of the era that he lived in. However, what I learned by reading these speeches is how to make your point as strongly as you want but still using the civilized language. Maybe, the crestfallen level of language in public domain makes his language stand out even more. He also taught me that you need to see yourself as a part of a larger system as you both impact and get impacted by everything else around you.
Being an industrialist, his concern for the industry and its fight against the license raj is a constant theme in his speeches. I wonder if the government then had listened to him, would India have developed faster. We never know, but he was probably the first one to represent industry, raise its concerns and seek resolutions. He does not hesitate in criticizing the government and its policies. With his global outlook, he tries to talk about what we can learn from other countries who are performing better than us.
At one place he talks about the Indian leadership in textile and Iron & Steel for thousands of years. He talks about Egyptian Mummies still being wrapped in Indian Muslin. He expresses concern on judging the Indian industrial productivity from western standards.
Family planning is another theme that comes again and again in his speeches. Right in the 1950s, he was warning against the rise in population that would put pressure on resources that a developing nation like India can not take. In later years, he seems exasperated that we are not doing enough to tackle this problem. Wonder what he would have felt looking at our population numbers here, especially, the call of some communities to increase numbers.
J R D Tata talks about education and healthcare. He asks the people of India to think and do their bit to make India When he says
I think that we as Indians, most of us, we don’t think enough, we don’t seem to realize that it is our duty to take an interest in the problems that overwhelm our country as each day we read newspapers, rather than take interest in films or football or the pleasures of life. We have a role to play in leading our own lives but we have a responsibility towards those millions of our people living in poverty and misery.
As a resident of Bombay, he talks about the city and its future. He is worried about the civic systems that had started failing in Bombay. One wonders how he would have reacted to the situations like annual flooding in Mumbai.
A topic that he stays away from is wars and India-Pakistan relationship – things that have always been a talking point through the modern Indian history.
This book is full of lessons for all of us – as Indians, as businesspersons, as policymakers, and as human beings.
Read it. I am already looking forward to reading the next part – J R D Tata’s Letters.