Complete biography of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata


THE term ” great” is often so loosely richly to him. His father’s firm was applied to the lives of men one of those cosmopolitan houses so that we should ask our self’s characteristic of Bombay, for associated what are the standards which justify it. with it was Premchand Roychand, one Two may be suggested.

They are, of the most fertile and enterprising spirits that to deserve this appellation a man of the age. Enriched by money made in must have powerfully influenced for supplying the needs of the forces landed good the generation in which he lived, at Bushire in the little Persian war the and that his work should endure after his House was well established, and Jaksetic death.

There is yet another condition: was sent to China to open a branch in rightly to be judged, the life and work of Shanghai. Returning thence, it was his any man should be considered in relation lot to be immersed in the greatest boom to the times in which he lived. Gauged of all times-the hectic flow of money by these standards, none can question which poured into Bombay for the the right of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata purchase of cotton during the American to be included in the Indian valhalla. Civil War. Chastening, too, was the Consider first the times in which he lesson of the slump, when with the lived. Of all the races inhabiting India fall of Richmond fortunes disappeared the Parsis were quickest to appreciate the almost in a night. He was in England at opportunities unfolded to the enterprise- the time, loaded with securities of littering by the establishment of British rule. or no value, and from that bitter experi- Hardened in the school of adversity, free once learnt a lesson he never forgot-the from any caste restriction and therefore importance of sound finance.


Escaping able to travel, broadened by the tolerance, the worst evils of the collapse, which if exclusiveness, of the Zoroastrian creed, brought down the towering figure of the road to Bombay from their ancestral Premchand Roychand, the family for- homes in the Naosari District must have tunes were retrieved by profits from seemed like the highway to London for contracting for the supplies to the the Scots-the path to opportunity and Abyssinian Expedition, which Napier success. From Bombay they threw their financed with prodigal extravagance, tentacles East and West-to the rich Fortified with this rich experience and China market in opium and cotton, to adequate funds, none could be better Britain for the importation of Manu- equipped to play a great part in the factored goods which India could not industrial renaissance of India, make herself. Jaksetic Tata entered this But-and this is the distinguishing field at a great formative period. The feature of his life-Jaksetic Tata was liberalizing influence of education in never content with the conventional part. English poured new and heady wine into The beginnings of the cotton textile receptive minds, and he received his industry were laid before he entered the instruction in that great school, the field. Now it is not unjust to say that Elphinstone College. Experience fell in his day, industrial progress in India

tended to be imitative rather than creative. If one pioneer erected a mill, then a score followed in his wake; if a cement or a sugar factory was established then others sprang up like mushrooms until the market was saturated or even glutted. Jaksetic Tata was always creative. When his contem­poraries were satisfied with producing low-grade yarn for export to the China market and rough cloths for home consumption, he looked farther afield, and selecting Nagpur, in the Central Provinces, put down his mill in the centre of the cotton-growing lands and catered for the proximate market. The prosperity of the Empress Mills he established there against the advice of all his friends reads like a dream. His ambition was that the mills should pay a hundred per cent. In 1920 original holders of the scrip were receiving 360 per cent. At a time when most industrial­ists gave little thought to their work­people after they left the mill at the close of the day’s toil, he bent his mind to all the social activities which we call to-day by the generic title of welfare work. Later, he was to learn in the hard school of experience that it is far easier to establish a new factory than to resuscitate an old one, and the struggle to recreate the derelict mills he acquired at Coorla and in Ahmadabad took heavy toll of his energies; but he succeeded here as in everything else. The strain was so great that it possibly shortened his life.

Many men know how to acquire a fortune; it is given to fewer to under­stand how to use it. Money was never to Jamsetji Tata an end in itself. Not that he was indifferent to many things that wealth can bring. He loved travel; he was a splendid spender; although abstemious to the point of asceticism in the use of alcohol, he did not scorn the pleasures of the table. At a time when the successful Indian merchant of the day was well content to dwell in the family house in the overcrowded and not too healthy bazaar, he built himself an imposing mansion overlooking the breezy maiden. It was not until plague fell upon the city that the great migration to the heights of Malabar and Cumballa Hills and the suburbs set in. He looked upon the decaying silk industries of Mysore and brought Japanese experts to put them on modern lines. He fought successfully for cheaper freights to the Far East-with the result of stimulating Japanese competition in directions not altogether favorable. He argued with the Government of Bombay until the heavy “fines” on building in the adjacent island of Salsette were lightened. But in this phase of his life one enterprise stands out above all others-his unbounded confidence in the future of the city he had made his home.

“Romance brought in the 9.15,” sang Rudyard Kipling when told that the age of romance was dead. Short as memories are, can any be insensible to the romance of the rise of Bombay? In the use of this new-found land Jamsetji Tata played an heroic part. Wherever land could be had he bought it. He acquired for instance the greater part of the adjacent island of Trombay, with a view to making it a garden suburb. He would have reclaimed the tidal creek which separates Bombay Island from Salsette if he could have come to terms with the Government. He cast his restless eye on the sea-girt spit of land open to the western winds at Juhu, and would have made it an ordered Brighton, instead of the higgledy-piggledy collection of bungalows and shacks it is to-day. When new sites were available from the reclamations of the Port Trust and the land thrown upon the market by the creation of the Improvement Trust, many investors held aloof, afraid of the terms of the new leases. Not so Jamsetji Tata; he acquired and built in every part of the Island. And when a friend casually remarked that Bombay was without a first-class hotel, he growled in his deep-toned voice-“I will build one,” and on the site of the basin where rowers were wont to take their skiffs for a stretch in the harbour, he raised, at a cost of a quarter of a million of rupees, the hotel which seizes the eye of the incoming passenger, and established a new standard of comfort for the visitor and resident alike.


Yet, embracing and beneficial as these activities were, they seem to me to be no more than the prelude to his great constructive work. Secure in possession of an ample fortune, with a big income from the Empress and other cotton mills, he bent his mind to three major schemes. Though they came to fruition after his death, his was the inspiration, his the pioneer work.

The inspiration came in the late 1880s, when Lord Reay, the Governor of Bombay, in an address as Chancellor of the University, warned India that she was at the parting of the ways; higher education could no longer develop if the Universities remained purely examining bodies. It was imperative to evolve a teaching university. They were laid to meet the immediate needs of the hour-the pro­vision of educated and efficient admin­istrative services-^and they discharged that role admirably. The fault, if fault it was, lay in the fact that they became stereotyped; that when this need was fully satisfied, and India was hungry for scientific and vocational training the colleges and universities continued to concentrate on a literary education, pro­ducing a growing class of graduates for whom there was no economic outlet. Lord Reay’s words fell on receptive ears and Jamsetji Tata decided to fill the gap. One of his dominant characteristics was his judgment of men. As he brought Bezonji Dadabhai, a Goods Superinten­dent on the railway, to organise and direct the Empress Mills, and A. J. Billimeria to take charge of his office organisation, so he selected B. J. Padshah, a college professor of unbounded enthusiasm and complete devotion to the welfare of India, to be his adviser.

Padshah was sent round the world to study post-graduate education in every land, and returned charged with the advantages of the Johns Hopkins institution at Baltimore. Sir William Ramsay was brought from Britain to lend the weight of his scientific know­ledge and experience. A sum of thirty lakhs of rupees was set aside as foundation money. Long and wearisome was the path to achievement. It had not been trodden to the goal when Jamsetji Tata died; it was indeed then doubtful whether it would ever be brought to fruition. But his sons accepted the project as a trust; they decided to continue the offer of the original sum of thirty lakhs; and aided by a large grant from the Govern­ment of India and a generous gift of land and money from the Maharajah of Mysore, the foundation stone was laid in the pleasant station of Bangalore in 1911, and students were admitted to classes in General and Applied Chemistry, Electro-Technology, and Organic Chem­istry. That was the origin and history of the Indian Institute of Science, the foremost institution for the teaching of higher science in the East.

Even the most casual survey of the industrial field carries the conviction that no country can become industrially great which does not possess an iron and steel industry; it is indispensable to the formation of a true economic cycle. India had practised for ages a smelting industry, whose caliber can be gauged from the famous Iron Pillar at Delhi, but like the industry of Sussex, it lan­guished as the forests were drawn upon for charcoal and before the competition of the highly-organised industries of the West. A useful factory for the production of pig-iron was founded at Kulti in Bengal, but the attempt to produce steel was a failure, and the needs of the country were supplied from abroad. In the year 1899, one of those far-sighted Artillery Officers to whom India owes so much, Major R. H. Mahon, Superintendent of the Govern­ment Ordnance Factories at Cossipore, produced a prophetic report; he declared that the time had come for the establish­ment of iron and steel works on a con­siderable scale, that these should be on the most modern lines, and that the most favourable theatre for operations was Bengal. Jamsetji Tata seized on the idea with avidity, remitted the direction of the enterprise largely to his eldest son Dorabji (Sir Dorab Tata), and provided the funds for the prospecting activity from his own purse. Later, he estab­lished contact with two men who were destined to play a large part in the enter­prise-Julian Kennedy, of the firm of Julian Kennedy, Sahlin and Co., and Charles Page Penn, a mining engineer of world-wide experience. Romance has been used to describe the rise of Bombay; it is equally applicable to the establishment, of the iron and steel industry. Jamsetji Tata was not alone in the field of research. The prospector was abroad in the land and more than one financier fixed his gaze on the Indian scene. Whilst waiting for an interview with the Head of the Central Provinces, Dorabji drifted by chance into the Museum, and there noticed on the geological map a large area in the Drug district coloured to represent deposits of iron. Secretly he and his geological expert went to the scene and discovered a veritable hill of iron ore of the richest quality. That was enough. Good coking coal was found in the Jherria district, limestone and manganese were available in abundance, and the major problem was solved.


Here was the iron and the coal; it only remained to fix the site of economic assembly and manufacture, and to find the money. The latter was the greater difficulty of the two. British capital played a great part in the develop­ment of India; but it was for the most part been on conservative lines. There was always money ready for established credit; there was little or none for the creation “of new credits. The present generation little appreciates the difficul­ties under which the early industrialists laboured. They had first to risk their all; then to go cap in hand to their friends for financial support. Assuming this succeeded, and then as soon as an asset was created it had to be pledged for working capital. No one dreamt that the unpre­cedented sum needed for an iron and steel industry could be found in the country itself. The scheme, ripe for exploitation after Jamsetji Tata’s death, was literally hawked round London and New York without success; all the heavy preliminary expenses were met from the Tata House. In an hour of inspiration Dorabji Tata decided to appeal to his own countrymen. A new spirit was abroad. The Swadeshi movement-the movement for the development of India’s immense resources-was at its height. The response was immediate. The public subscribed the whole of the capital required-£ 1,630,000-and when a further sum of £400,000 was needed, a single Indian Prince, the Maharajah of Gwalior, provided the money.

That was the origin of the Steel City which grew in the jungles of Chota Nagpur. The engineers literally went into the wil­derness, a land of scrub jungle, thinly peo­pled with descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of India, the Santhals. The land had to be cleared and leveled; the river dammed for water; a railway connection established with the main line and another to the hill of Iron at Gurumaishini, where an almost inexhaustible supply of the finest ore was available. From these beginnings have grown the iron and steel works of today. It was a graceful act of the Government of India to change the name of Sakchi to Jamshedpur, and of the railway junction to Tatanagar.

Turn now to another enterprise with which the name of Jamsetji Tata is indissolubly associated. Bombay was the original, centre of the cotton textile industry. From the crest of Malabar Hill the curious could look forth and see the smoke rising from eighty chimneys, spreading over the Island a mephitic fog which hung like the pall of a “London particular” on a stilly morning. Ideally situated in many respects, with a magnificent harbour and every facility for exporting to the once profitable markets of China, Japan and the Levant, it labours under one disadvantage remoteness from the coalfields. In the early days fuel came from South Wales and Yorkshire; then Natal entered the field; but with the development of the Indian mines indigenous supplies captured the market. That involved rail carriage of twelve hundred miles from Bengal, or the rail-cum-sea route with, considerable loss from repeated handling. Yet in the Western Ghats immense resources in hy­dro-electric power lay dormant. A region of constant rainfall, in places up to three hundred inches, an immediate fall of eighteen hundred feet, and an established demand sixty miles away-what could the financier and engineer ask more? The successful working of a modest scheme at Sivasmudrum in Mysore, where the waters of the Cauvery River were har­nessed to furnish hydro-electricity to drive the Kolar Gold Mines, had revealed the prospects of water power, and when this scheme was brought to the attention of Jamsetji Tata by David Gostling, a practising architect of imagination, it at once appealed to his fertile mind. As with everything else in the India of those days, the wheels of Government moved slowly, and Government aid was essential to the granting of the necessary licenses and the acquisition of the land. Little had been done save the preliminary work when Jamsetji Tata “crossed over.” The burden of carrying his ideas to completion again rested on the shoulders of Dorabji. Here, again, finance seemed to be the rock on which the enterprise might founder. Arrangements were almost com­plete for the enlistment of London finance when the Governor of the day, Lord Sydenham, himself an engineer of repute, urged Indian capitalists to make the work their own. Again the response was amazing. When the Tata Hydro-Electric Company was launched in 1910 the capital of two crores of rupees was promptly subscribed.

The Tata Hydro-Electric scheme is complicated. There is a shallow lake at Lonavla to store the monsoon rains; then a supplementary reservoir at Walhwan connected with it by duct; and at a later stage comes the immense lake at Shirwata, whose waters are carried into Walhwan by tunnel the magnitude of which may be indicated by the fact that the containing dam is as large as the famous Assouan Barrage on the Nile. Before the scheme was completed a demand arose for yet more power, and a site was found in the Andhra Valley, where the waters were stored in a single lake and carried to the turbines at the foot of the hills through a tunnel. This paved the way for the yet bigger scheme, damming the Nir Mulla River on the same lines as Andhra, and supplying the turbines through a tunnel. These con­nected works develop no less than 244,000 electrical horse-powers, the whole of which was absorbed in the industries of Bombay, the electrification of the suburban and part of the main railway lines, and in Poona and the Island of Salsette. The total share capital of the associated companies was Rs 9,05,00,000. Through this agency it could have been claimed that Bombay was the most electrified city in the world, for the Bombay Electrical Supply and Tramway Company, acting as distributors, carried electricity into the smallest dwellings, even to thousands of consumers each with no more than a single light.


Applying these activities to the canons of greatness suggested earlier, who can deny that Jamsetji Tata was entitled to the title of A Great Indian? He brought into industry, a new concept. He was no imitator, but carved out a fresh field, going to the sources of supply of the raw material, cotton, and to the market. More, in an age of cheapness he sought the most efficient material money could buy; for him the best was only just good enough. He was a pioneer in the work of industrial welfare, and had a vivid interest in the lives of his employees. Again he has an abiding sense of responsibility to his shareholders. when he entered the textile industry the vicious system ob­tained of the managing agents drawing a commission of a quarter of an anna on every pound of yarn spun; it sometimes paid the agent to work full time even when the yarn had to be sold at a loss. Jamsetji Tata sub­stituted the commission of ten per cent, on profits now general; no profits no commission.

Then when his fortunes were estab­lished he looked abroad to see how best they could be utilised for the advantage of his country. It was said of a great writer that he took the whole world of learning for his province. Of Jamsetji Tata it might equally be said that the whole field of industry came within his ambit. Those associated activities- the Indian Institute of Science to train the higher personnel; the iron and steel works to start the true economic cycle; and the hydro-electric stations to furnish cheap power and conserve the coal resources-left an enduring mark on his own generation. He did not live to see the coping stone placed on this work; but so well were the foundations laid, so determined the enthusiasm inspired in his sons and colleagues, that they pressed it to completion. Of him truly can the epitaph be writ-he wrought the people lasting good.

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