The story of India's leading business family
The nineteenth century was an exciting time of initiative I and enterprise around the world. If John D. Rockefeller was creating unimagined wealth in the United States that he would put to the service of the nation, a Parsi family with humble roots was doing the same in India.
In 1822, a boy was born in a priestly household in Gujarat's Navsari. Young Nusserwanji knew early on that his destiny lay beyond his village and decided to head for Bombay to start a business. He had neither higher education nor knowledge of trade matters, just a burning passion to carve his own path.
What Nusserwanji started as a cotton trading venture, his son Jamsetji-born in the same year as Rockefeller-grew into a multifaceted business, turning around sick textile mills, setting up an iron and steel company, and building a world-class hotel. Stewarded ably over the decades by Jamsetji's sons Dorabji and Ratanji, the charismatic and larger-than-life JRD, and thereafter the more business-like Ratan, the Tata group today is a 110-billion-dollar empire.
The Tatas is their story. But it is more than just a history of the industrial house; it is an inspiring account of India in the making. It chronicles how each generation of the family invested not only in the expansion of its own business interests but also in nation building. Few know, for instance, that the first hydel power project in the world was conceived of and built by the Tatas. The Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, as also the national carrier Air India-the family has a long, rich and unrivalled legacy.
A tribute to a line of visionaries who have a special place in the hearts of ordinary Indians, this is the only book that tells the complete Tata story spanning almost two hundred years.
Girish Kuber is the Editor of Loksatta and writes frequently in the Indian Express. He is also the author of six books in Marathi. He lives in Mumbai.
The narrative of The Tatas spans almost 200 years. In condensing it to a 250-odd-page story with a popular appeal for the lay reader, I have re-imagined and reconstructed some scenes and conversations. This is also a work of translation from Marathi to English. As such, the words written may not be exactly the ones spoken, yet they are true to the meaning of the conversations drawn from the sources listed at the end of the book. While the translator, the editor and I have made every effort to ensure that the translation is as faithful to the original sources as possible, some inadvertent discrepancies may have nevertheless survived to the final draft. Any errors are deeply regretted.
Why have I written a book on the Tatas and why now? The answer W is simple.
The Tata conglomerate is intricately intertwined in so many of India's successes and firsts, and most of these, incredibly, have remained uncovered. Not many know that it was the Tatas who brought silk to Mysore or that they were the ones who got strawberries to Mahabaleshwar, a popular hill station in Maharashtra now synonymous with the fruit. Not many are aware, either, that the world's earliest worker welfare policies were drafted in a Tata venture or that the Taus were global pioneers in conceiving a hydroelectric project.
Though much has been written about the Tatas, it has been mostly from a corporate or industry-specific perspective, such as on Tata Steel or Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). My effort here is to tell the human side of this business story, from the common man's point of view, without resorting to jargon and mind-boggling numbers.
And there is a need to tell this story as there is a growing trend all over the world of measuring success purely on the basis of balance sheets. Profits do matter, no doubt, but that's not the only factor. Against this backdrop, it is fascinating to delve into this story that starts with a common Indian middle-class man who aimed high and, while achieving what he set his sights on, thought of what he could do for the country and cared for the environment. Whatever the Tatas did, it wasn't solely with profitability in mind. The Tatar did not just build companies, they also lent a huge hand in building the nation.
There are few stories of homegrown Indian business houses that have a global appeal. The story of the Tatas is one of them.
I wrote this book in Marathi as Tatayan about five years ago. The response to it was overwhelming. There have been a dozen reprints to date. From politicians of all hues to businessmen to readers from different walks of life, it touched every section of society. The most important reason behind the book's success, I feel, is the fascination Indians have for the Tatar. Incidentally, Tatayan is also the only book that chronicles the Tata story right from its inception about 200 years ago to now. That may be the other reason behind the book's sustained popularity. For Tatayan, I owe a big thank you to Mr Dilip Majgaonkar of Rajhans Pralcashan, who took personal interest in producing it with Elan.
I am equally thankful to Siddhesh Inamdar, Commissioning Editor at HarperCollins, for spotting the book, and to the HarperCollins team for deciding to take it to an English readership. The Tatar would not have been published without Siddhesh's active involvement.
I most also thank Vikrant Pande for the tremendous work he put in to translate the book into English, and Amit Malhotra for the cover design that perfectly captures the steely resolve associated with the Tatar.
I hope the book leaves readers feeling as inspired and invigorated as I felt writing it.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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