Journey with the Tatas
R.M. Lala, who began as a journalist at 19, managed a publishing house and ran the Himmat Weekly. He is an authority on the history of the Tatas and talks about their vision and JRD's ethics
Russi M. Lala: `Ethics is not about not paying or receiving a bribe. It is about how you deal with people around you.' Photo: K. Gopinathan
ONE DOES not know if it is the cancer or his abiding faith in something beyond the human ("call it God or what you will"), or both, Russi. M. Lala speaks with deep philosophical import. He also speaks with eloquence and clarity of purpose that grips. This could also be because he lived with men such as J.R.D. Tata, men who believed in the "betterment of people". If anyone in the country today can speak of the ethic in the Tata House in its entirety, it is Russi M. Lala, who recently presented the first copy of his new book, For The Love of India: The Life and Times of Jamsetji Tata, to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Mr. Lala has survived cancer for 15 years. A good friend of his for the last 50 years, Dara Gandhy said the "abiding faith Lala had in something beyond the human pulled him through". Mr. Lala remarks: "In that, I spent half the time in remission... God has created us to do good things. When your job is done, God will call you and you go happily. No point lingering around and troubling others."
The President asked him: "I believe you have had cancer. How is it that you are such a happy man?" Mr. Lala replied: "I have even written a book on it!"
His book, Celebration of the Cells: Letters from a Cancer Survivor, describes the causes, treatment, and cure of cancer. He, in fact, would like to correct those who think he has only written on Tatas. Some of his books on eminent people include A Touch of Greatness: Encounters with the Eminent, and In Search of Leadership, the eighth print of which is coming out now since 1986, "where I have shown the right means applied by Ashoka and Gandhi to produce the right results". He recalls here how Bismarck "forged a telegram to excite France against Germany and left a legacy of aggrandisement". "A man may make immediate gains, but in the long run the wages of immorality will prove too costly. More people died in World War I than in World War II in the trenches of France all because of the telegram."
The Mhow School of Artillery ordered 60 copies of the book. He was surprised because it had nothing to do with the army. "They said it had much to do with moral means and ends..."
Mr. Lala has written four books on the Tatas: The Creation of Wealth, Beyond the Last Blue Mountain: A Life of J.R.D. Tata, The Joy of Achievement: Conversations with J.R.D. Tata, and the latest one, For the Love of India: The Life and Times of Jamsetji Tata is a record of the Tata history from the 19th to the 21st Century, a history both social and personal.
JRD asked Mr. Lala what he would write next after Conversations... "I don't know, sir. Anything that will make people nobler and better," he said. And thus was born For the Love of India...
Mr. Lala's first encounter with the Tata empire started long ago, when he brought out the booklet India says No to Nationalisation. That was in 1979, when Tisco and Telco were around. The Tatas then asked him to write a book on the house of Tatas and its effects on the nation. That is how The Creation of Wealth came about in 1981.
But Mr. Lala wrote on the Tatas also because "they came with strong values". "Ethics is not about not paying or receiving a bribe. It is about how you deal with people around you. Do you care for them or do you use them? Do you care for people on top of you and those below without difference? A man's character lies in that. Jamsetji was like that. And JRD would always tell me, `Be generous, Be generous'. I have never forgotten that all my life. Many ask now whether after Ratan Tata the same standards will be kept."
The title of his new book, For the Love of India... captures Jamsetji's persona. "His love of India was his love of the people. He would always say, `give people an asset and they will get some income...' Time and again Jamsetji did things not many people liked to do..."
Way back in 1896, Mr. Lala recalls, Jamsetji would offer monthly salaries to his servants. "He would think of individuals and institutions at the same time. The country came before the company. And he believed what is good for India was good for the Tatas. Not what an American once said: What is good for General Motors is good for America."
Jamsetji built the foundations of modern India: the Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Steel Plant in Jamshedpur, the first hydro-electric project, and the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai (being the only one of the Taj chain he saw during his time). The others eventually did come up his pioneering efforts could not have gone waste. He had even struggled with Lord Curzon who resisted the idea of an institute of advanced research. Mr. Lala recalls Swami Vivekananda's words in the Prabudha Bharati: "If there were to be a few more Tatas, India would be transformed a hundred times over..."
Mr. Lala says he writes only to make people nobler. The moral rearmament gave him that sensibility. "I was attacking people, but when I measured my life against moral standards of honesty, purity, love, and integrity, I realised the people I was attacking may not after all be wrong, that I myself might be... I turned the searchlight inwards..."The "biographer" of the Tatas tells you why one man, Jamsetji, did so much for the country: "For a man of fortune, business was not his business, the nation was his business..."
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