It is the title of the book that strikes one first. This biography by Russi M. Lala describes the nationalist, the progressive industrialist, the visionary and above all, an extraordinary person with a kind heart – J. R. D. Tata.
We are the Pilgrims, master; we should goAlways a little further: it may beBeyond that last blue mountain barred with snowAcross that angry or that glimmering sea…We travel not for trafficking alone;By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned;For lust of knowing what should not be known,We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
– James Elroy Flecker
The book is written in four parts. Part I covers the Tata’s legacy and J.R.D.’s early life. The book goes on to describe J.R.D.’s fascination for aviation as early as when he was ten years old and proceeds to tell us how J.R.D. enlisted in French army during the war. It further brings out his deftness in the face of challenges as a director of Tata Sons after the death of R.D., and records his marriage to Thelly. The first part ends with J.R.D. being appointed as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tata Sons Ltd., when he was thirty-four.
In the next part, Russi tries to pen down the roots of Indian Aviation, pioneered by J.R.D. He writes about J.R.D.’s solo flight from India to England as part of Royal Aero Club’s “Prize for England – India Flight”. He further writes about the Tatas entering the aviation business through Tata Air Mail in 1932. Russi details how J.R.D. purchased the planes himself, and how he flew the inaugural service. As planes became marginally bigger, lone passenger was accommodated in the seat behind the pilot. Post 1947 Indian independence, Tatas entered into international airline business with the start of Air-India International. The “Maharaja” was born.The second part of the book just doesn’t stop with the birth of Air-India International. It journeys with the “Maharaja” as it sets standards for international travel across the globe. The intimate relationship that J.R.D. shared with this “Maharaja” is highlighted.
Nationalisation of airlines was a very painful experience for J.R.D. Russi goes through this entire episode in the second part. He writes about how J.R.D. reacted. As the reader reads through all these ups and downs in the life of J.R.D., one thing becomes amply clear – J.R.D.’s contribution to the Indian aviation is enormous and unparalleled.
While the third part talks about J.R.D. and his contributions to the Tata empire he expanded, the fourth part focuses on his relations with Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. These two parts together paint the portrait of the man in all glory. His trust on his colleagues, his vision, his nationalism and his kindness combined with his pragmatism and perseverance makes the man a true inspiration.