In Search of the Zoroastrians

Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata

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Born in a Parsi family in 1839, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata came to Bombay at the age of 14. In 1868, at age 29, he started a private trading firm with a capital of Rs 21,000. His travels in the Far East and Europe had inspired in him the desire to manufacture cotton goods. So, in 1877, he launched the famous Empress Mill in Nagpur.

This enterprise became his laboratory where he tried experiments in technology and labour welfare. In 1886, he instituted a pension fund and, in 1895, he began to pay accident compensation. At 47, he launched the Swadeshi Mills to mark the beginning of the Swadeshi movement (a movement to popularise the use of indigenous goods as opposed to British goods, which marked an important forward surge in India's struggle for freedom). This mill was massively supported by Indian shareholders.

Jamsetji was a true nationalist who foresaw the significance of the industrial revolution for India and spelt out the three basic ingredients necessary to attain it: Steel was the mother of heavy industry; hydroelectric power was the cheapest energy to be generated; and technical education, coupled with research, was essential for industrial advancement.

The steel saga
A report on the rich iron ore deposits in India motivated Jamsetji to set up a steel plant for the nation. He researched for years the process of steel-making and travelled to Europe and the US for technical advice.

In 1900, when Jamsetji was sixty, he finally got the approval for bulding a steel plant. He invited world renowned consultant Charles Page Perin to undertake a thorough scientific survey of raw materials and climatic conditions in India. Many years were spent in surveying the Indian terrain before the group hit paydirt in the remote coalfields of Bengal which had ore with rich iron content and a continuous flow of water. Three years earlier in 1904, Jamsetji had passed away in Germany, but his dream outlived him. The Tata Iron and Steel Company was formed in 1907, and built the Steel City, Jamshedpur, in Bihar.

A lamp is lit
Jamsetji not only knew his country well, he knew the world as few other men of his time. He travelled far and wide to explore new technologies, visit industrial exhibitions. George Westinghouse encouraged him to visit the Niagara Falls to study the hydroelectric generation of power. On his return, Jamsetji proposed a hydroelectric scheme with an objective to supply cheap and clean electric power for the growing needs of Bombay.

His dream was implemented by his son, Sir Dorabji Tata, in 1910 when the Tata Hydro Electric Power Supply Company was established.

Impulse to learning
In 1892, Jamsetji endowed a fund for deserving students for their higher education abroad. He envisioned a national system of education, a premier institute for research and education in the fields of science and technology, medicine, philosophy and the arts.

In 1898, Jamsetji announced an offer to set aside 14 of his buildings and four landed properties in Bombay for an endowment to establish a university of science. He expected that the business community and the government would contribute to his offer. After a lot of struggle and persuasion the government gave the green signal to Dorabji Tata in 1905 by agreeing to meet half the cost. The Indian Institute of Science opened in 1911 in Bangalore, many years after Jamsetji's death.

The Taj Mahal 
In the world's travel circles, if you speak of "The Taj", they ask you, "Which one?"

This handiwork of Jamsetji's was born out of his love for his city, Bombay. Jamsetji's Taj venture is distinct from his other schemes. He had no desire to run the enterprise -- unlike his other enterprises. He built it to attract people to India. The Gateway of India was yet to be built when the Taj rose in its solitary grandeur facing the mouth of the harbour.

In his foreign travels, Jamsetji made most of the hotel's purchases himself, lavishing upon the Taj the finest equipment Europe could offer -- a soda and ice making factory, washing and polishing machines, a laundry, lifts and an electric generator. The first building in Bombay to be lit by electricity, the Taj opened in 1903, in Jamsetji's lifetime.

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