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SIR RATAN TATA

(1871 - 1918)

 
 

Sir Ratan TataRatan, the second son of Jamsetji Tata, Founder of the House of Tata was born on January 20, 1871. He was 12 years younger to his brother Dorab. He was educated at St. Xavier's college Bombay. In 1892, he married Navajbai Sett. The couple did not have any children.

After their marriage, the couple stayed with Ratan's parents at Esplanade House. A year after Jamsetji's death, Ratan shifted to Brightlands on Marine Lines. Around 1912, he made plans for the construction of a palatial house on Waudby Road, quite close to Esplanade House. Tata House was ready in 1915. He could live there only for a few months before he sailed for England for medical treatment never to return.

Ratan led a hectic social life. He was fond of travelling and in later part of his life he spent a major part of each year in England. As a Member of the Carlton Club in London he was a respectable member of the high society in England. In 1906, he purchased the York House in Twickenham, 11 miles from London from Duce d' Orleans for £16,000 and had spent another £ 20,000 on converting the 12 acre area around it into a landscape garden.  He joined the firm of Tata & Sons as a partner in 1896.

After the death of his father in 1904, Ratan was looking after the affairs of L’ Union Fire Insurance Co. of Paris of which Tata & Sons were agents in India. He was also in charge of the firm Tata & Co. which had branches in Kobe, Shanghai, Paris, New York and Rangoon trading in cotton, yarn, silk, pearls and rice.

In the business matters of Tata & Sons, whether it was the promotion of the steel company or the hydro companies or the day to day matters, though Ratan was associated, it was his elder brother who bore most of the responsibility. When his father was alive, Ratan had taken keen interest in the reclamation and development of Mahim and Bandra. In 1909-10 Ratan conceived of a plan of reclamation of the Foreshore of Bombay on the West, from Chaupaty to Colaba Sanatorium.

In the meanwhile, Horniman of "Bombay Chronicle "who had come to know through Ratan the estimates given by the American experts, started a campaign against the Government for misleading the public by deliberately giving a lower estimate of cost of reclamation. The Government could not ignore the public criticism and appointed a committee under Phirozeshah Mehta to look into the matter. After receiving the report, the Government shelved the proposal. Later in 1916-17; Ratan took an initiative in forming a Backbay Reclamation Syndicate.  However, the syndicate had to be dissolved since the Government decided to undertake the reclamation work departmentally.

Ratan had an acute sense of social consciousness. He realised the importance of the struggle of Indians in South Africa under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and supported it both morally and materially. He sent to Mahatma Gandhi, in all, Rs. 125,000 in five equal instalments to support the noble struggle the Indians were waging in South Africa.

Ratan was also attracted to the excellent national work that was being done by G.K. Gokhale and his Servants of India Society. Over the years he made liberal donations aggregating to Rs. 110,000 to that Society.

Though born and brought up in luxury, Ratan was very much concerned about the gross poverty and destitution in India and the ways to ameliorate them. He felt that the subject needed a scientific study. In 1912, he made an offer of financial help to the University of London for instituting a Chair, for the investigation and research into the causes of destitution and poverty and for making suggestions towards their relief. Principal Sir William Miers prepared a scheme in conjunction with Professor L. T. Hobhouse and Professor Urwick which was approved by Ratan and a Chair was founded in 1913. Ratan agreed to pay £ 1,400 per year for three years towards the expenses of the foundation. During the course of World War I the Director in charge of the Foundation had to join the Army and other workers were also posted on War work. Therefore, the University of London suggested that the Chair be transferred to the London School of Economics with a Committee of Management of 12 members to be nominated both by the London University and the London School of Economics in equal numbers. The grant of £ 1,400 was extended for another 5 years from 1916. The payment was continued even after Ratan's death till 1931 by his Trustees. In all, a sum of £ 26,600 was paid during the 19 years since 1912.

A number of scholars carried on research on conditions of labour in different trades with the financial support from the Ratan Tata Foundation and their findings were published in 12 booklets. The Foundation continued research even after the grant was stopped in 1931. It is interesting to note that during the first year of the Foundation, two candidates were interviewed for a staff position. The applicant, who was rejected, later became the Chancellor of Exchequer and the applicant selected for the position became the Prime Minister. They were Hugh Dalton and Clement Atlee respectively. In 1912, Ratan Tata also gave financial help for setting up the Department of Social Sciences at the London School of Economics. The new department was known as Ratan Tata Department of Social Sciences until 1919 when the London School of Economics assumed full responsibility for the department.

Ratan was also fascinated by India's past. In 1912, he offered to finance an archaeological expedition in the states of Bihar and Orissa. Accordingly, exhaustive excavations were carried out at Pataliputra under the supervision of Dr. A.B. Spooner. Between 1913 and 1917, Ratan paid Rs. 75,000 for this work. Apart from coins, plaques and terracotta of museum value, the location of the 100 column Mauryan Throne Room of the Palace of Asoka - a replica of the Palace of King Darius at Parsepolis in Persia was discovered. Art wares collected in this expedition are displayed in the Patna Museum.

Ratan was generous and any cause that appealed to him received a substantial donation from him. He gave liberally for relief of distress caused by natural calamities like floods, famines and earthquakes, for public memorials, schools and hospitals. He gave a donation of Rs. 10,000 per annum for a period of ten years to the King George V Anti-Tuberculosis League started by the Bombay Municipality's Executive Health Officer Dr. Turner. Out of this donation a building was built in Princess Street to provide treatment to the poor afflicted by tuberculosis. He also gave a lakh of rupees to the Salvation Army for a memorial to General Booth, its founder in India who was a great friend of his father, without attaching any conditions.

He was knighted in 1916 in recognition of his manifold services.

He was a great connoisseur of art. For several years during his tours within the country and abroad he collected pictures, paintings, guns, swords, silverware, manuscripts, jades, vases, carpets etc. The collection was handed over to the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay.

In March 1916, Ratan had gone on a brief visit, along with his wife, to China and Japan, when they returned, Ratan had contracted an illness. The medical opinion in Bombay was that he should go to England for treatment. Accordingly, he left along with his wife, and secretary P.P. Mistry for England, on October 16, 1916 by S.S. Arabia. The Journey proved to be unlucky since the ship was torpedoed by Germans in the Mediterranean just a day out from Port Said. The ship was sunk but all the passengers were saved. This shipwreck deteriorated Ratan’s health further. Ratan died on September 5, 1918 at St. Ives, Cornwall leaving behind his wife Navajbai. He was burried at Brookwood Cemetry near London by the side of his father.

Ratan Tata had left in his Will a large part of his property which was worth around Rs. 80 lakhs for charitable purposes.

 

 

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