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NAVAJBAI TATA

(1877 - 1965)

 
 


Navajbai, the younger daughter of Ardeshir Merwanji Sett was born on September 23, 1877. She belonged to the philanthropic Sett family, who were descendants of Neriosang Dhaval, a respected figure amongst the early Iranian refugees to India. In her youth, Navajbai was proficient at horse riding, and played a little bit of polo.

In the  1890’s, Navajbai married Sir Ratan Tata. Living part of the time in England, the couple rubbed shoulders with the cream of British society and aristocracy. They were personal friends of King George V and Queen Mary.

Sir Ratan and Lady Navajbai were connoisseurs of fine art and acquired a valuable collection of jade, paintings and other artefacts through their travels around the world. Their intention was to place their collection in the privacy of a new grand home, which Sir Ratan was to build in Bombay on the lines of the summer palace at Versailles.

In  1906,  Sir Ratan Tata purchased York House in Twickenham. During his stay he made several alterations to the house, its grounds, including the installation of the large Italianate fountain and statuary which dominates the riverside portion of the garden. The house was sold by Navajbai in 1924.

A widow at a young age of 41, Navajbai, was faced with managing Sir Ratan’s estate. She lived at Tata House, for the rest of her life, with style, elegance and dignity.

After the premature death of Sir Ratan in 1918, Navajbai was appointed a Director on the Board of Tata Sons a position she held right up to her death on August 20, 1965. She is the first and only woman who was a Director on the Board of Tata Sons.

A generous donation by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust to the National Metallurgical Research Institute at Jamshedpur provides ample evidence of her progressive mind and desire to use the funds of Sir Ratan Tata Trust constructively.

In 1928, she played a prominent part in establishing the Sir Ratan Tata Institute, which was intended to discourage charity in form of doles and provide employment to the poor and needy women by training them and offering them opportunities for employment.

Her outlook, ideas, and benefactions were without consideration of caste, creed or religion.

“Homestead”, her manor at Matheran, with one request from a social worker, was willingly parted, as a gift to be used as a convalescent home, along with a donation of Rs.3 lakhs.

Her magnificent house at Navsari, which was recognised as the family house in Jamsetji Tata’s birthplace, was given away to the Navsari Sports and Recreation Club.

As Chairman of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust she invited S. J. I. Markham of the Carnegie Trust to study the problems of the Parsi Community and submit a report. As the result of this move, the Parsi Charities organised themselves to make their charities self-supporting.

 

 

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