Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata (popularly known as J N Tata and who lived between 1839 to 1904) was one of India’s greatest business-industrialist icons. A patriot, philanthropist, and visionary, he is credited with laying the foundations and largely consolidating the position of Indian Industry and enterprise. It was in the year 1892 that he set up the JN Tata Endowment. The main objective of the endowment was to encourage young people to take up higher studies at some of the best universities in the world. It is the first Tata benefaction in the field of education, and possibly the first of its kind in the world. Persons receiving this loan scholarship are known as ‘Tata Scholars’ and more than 4700 people have been awarded this scholarship till date. It is a matter of pride that I also received this scholarship in 2009 to pursue my Master’s program at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University. Getting the scholarship was something that I can never forget. I had secured admission to Harvard in 2008 but could not go, as I did not have the required funds to do so. Disappointed, I had approached Justice M N Venkatachalliah to seek his advise and he was the one who mentioned to me about the Tata scholarship. It was then that I had applied to the J N Tata Endowment and was happy to learn after my interview with the committee at Mumbai that I had secured the maximum that the Trust gives out. Apart from a loan component, it also included a travel grant and this is what gave me the confidence to set sail to the US.
Securing the scholarship was also a matter of joy for a very sentimental reason. It was in the year 1893 that Swami Vivekananda had met J N Tata and inspired him to build a school of science and technology in India. He had later asked the Maharajah of Mysore to grant land for this Center, which is today known as the Indian Institute of Science. Getting a scholarship from an endowment instituted by J N Tata was to me special and I felt that maybe it was pre-ordained too.
This year is the 175th birth anniversary of J N Tata and the entire Tata group is celebrating the same. It was in this connection an alumnus meet was organized at Mumbai by the Endowment. This kind of meeting was being organized for the first time and nearly 162 people from around the world had gathered at the Crystal room at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel at Mumbai. This hotel was also another Institution set up by J N Tata and it was only fitting that the event was being held here. As part of the celebrations, the Endowment had prepared a video titled ‘Lasting Legacies’ and I felt happy that I was one of the six Tata scholars to have been featured on this video. The entire program was very well organized and the different events were seamlessly interspersed amidst a very sumptuous dinner that was served. I was truly overwhelmed and humbled to be here amidst the company of some extraordinary men and women. People who were not only highly qualified but with extraordinary achievements. People like Dr J J Irani, Dr Jayant Narlikar, Dr M R Srinviasan, Dr Renganathan, and Mr Ratan Tata . Being in the presence of and interacting with such extraordinary men and women, of great achievements in different spheres of human endeavour by itself was an intellectual treat. I was also deeply impressed with the humility, the quiet presence and the dignity with which Mr Ratan Tata carried himself. Such a charismatic and special person, that one felt very comfortable in his presence despite he being who he is.
I was one of the few people who were asked to speak and share our stories. I spoke last and mentioned about the onerous responsibility of the Tata Scholars in making this world a better place and the speech was very well received and appreciated. It would be no understatement to mention that the 28th of February was not only a special day for me, but has left me with many fond memories of being in the company of truly great and extraordinary men and women. Now I understand that being a Tata scholar is not just a ‘brand’ or a tag that one carries, but the responsibility of being both a global citizen and a humanist in letter and spirit.
I am happy and excited to write about an upcoming book that I am authoring. Tentatively titled I, the Citizen, the book is based on articles on development and citizen engagement that I have posted on this blog, edited to present reflections and perspectives on development from the point of view of an engaged citizen.
Divided into sections, the volume covers a range of topics from development perspectives and lessons learned from the indigenous communities in South India to development policy at a macro level, from personal and emotional reflections on ground realities to reason and evidence based perspectives on policy. The sections and the articles within the sections flow into each other giving the reader a sense of continuity of thoughts and issues, and yet a look at the broad spectrum of perspectives. Importantly, the belief, experience and the power of citizen engagement reverberates through the articles and the sections giving us the hope and conviction that common people can indeed make a difference.
GRAAM would be the primary publisher of this book. A unique feature of this endeavour is that we are hoping to crowd source the financial resources needed for producing and distributing the book along with good wishes and moral support of our well wishers.
I am absolutely sure of your support in this venture too and am hoping that you will make a generous contribution to enable the book to see the light of the day. For your reference, here’s the book proposal that details the sections containing the articles. Do feel free to write to me for more details or clarifications.
Thanking you, and with the best of my regards
Last month I had the privilege of running a leadership workshop for young people at Chennai. More than running the workshop, it was the location where it was being held that excited me. It was being hosted by the Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai and held at the Vivekanandar Illam (Vivekananda House, originally known as the Ice House). What would be so special in a building named after this great saint? After all, our country’s historical landscape is replete with memorials commemorating an extraordinary event or is associated with an outstanding personality in some way. This building overlooking the Marina beach in Chennai is also no different. It is not merely a building named after Swamiji but was something that invoked a special sense of awe and reverence for me.
Swamiji was a constant traveller and he visited Tamil Nadu twice – once in 1892 as a wandering monk and again in 1897 after his triumphal return from the West. He arrived at Pamban in Rameshwaram island on the 26th January 1897 and then travelled through Madurai, Trichy and other places to finally reach Madras (present Chennai). He received an unprecedented reception at the Egmore Railway station where he had reached by train and reached the Castle Kernan (as it was then known) the next day. It was here that he stayed for 9 days, from 6th to 15th of February 1897 and gave his popular talks on ‘My Plan of Campaign’ and ‘The Future of India’. These are two articles that have influenced my life and thinking enormously.
Castle Kernan was earlier known as the ‘Ice House’ where the Tudor Ice Company stored the ice it brought from the United States. The Ice house was built in 1842 by Fredric Tudor. Tudor who was known as the ‘Ice King’ had made his fortune by shipping ice to the Caribbean, Europe and India. He had struck on the idea of harvesting ice from frozen fresh water ponds in and around Boston, cut them into blocks and sold them around the world. He had built three Ice Houses in India – at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras where the ice could be stored for months. Amongst the three buildings, only the one at Madras stands today. Once people learnt to manufacture ice locally, the ice business of his shrank and eventually wound up in 1880. It was then an advocate, Biligiri Iyengar who originally hailed from Mysuru, bought the ‘Ice House’ and renamed it ‘Castle Kernan’ in honour of his good friend Justice Kernan. Biligiri Iyengar and his family lived here till 1906, when family circumstances including the demise of Biligiri in 1902 forced them to auction off the building.
It was also in this building that Swami Ramakrishnananda, another direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa set up the Ramakrishna Math and lived. The Government of Tamil Nadu has now given this building on a long lease to the Ramakrishna Math who have restored it to its original state. The restoration process also has a Mysuru connection with architect Mr. Ravi Gundu Rao overseeing the entire restoration process.
Sitting in the room where Vivekananda lived and spending some quiet moments there was what made the visit very special to me.
This is a recording of a talk given by me on the theme ‘Marching Ahead’ on the 11th September, 2014 at Bangalore. The talk was organized by Yuva Brigade.
A talk that i gave recently on KIN (Knowledge, Innovation & Nationalism) that was organized by ‘Think India’