August 2004 | Simone Tata

Keeper of the flame

Naval Tata's wife, Simone*, recalls a kind, generous and humane spirit with a passion that ran as strongly for the Group as it did for his family

Naval Tata was a truly humane and kind person, a man of peace. That's how people remember him, as they do his spirit of conciliation, his generosity and truthfulness in thoughts and action, and, certainly, his modesty, for he never sought the limelight.

As a spokesman for Afro-Asian countries at the International Labour Organisation, he brought India to the forefront of labour matters in global forums. And he drove the expansion of Tata Power at a time when electricity generation was almost exclusively the government's preserve.

Naval was quite passionate about the Tatas, both the Group and the family. The two were one and the same for him. This wasn't a question of ownership; it was his philosophy, his creed and his faith that made them merge into one entity. He was an articulate person who never ceased to propagate, directly and indirectly, the values the name stood for.

In Naval's book, group interests always came first. He strived to reconcile differing internal points of view in order to present a unified position of the Tatas externally. His down-to-earth approach to life endeared him to the business community as well as representatives of the government. Naval operated in a period of controls and regulations, when dialogue with the government formed an important part of management.

He did not have any particular hobbies. His interests were mostly focused on world economics, which included political, social and labour affairs. He was a voracious reader, making notes and underlining lines and paragraphs, and he had a phenomenal memory. He could quote from any book or author and discuss them at length. Naval had an avid interest in astrology. He studied how it worked and he sat with various astrologers, quizzing them on their methodology and comparing them with foreign streams. Astrology was a kind of intellectual pursuit for him.

Naval was a disciplined man in all his habits. He never missed his morning yoga and exercises. He was a frugal eater and a vegetarian (food never did interest him much). He only ate to live.

His days were always programmed carefully. His office work did not end once he came home: there would be preparations for the next day's meetings or there would be speeches or articles to write. Then he would read late into the night, often putting out the lights at 2 or even 3 a.m.

Naval spent over an hour a day on matters involving the Tata trusts. Since he was accessible to everyone, especially those with problems, there used to be a constant stream of visitors to his office in the evenings.

In his younger days he would on weekends drive into the countryside or to one of the Tata Power lakes. This was how he relaxed. His greatest joy, though, was his family. He liked nothing better than being surrounded by his three boys and discussing, arguing or laughing about a wealth of subjects. These moments were extremely precious to both of us.

*Simone Tata is the chairperson of Trent. She was earlier the chairperson of Lakme, Lakme Exports and Lakme Lever Ltd. She is also the chairperson of the Ratan Tata Institute.