August 2022 | 646 words | 2-minute read
Well before the struggle for independence began, the Tata group advocated for the growth and development of India and the empowerment of its people.
Jamsetji Tata’s ambitious vision of nation-building industries and institutions, the furthering of his vision by sons Sir Dorabji Tata and Sir Ratan Tata, and the group's many industry firsts for the country in the era of a bold, tenacious JRD Tata — these are all witness to the Tatas' tireless championing of India and her potential.
‘That the Indian flag should be first flown from an airliner, rather than from a ship or shore installation is, we feel, symbolic of India’s progress’
The flag-bearers of a new India
In fact, the flag of free India was first officially unfurled by the Tata group.
It was unfurled neither on land nor at sea, but quite significantly, on an airship. Nine days before the Dominion of India came into being, India’s first woman ambassador, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, flew to Russia on an Air India plane that carried the flag.
‘That the Indian flag should be first flown from an airliner, rather than from a ship or shore installation is, we feel, symbolic of India’s progress,’ stated the special independence issue of the Tata Monthly Bulletin.
A night to remember
The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (then the Taj Mahal Hotel) hosted an Independence Night on August 14, 1947, attended by political leaders as well as JRD Tata.
Entertainment for the evening included dance performances by the Vajifdar sisters, Shirin and Khurshed, as well as music by jazz great Mickey Correa — who would continue to lead the orchestra at the Taj until 1960 — and trumpeter Chic Chocolate.
The menu for the night reflected a marriage of French food - which epitomised fine dining in the 1940s - with elements that honoured the occasion and the promise of independent India (think 'Consommé à l’Indienne' and 'Poulard Soufflé Independence').
The spread was also determined by produce that was easily available in a post-World War II reality, wherein rationing was the order of the day.
The Taj’s role in India’s independence celebrations didn’t end there, though, as two days later, Lord Mountbatten would famously deliver his farewell speech on the steps of the hotel before he departed.
There was a special issue of the Tata Monthly Bulletin on August 15, 1947, which carried news and accounts of various celebrations across Tata group companies. Tata Steel, then TISCO, also brought out a special edition.
JRD Tata on freedom
In a message, JRD Tata wrote that it was up to all of us to help shape the destiny of India, and to hold ourselves responsible for millions of our countrymen who lack basic necessities.
It is, therefore up to all of us, who, even in a small way, can help to reshape the destinies of India, to hold ourselves responsible to the millions of our unhappy countrymen who, today, lack even the necessities of life.
Jamshedpur rises to the occasion
The Tatas' Independence Day Celebrations weren’t merely confined to Bombay. In Jamshedpur, flags were hoisted at Tata Steel’s (then TISCO’s) central office and the Research Laboratories.
Images courtesy Tata Central Archives