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. -Balu
A development activist, public policy advocate, social innovator and leadership trainer
My first brush with being made to feel like a South Indian and distinctly different from the person in front of me is something that is strongly etched into my memory now. My father had insisted that all his children learn three languages at school – Kannada, the language of my state of Karnataka, English and Hindi (which he felt was our National language). We grew up with the pride that we could speak all three and did not consider that someday I would be looked down upon for speaking Hindi in a distinct south Indian accent. This incident happened
We live in a world of having a expert for all major human endeavours – from the mason to the medical specialist, from the masseuse to the manager…to the point where we have a special word called a Generalist even. The irony of the situation is that while on one hand the specialist and his role is celebrated, there exists a crisis of confidence in their expertise too. The current COVID crisis has not only challenged the specialist but has also exposed their inadequacies. For more about this, read my article titled, ‘Demystifying the Specialist’ in today’s Deccan Herald.
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