The Tata Story

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 7 December 2018

An exhibition of vintage advertisements of Tata group traces their growth trajectory, and also the values that the group stands for

They dreamt big. But they didn’t dream only for themselves. The national interest was always at the core of their activities. That’s Tata group for you. The Tata story began with their foray into textiles; it was Jamsetji Tata who set the ball rolling in 1874, when he built a cotton textile mill in 1874. His sons, Dorab and Sir Ratan added to his vision, venturing into steel, and power.
 
Their work ethics are in evidence at the ‘Vintage Advertising and Publicity’ exhibition, which is currently underway at the Tata Central Archives (TCA), Mangaldas Road. “More than 200 advertisements have been displayed here and the one common narrative that they tell is of nation-building. They are not singing praises of their product,” says Rajendraprasad Narla, archivist, TCA. 

Showing us around the exhibits, Narla says, “We have displayed copies of the original advertisements here. The oldest advertisement dates back to 1926 or so. There is one printed Tata Textile advertisement, but we can’t put a date on it. You can see the graph of the industrial group here — from textiles, they set up Tata Steel, Tata Power and then they got into aviation.”

This is TCA’s 36th exhibition, and they usually hold about two exhibitions a year. “We have got about 16 lakh documents with us and about six lakh have been digitised. They are being scanned, examined, studied and while doing so, one of us might think, ‘this story needs to be told’. That’s what happened with this exhibition too. While researching for previous exhibitions, we came across so many advertisements, and we realised that there is a story right before us. Some advertisements were published in British publications, but we have one which was published in The Statesman on August 15, 1947,” he adds. 

Narla says that they are toying with the idea of taking this exhibition to different cities where Tata group has its presence. “We have one mobile exhibition on Jamsetji’s life, which is taken to different schools in different cities. Even if one student is inspired by Jamsetji’s life, it will be worth all the effort. One interesting story about Jamsetji is that he divided his money equally between three entities — his sons, Dorab and Sir Ratan and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore,” says Narla.
 
Adding the importance of such exhibitions, the archivist says, “In JRD’s office, we have his one photo. That photo travelled to space via Kalpana Chawla. Chawla was inspired by JRD and wanted to become a pilot like him. So when she first travelled to space, she carried his photo with her.”

His team currently has many requests from Tata firms to host the exhibitions. “We have plans to take the exhibition on advertisements and Jamsetji to TCS Chennai, which has 25,000 employees. The employees are keen to know more about the founder. TCS also celebrates 50 years this year, so it’s an important milestone,” says Narla. 

Their next exhibition is going to be on Sir Ratan Tata and his Trusts. Says Narla, “Sir Ratan’s is an important story. His Trust has been the forerunner for all the Trusts in India. One of the oldest Trusts, which has given all his property to philanthropic activities. We have thousands of letters detailing why and how much he has given donation to schools, hospitals. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune has also received donation from him. He has also donated money for archaeological excavation.” Truly, the actions of Tatas speaks louder than their words.

ST  Reader Service
Visit the ‘Vintage Advertising and Publicity’ at the Tata Central Archives, Tata Management Training Centre Campus, Mangaldas Road. The exhibition is open from Monday-Friday, till December 31, 10 am - 5 pm

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