Saturday, April 3, 2004
R M Lala

R M Lala

“It suffices me!”

When I was writing my biography of JRD Tata I used to interview him about once a month, or more often, at his residence. It was a spacious bungalow hidden amid the towering buildings around. He always received me in what I thought was his study. The room was rectangular about 25 x 10 but for working he used an area of only about 12 x 12. It had two swivel chairs, 2 telephones and a small book case in the wall, with a sofa opposite. After about three years of visiting JRD a common friend told me that it was also his bedroom. At night, the sofa was converted into a bed. I could not believe it.

When I met him the following Sunday I said “Sir, I don’t think any industrialist of your standing would live in a room as small as this!”.

“Why?” he replied, “It suffices me!”.

“It suffices me!”.

How often when I am tempted to buy, see a beautiful suit at a discount price, or face the choice of a new car when the existing one over four years old runs well, I think of his words. His wisdom has not only saved me money. It has made me see my material wants in a new light.

There is a lovely line in the Psalms about a man “Who lifteth not his heart in vanity”. How often we are subconsciously driven by our vanity. One of my friends if he buys a new shirt gives away an old one to the needy. Another, a lady Solicitor of about 65, says she gives away two salwar kameezes every time she buys one.

A British poet spoke of a world “where wealth accumulates and man decays”. The decay is within the soul of man and society reaps the results. Andrew Carnegie, the Steel King of America, said “the administration of wealth is at least as important as the creation of it”. In his lifetime when literacy was growing but books were not readily available, he started 2000 libraries in North America and his beloved Scotland from where he originate.

Jamsetji Tata was a very wealthy man though nowhere near to Carnegie. He set aside over a third of his wealth in 1896 to set up a University of Research the kind which ‘even England did not have at the time’, said his Cambridge educated son Dorabji. The model was John Hopkins at Baltimore. The Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore was to become the fountain head of science technology for almost half a century and is still in the forefront. The likes of Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai worked there. President Abdul Kalam did his Ph.D. there.

“To my father, said Sir Dorabji, “wealth was not an end in itself but a means to an end”. The end was the development of India, its resources and its myriad people.

An Irishman, O’Connor, working for his textile mill proposed that as one of the largest purchasers of cotton they could buy cotton with the seed, and have a subsidiary oil-crushing industry. “Yes” replied Jamsetji, “but if we do that what would the poor man feed to his cattle?” O’Connor said when he spoke of the poor of his country his eyes would fill with tears.

Gandhi’s aim too was in his own words, “to wipe every tear from every eye”. Independence was only a means to that end. Money in itself never satisfies. When the oil king of America, John Rockfeller Sr. – probably the richest man in America – was asked for how long he expected to make more money replied “Just a little longer”.

It is more satisfying to give than to receive and not only of our financial wealth. Our Gyana (knowledge) is to be shared as also our affection, time and service. The origin of the word “philanthropy” is the Greek “fil anthro pl “ – love of fellowmen. The origin of the word “wealth” is the old English word “common-weal” – “the common good”. The more you give, the more you have. That is the moral law of life.

Russi M. Lala

(The writer of this article is the author of The Creation of Wealth first published in 1981. The 4th edition revised and updated till 2003 is expected to be published in April 2004.)