Life was quite a drudgery in my childhood: Ratan Tata

Unless you talk to the man, you don’t get a taste of the subtle sense of humour that he has.

Industrialist Ratan Naval Tata has a very simple definition of going to school. “It seems terrible when you are there, questionable when you get out of it, and cherishable in the later years of your life,” he told DNA at the fiftieth anniversary of The Old Campionites Association on Saturday.

By Soumyadipta Banerjee / DNA

With the business icon in a mood for nostalgia, it was but natural to ask about memories from his school life. So, was he interested in sports when he was a child?

“I don’t remember too much about sports [in school]. I remember that my grandmother used to have this huge antiquated Rolls Royce and she used to send that car to pick my brother and me up from school. Both of us used to be so ashamed of that car that we used to walk back home. That is the sport that I remember,” he said with a smile.

Talking about the subjects that he used to like when he was in school,  Tata was forthcoming. “The Parsi community is very particular about good education," he said. "In those days, whether you liked it or not, most of us were forced to go to school. Most of us were forced to have tuitions whether you wanted it or not after school. Life was quite a drudgery in those days.

“I don’t know whether it was at Campion [Campion School in Colaba, his first school] or Cathedral [Cathedral and John Connon School, Fort], but I used to like physics a lot. When I was older, I never liked chemistry. Later on, I quite enjoyed French and English literature.”

Tata said he always regretted the fact that he never went back to his schools even once after passing out. “I feel a sense of remorse that I never set foot in Campion School after I left," he said. "Nor in Cathedral for that matter. Nor in college.

"Somebody took me to Cornell [Tata got his BSc degree in architecture with structural engineering from Cornell University in 1962] again after close to 50 years and this had caused a tremendous resurgence of both nostalgia and reconnecting….”

It is very hard to get any advice out of Tata for the young generation; the industrialist only chooses to give an example. “The most important thing that you look back on is the quality of education that you were given. In school, in college… Campion, Cathedral, Cornell, and later the Harvard Business School [he did an advanced management programme from there in 1975] — each one of them was terrible when you were there, questionable when you got out, and later became something that you really cherished and considered worthwhile.”

Tata said the schools he went to laid the foundation of his value system. "None of us were flamboyant in those days and it didn’t matter whether we were rich or poor," he said. "There was a terrific amount of camaraderie there which, unfortunately, we tend to disengage from when we walk out of school or walk out of college, which we should, in fact, try to preserve.”