When Apro Ratan goes, can doom be far behind?
Bomsie surveyed the pall of gloom which hung over Mumbai’s Dadar Parsi Colony. "Eh, Kawsie," he said, "Soo thayech soo, sala? Wotthehell is happening? Why are all the bawajis going around with faces longer than a college admission queue when our new year is just a week away? Have all the stocks of festive ‘ravo’ been infested with worms? Has Central Bank gone bankrupt? Has ivory-shouldered Ava, the drool of every Parsi dude, run off with some maka-pao, miya or Madrasi?"
Kawsie leaned over his Kawasaki, and whispered ominously, "Worse, Bomsie, worse. It’s satyanaas, tottal ruin. Apro Ratan has threatened to retire. He has no issue. He only has a dog. And however pure-bred that Tito might be, he cannot be made chairman. So, m… c…, what do you think this means?"
Bomsie turned paler as the imminent reality hit him like a Telco truck. "Baap re baap, Kawsie. What will happen to our glorious Parsi kaum if there is no Tata at the head of Tata? How irresponsible of Ratan not to have thought about it in time? And is he mad, or wot? Which bawa retires at 75? That’s the bloom of youth for us. My Kekoo-kaka kept working in the Tata Share Registry till he was 88. He was only a clerk, but nobody stopped him. So, who would dare tell the Big Batasha of Bombay House to retire at any age? Not even Russi Mody!"
Bomsie laughed. But it was as hollow as his Mahrukh-masi’s osteoporotic bones.
Then he brightened up. "Arrey Kawsie, there’s still hope. That new selection committee might have the sense to choose the remaining Tata. Like the legendary JRD, Noel may be half-French, but half-Parsi is better than non-Parsi, isn’t it?" Bomsie looked hastily over his shoulder to ensure that no traditionalist Trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat was within earshot.
"Hmm," said Kawsie pumping imaginary iron, "as long as apro Ratan gets his priorities right. When he goes on about merit-based selection, he’s talking through his topi. Only last Monday, and that too openly at the Tata Chemicals AGM, he said ‘My successor should be the right person, not anti-Parsi or pro-Parsi.’ What nonsense! In my dictionary, merit only means does the new fellow merit Parsi trust?"
Kawsie continued, "Look at all these Hindu business families. They are farsighted, and produce the heir and the spare, or several of them, which of course has its own problems. But, even if they remained childless, it would be just a family tragedy. If there was no Ambani heading Reliance, only the Ambanis, or at most the Meswanis, would be heartbroken. The whole Gujarati community need not go into collective shock, and stop eating theplas. But if there are no Tata sons in Tata Sons, then every Parsi from Colaba to Canada will be doomed. Though," he added ruefully, "it will take more than that to keep them away from their dhansak."
Yes, a Tata succession (or lack of it) is not a mere corporate issue, but involves the entire community and its talking cockatoo. The two entities are as intertwined as their inbred DNA. Every Parsi has worked in a Tata company, lived in a Tata colony, benefited from a Tata grant, or at least waltzed at the Taj. The Tatas are the Parsis and vice versa because every Parsi owns a Tata share. Queen Victoria may have disappeared from Parsi walls, but the benign J N Tata continues to hang right there beside the Prophet Zarathushtra. Every community needs a secular symbol, and only the Tatas fit it to the T.