This chapter presents an in-depth exploration into the life and contributions of Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) Tata. JRD, born in Paris in 1904, nurtured an early fascination for aviation inspired by famous aviator Louis Bleriot. At the young age of twenty-five, JRD became the first Indian to obtain a commercial pilot's licence, a moment he cherished greatly.
In 1932, JRD embarked on his aviation enterprise by establishing the Tata Aviation Service, which is known today as Air India. JRD was instrumental in the inaugural flight of Indian aviation history from Drigh Road Karachi, piloting a Puss Moth. Despite his airline being nationalized by the government of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953, JRD continued to serve Air India diligently as its chairman. Under his leadership, the airline became an award-winning, globally recognized carrier.
Apart from his passion for aviation, JRD was deeply committed to the progress of India. Troubled by the prevalent poverty, he believed that education and population control were vital for the nation's advancement. To action his beliefs, he transferred his personal wealth to the JRD Tata Trust, which he established in 1944 to support educational institutions. His contributions also extended to the establishment of the JRD and Thelma Tata Trust, targeted at uplifting India's disadvantaged women.
JRD's philanthropy further extended to the establishment of institutions like the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, and National Centre for the Performing Arts. His unwavering support was integral to the success of these establishments.
As a person, JRD was humble, warm, and good-humoured. His modesty was evident when he was considered for the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, which he believed he did not deserve. He had the unique capacity to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, and he was a role model to many, including Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to venture into space, and Sudha Murthy, the co-founder of Infosys.
JRD died on November 29, 1993, in a Geneva hospital, leaving behind an indelible legacy as a pioneering aviator, philanthropist, and a true son of India. His death marked the end of an era that personified humility, passion, and the spirit of 'Indianness'.