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A name synonymous with steel

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S. RAMACHANDER

RUSSI MODI — THE MAN WHO ALSO MADE STEEL (A Biography): Partha Mukherjee, Jyoti Sabharwal; Stellar Publishers Pvt. Ltd., G-25, Vikaspuri, New Delhi-110018. Rs. 495.

Rustomji Hormusji Mody (Russi to all who knew him) was by all accounts a man of steel, who spent his lifetime with the Tata Steel Company. Born the son of Sir Homi Mody and Lady Jerbhai among the cream of Bombay society in the early 20th century, he was sent to Harrow and Oxford, to be modelled on the British gentleman in his values and tastes, which left a lasting impression on him. For 53 years he worked in one company, moving up from an apprentice manual worker as part of his training, to the position of chairman and undisputed king of the steel city.

Man of steel

He was nothing if not a people’s man; he was known for his showmanship and extraordinary empathy, and unorthodox ways of dealing directly with the ordinary shop floor worker, either individually or just sailing into an angry crowd. The semi-literate and the poor from rural Bihar took to this urbane sahib instinctively and trusted him completely. He reciprocated the trust, likewise. Yet, his flamboyance, love of gourmet food and wine, and of the finest things of life, travel and good company were well known. He did live an unabashedly elitist life, and was much decorated. He could count royalty and nobility as his acquaintances but never lost the common touch.

For all that, Russi Mody’s exit from the Tata group could not have been more at odds with the gentlemanly and decorous ways that the Tatas were known for. There was much controversy, public humiliation and bitterness on both sides, as he was practically hound out of office. Debates raged on the issue of promotions to the board that he had made and on his reluctance to accept the newly introduced retirement age for full-time directors, which had been fixed suddenly as a group policy, as 75 years. The next phase, partly in private enterprise and partly in the public sector as in trying to bring some new dynamism and professional management at the top to the two national airlines, of which he was made chairman, was equally mired in confrontation with the bureaucracy and politicians.

Fascinating story

All of this is now history since many of the issues and principles he fought for have since been conceded in the wave of liberal economic policies adopted by the country, yet the story is fascinating to read.

The pity of it is that this book just does not measure up to the high standards of the subject. In his Eighties, Russi Mody still has the keen mind, the eye for class and detail, and the love of life of a man half his age. A well-crafted and balanced chronicle was therefore well deserved — which this book is not.

The two-member author team instead gets lost in hyperbole, and piling words upon words of exclamations and gushing about their hero — to the point of losing sense of syntax, grammar and idiom. Dropped articles, mixed metaphors, malapropisms, repetitions and over-wrought journalistic clichés litter the pages. There is little freshness in the writing. It reads like an over-written school essay by a student eager to show off all the phrases he has learnt, some wrongly.

A pedestrian work on a remarkable man.


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