3rd April 2012
The Taj – Reminders of Empire, re-making the British links
The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai is one of the prime landmarks of the city, overlooking the colossal Gateway to India, built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay prior to the historic Delhi Durbar held in December 1911. Built by the founder of the Tata group over 100 years ago, and still owned by the same company, the Taj is synonymous with Mumbai’s power and influence as India’s business capital. It has witnessed the comings and goings of monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, and withstood the savage terrorist attack of 2008, since when it has been beautifully restored.
The Taj, as it is affectionately known in Mumbai, is a convenient base for visiting business, so not surprisingly I sometimes catch up there with British business visitors wanting to share something of their experiences and discuss new opportunities. A coffee there can save them an hour long journey in Mumbai’s sometimes frustrating traffic to our offices located in “mid-town” Mumbai. It can also be a useful starting point for other work. Here are a few examples from recent weeks.
British law firms, and not just the “Magic Circle”, are finding that their services are called for increasingly as Indian companies and individuals look to expand their businesses or property portfolios in the UK. Unfortunately they are not allowed to practise their law in India – unlike Indian firms, who can operate in the UK. So in recent weeks I have met the partners of several of the top and mid-sized British law firms exchanging notes about business opportunities.
One firm, Addleshaw Goddard, with offices in Manchester and London, has a valuable connection to India through a relative of one of its partners, Sir Mark Tully, the well-known former BBC India correspondent, who has just written another insightful account of developments, “ India: The Road Ahead”. Tully has, for me, an especially interesting chapter on the Tata story, with interviews with a number of their top executives like Ravi Kant, Muthuraman, Ramadorai and Gopalkrishnan, each of whom have given me hours of invaluable advice and guidance about Tata’s interests in the UK since I have been in Mumbai.
After breakfast with lawyers I went on to the launch of something altogether different, a Special Olympics event which – to mark the “Great” campaign which is featuring in advertisements around Mumbai – we helped to sponsor for physically and mentally challenged children, many of them under-privileged. Held at the Indian Navy’s excellent sports stadium, over 300 children between the ages of 4-18 took part in track and field events, and some fiercely competitive soccer. As the photos alongside show they had a wonderful time, surviving temperatures reaching 35 degrees with astonishing levels of exuberance and fun. Quite simply it was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in Mumbai, not only to see the happiness of children with not a lot to cheer about , but also the dedication of so many volunteers.
Later in the week it was back to the Taj for the launch of a small book “A Glimpse of Empire” by British author Jessica Douglas-Home about her grand-mother’s passage to India in her early 20s to attend the Durbar and to take an extraordinary journey from the far north of the country down to Madras. Renu Basu, a director of The Taj Hotel group and the British Business Group, kindly asked me to welcome the British authoress. I noted that, while I felt a touch uneasy being seen to promote a book looking back to the days of the Raj, I felt re-assured by the presence at the launch of Ratan Tata, chairman of the Group, under whose dynamic leadership the UK has witnessed the dramatic and exciting turnaround of JLR (Jaguar Land Rover), as the new models released at the Geneva Motor Show this year demonstrated. Mr Tata opened the first copy of the book, providing yet another occasion for the Taj to witness the powerful and continuing links between India and the UK – in a very changed relationship since the arrival of Mrs Douglas – Home’s grandmother in 1911.