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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

Last updated on: December 28, 2012 21:34 IST

Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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Indrani Roy in Kolkata

Once touted as a contender to head the Tata Group before Ratan Tata took charge, Russi Mody feels that someone from the family alone should spearhead the $71 billion conglomerate and any outsider would not be the right choice.

It should be mentioned here that Mody had once likened Ratan Tata to a 'circus performer', but the former head of Tata Steel had later admitted in a book that the Tata Group chairman is a 'class act'.

Mody held important positions in Tata group and led Tata Steel till he retired in 1990.

Later, he held various advisory positions, both in the group and outside.

In an exclusive interview with rediff.com's Indrani Roy, Mody shares his thoughts about both Tata and Cyrus Mistry.

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Image: Russi Mody.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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'The man of steel' can barely speak

When we visited Mody's south Kolkata residence on a cold and foggy winter morning, we found the impeccably dressed steel 'baron' welcoming us with still-quite-charming smile.

As we arrived at Mody's Belvedere Road house, we were spellbound by the palatial structure laden with rarest of rare antiques culled from across the world and priceless paintings by the likes of MF Husain and Jamini Roy.

Mody was seated in a corner of a sprawling first-floor drawing room.

"He now speaks his mind only through his eyes and smiles," Amit Tamang, his associate for years, told rediff.com.

We, therefore, requested Tamang to act as the interpreter.

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Image: Russi Mody and Amit Tamang.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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About Tata-Mody rift

Mody is said to have felt slighted by Tata, who, he sensed, had a hand in his ouster from Tisco (now Tata Steel) in the 1990s.

Mody, reacting to Tata's statement that Tisco would not be affected by his exit, had replied: "Ratan is quite right.

"No one is indispensable. My disappearance from Jamshedpur may not be felt, but the arrival of Ratan Tata and (JJ) Irani will certainly make a difference.

"It's all like a circus -- the serious acts of entertainment are always shown first. Then come the clowns and the animal trainers.

"That may well be the case with Tisco."

The two, however, appear to have made peace and as recent as August 2007, Mody hosted Ratan Tata at his business suite in Taj Bengal, Kolkata.

The 30-minute meeting was their first in public gaze, although they are reportedly known to have met privately twice earlier.

As we tried to remind the old man of his controversial comments on Tata, he smiled a meaningful smile and stared at Tamang who promptly added, "He means it's all in the past. There's no point in digging the long-forgotten episode."

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Image: Russi Mody poses with a book on him.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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'Fight with Tata gave him lot of pain'

"Mr Mody took great pride in his long and eventful career at Tata Steel," Tamang told us.

"Whenever we talked about it, he would speak at length about the company vice chairman B Muthuraman."
According to Tamang, till recently, Mody had expressed his anguish over his 'showdown' with Tata.

Even now, a mere mention of the issue leads to angry frowns on the old face.

"He can never forget the humiliation," Tamang told rediff.com.

"He would often tell me, they (Tata officials) did not allow someone like me, who had served the Tata group for more than 50 years, to buy property in Jamshedpur.

"I can never get over this insult, he told me so many times", Tamang added.

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Image: An old photograph of Russi Mody (left) with JRD Tata and late VG Gopal, former TISCO union leader, from the family album.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty, courtesy Russi Mody.

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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Tata-Mody never reconciled?

According to Mody associate, Tata visited his Kolkata house only on a couple of occasions.

Tamang also said that apart from Muthuraman, no one from Tata Steel enquires about the old man's health.

Asked if Mody ever tried to analyse what actually led to the disagreements between the two, Modi's associate replied in the negative.

"Though we are very close, I could never broach this sensitive issue. Neither did he.

"All that I can tell you is that his disagreement with Tata caused him much pain and unhappiness.

"I wonder why the patch-up never happened."

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Image: This 1988 photograph shows Russi Mody with JRD Tata.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty, courtesy Russi Mody.

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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'Tata a humble soul'

Though Tamang insisted that Tata hardly visited Mody residence, an old servant of the house Amar Kumar Singh told rediff.com that the Tata Group boss had paid a number of visits.

"Though he is such a big shot, he is extremely humble and down-to-earth.

"He is a foodie and loves English and Parsi food.

Singh had often found Mody and Tata parleying at the lawn and also at the drawing rooms.

"Saab (Tata) spends a couple of hours here before leaving for Taj Bengal Hotel," Singh informed rediff.com.

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Image: An old photograph of Russi Mody with JRD Tata.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty, Courtesy Russi Mody

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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Mody did offer an olive branch

Though according to Mody associate,Tata never showed any eagerness to bury the hatchet, Mody did his bit.

"I have not been in charge for the last fourteen years, but I think Ratan Tata and (Tata Steel managing director) B Muthuraman have done a first-class job in terms of performance of a steel company," he was quoted as saying in a biography Russi Mody: The Man Who Also Made Steel, written by Partha Mukherjee and Jyoti Sabharwal.

Mody's admission, admiration and praise for Tata came forth in the book that also told his side of the story on the conflict between him and Tata over the issue of retirement of group officials

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Image: An old photograph of Russi Mody (left) with JRD Tata and late VG Gopal, former TISCO union leader.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty, courtesy Russi Mody

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Up, close and intimate with Russi Mody

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Mistry may not be the right choice

As we mentioned Cyrus Mistry's name, Mody became restless and started gesticulating at Tamang.

Perhaps, the topic sounded all too familiar to him.

Tamang quickly read the old man's desperate attempt to communicate and told us, "The media has asked him the same question so many times and on each occasion, his answer has been the same.

"Mr Mody was always against any outsider heading the group.

"Though he shared close ties with Mistry's father Pallonji Mistry, he thought choosing his son as Tata's successor would be a grave mistake."

We would have liked the conversation to continue, but Mody was tired already and needed rest.


Image: Naval Tata, Ratan Tata and Noel Tata (in the centre).
Photographs: Courtesy, Outlook Business

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