When you read the title of my blog you will be equally surprised as I was that the meaning of the name TATA means “The Hot-Tempered One”. This was the name adopted by one of the two, Parsi Zoroastrian, priestly families, that settled in Navsari, Gujarat in the early 13th century. A fortune-teller prophesized about Jamshed when he was still a child “This boy will travel, he will grow wealthy, and he will build a house with seven stories,” and the family laughed at the prophecy. He did, after all, travel, get wealthy, and buy a seven-story home in Bombay. But this blog is not about Jamshed Tata, who is not only an institution in himself but has left a legacy which has carried on for over 150 years. Coming from a business family myself, I know how impossible it is to keep the business within the family for over 3 generations. So, it does become necessary to go down to the root and find the essence of the Tatas, because “The Apple does not fall far from the Tree”.
While writing this piece there were so many angles, I wanted to explore the feeling of being awestruck, the drama, maybe my experience or the love story…what the hell! why not touch upon all of it. Exactly like the title which doesn’t reveal much about the content of this blog, I realised that Tata is a state of mind. One quote by Jamshedji on philanthropy before I dive into the real thread.
“There is one kind of charity common enough among us. It is that patchwork philanthropy which clothes the ragged, feeds the poor, and heals the sick.” – Jamshed Tata
Cancer is not new to me, in fact, the way we are headed Cancer will not be unfamiliar to most of us soon. My tryst with cancer goes back 2 decades, at a time when it was not as well understood, as it is today. Fresh! in my memory because I did not have the means then to access the best care. Struggle! because I battled it twice on behalf of a loved one. Through these severe challenges jugaad laga ke, family aaur business ko bhul ke there was only one single-minded goal – to fight it. It was a back breaking, chain smoking journey to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
20 years later, it was, therefore, with mixed emotions I walked into Tata Memorial a couple of days back. From a sea of humanity called Mumbai, I entered another sea of patients and caregivers, for a second opinion. If I can draw an analogy, it was like going to Tirupati the sheer volume of people was mind boggling. Just like in Japan, where they have marshals stuff people into trains, here too marshals ensured people stuck to their lines and maintained discipline.
A visitor like me felt guilty to even sit down and I ended up standing from 10a.m. to 3 p.m. with not a single chair empty. Later I learnt that Monday was a relatively slow day, Tuesday onwards all OPDs are open and there is no place to even stand.
We always feel sad for the patient who is suffering, but the pain that the close family members go through, is inexplicable. The sense of helplessness is the worst space to be in, but love is what makes us trudge on. It was the same love for his wife, Lady Meherbai, who died of leukemia in 1931, that determined Sir Dorab Tata to establish a similar facility in India. Unfortunately, Sir Dorab died in 1932. However, such was the commitment he made, that the Trustees of the Sir Dorab Tata Trust, along with various outstanding Cancer specialists, committed themselves to establishing the center.
Thus, was born the Tata Memorial Hospital in 1941, a center that is benefitting the nation today, with more lasting value than the usual philanthropy. The transfer of the administrative control of the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) and Cancer Research Institute (CRI) to the Department of Atomic Energy, in 1962, was a major milestone. This was thanks to the visionary Dr. Homi Bhabha, who envisaged the major role radiation would play in cancer treatment. The TMH and CRI represent a classic example of private philanthropy augmented by Government support.
What technology they have brought into the system, it is simply world class. I was taken up by the state-of-the-art facility and the systems in place, which are next level. As a businessperson, I can vouch for the herculean task it takes to put simple processes in place. Everything is technology driven right from receiving a smart card upon registration with a QR code, to an app which allows one to track every single appointment, test, reports, and transactions, all updated real time. The charges too are meticulously reversed for the second opinion, if one chooses to go ahead with the line of treatment suggested by them. Even appointments can be scheduled on their app. I do not think any other cancer center has such facilities for the enormous traffic which passes through its corridors, on a daily basis. If you were to visit their statistics page (https://tmc.gov.in/hospitalstat/) they have a count which gets refreshed at 10a.m. every single day. Their annual reports (https://tmc.gov.in/index.php/en/sangrur/14-sample-data-articles/399-tmc-annual-statistics), too are in the public domain. Who are these people! Isn’t it already a great service to humanity, the work being done on cancer?
Till I met the doctor I was wondering what I was doing at Tata Memorial that day. I had also called Sloan Kettering to enquire about the consultation fee, only to learn that a telephonic consult cost close to $5000. 4Lakhs just for a telephonic consultation jolted me out of my reverie. However, all my doubts flew out of the window after we met the doctor, the President of the Head & Neck Association. Such was his knowledge and expertise I knew then that we had come to the right place. Not just the doctor but the entire associated team meant business. The consultation was highly satisfactory, and it was then that I realized why scores of patients came there with HOPE in their hearts.
It was amazing to see the kindness and empathy shown to all patients by the staff, it was as if they had all graduated from the TATA finishing school in patient care.
I don’t wish Tata Memorial Hospital on anyone, but God forbid if you need to go, then this is the best place to be. The culture, vision, and execution of the Tatas, I would just like to bow down to them. At a personal level I feel like shouting from roof tops to request people to volunteer, donate or provide any service they can to Tata Memorial. It was also a reality check, for after visiting the hospital and witnessing the pain, one feels tremendous amount of gratitude for what one has today. We as a family hope to tide through this challenge again and emerge victorious. On that note a special thanks to the “The Hot-Tempered Ones” for you have paved and carved the way, set the bar up high, for how institutions should be run for time immemorial.
Opinions in this piece belong to: Ramesh Kumar Shah
Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can.
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