[Throwback] The Indian businessman who served in the French army and how a happy coincidence saved his life

New Delhi: RD Tatabusiness partner and parent of Jamsetji Tataand his French wife Soon I became parents to their second child, a boy, in Paris in 1904. The boy would later grow up to make a name for himself while giving India its very first airline – Air India!

By now, many would have guessed that this is the story of none other than JRD Tata, the man who marked the lives of rich and poor, managers and workers alike. Second of RD and Sooni’s 5 children, Je-hangir spent his first days with his mother in France. He was educated in France, Japan and England before being drafted into the French army for a compulsory one-year period.

The entry of the JRD into the French army

It was in 1923 that JRD lost his mother, who was then only 43 years old. The responsibility for the children lay with RD Tata. While Jehangir wanted to study engineering at Cambridge, his father decided to move him to England for a year to study grammar. However, fate had other plans.

That year, the French government proposed a new rule: one year of compulsory military service for the eldest in each family. As a French citizen, JRD had to enlist in the army.

Acceptance of JRD in a cavalry unit

In mid-1924, Jehangir was accepted into an Algerian cavalry unit. While he knew horsemanship, the horses in the JRD unit were pure Arabs – fast and big, unlike the French. For a year, Jehangir trained with dedication and improved his riding skills, which led to his selection for promotion in mid-1925.

He had to undergo special training to be promoted, but the idea was rejected by his father. “Are you mad? Enough acid military training,” RD wrote to him. Jehangir returned to India.

The happy coincidence!

RD’s denial and JRD’s return to India proved lifesaving for the latter, literally.

A few days after Jehangir left, his entire cavalry unit deployed to Morocco where every soldier was killed. The whole unit was wiped out by the leader of the bandits Abdul Kareem and his men.

A few years after moving to India, JRD renounced his French nationality in 1929 and decided to become an Indian citizen. He lived his own and how! JRD created Air India, oversaw the Tata Groupthe expansion of and the rest is history.

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