Mesmerized by the tale of the Tatas bilateral relationship with a city that was once known as the Paris of the East Inchin Closer explores a personal story, which highlights scintillating Shanghai during an era of change. The 1930-40’s were a time when the two neighbours were at the height of their glory, just before Indian Independence in 1947 and the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it was a time when trade was booming and India and China each sought new identities for a modern era.
In an exclusive interview with Inchin Closer, author Mishi Saran delves deeper into her story – “A House for Mr. Tata – An Old Shanghai Tale,” published recently in an anthology, Travelling In, Travelling Out – A book of unexpected Journeys; edited by Namita Gokhale. (HarperCollins India, January 2014)
Ms. Saran’s story weaves back to when Bejan Dadabhoy Tata, a distant cousin of the founders of the House of Tata, left India’s shores and made it big in Shanghai. Her detailed pen swerves through the history of a nation in flux to stitch together the personal tale of a man who succeeded and built his home in China. By bringing to life intricate details through a first hand interview with B.D. Tata’s son, Jehangir Bejan Tata, just before he passed away last November, Ms. Saran unveils the family’s struggle to prove ownership of their house – Avan Villa — which their father built and remnants of which continue to stand in the heart of modern day Shanghai at No. 458 Wulumuqi North Road.
Although Jehangir Bejan Tata tried persistently to retrieve papers to prove ownership of their house over the past few decades, the exercise has proved futile. Besides some documents, the family also has photos of the house, of Shanghai in the 1940’s and pieces of their life in Sam Tata’s photos. Sam Tata, Jehangir Bejan Tata’s brother, was a photographer and had worked alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson, a master of candid photography and one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists. Sam Tata published a book of his photos taken during Shanghai’s extraordinary summer in 1949 and called it Shanghai 1949, The End of An Era.
In addition to detailing the Tata family’s ongoing struggle to obtain proof of their original ownership of Avan Villa, Ms. Saran’s tale also signals the presence of a Zoroastrian prayer hall and cemetery in Shanghai. On a request from Inchin Closer, she dug out an ancient map of the city, showing exactly where these relics stand and also sent in photos of their existence today.
The unveiling of this story brings to life many interesting facts, anecdotes and tales of a rich, shared Inchin history. Read on for a detailed interview with the author Ms. Mishi Saran –