(K. Brent Tomer),
IN SEPTEMBER 1945, E. M. Forster, who had been hired by George Orwell to host a literary programme for BBC’s India service, chose to discuss a slim book called “A Steel Man in India”. It was a memoir by John Keenan, the recently-retired general manager of the Tata Steel Iron and Steel Company. Then the largest steel plant in the British Empire, it was located in Jamshedpur—a company town in east India that the Western press had dubbed “the Pittsburgh of the east.”
Aglow with details of pig iron, blast furnaces, ingots, and “the roaring, pulsating, pounding, hissing organism that is a steel mill”, Keenan’s memoir was an odd book for Forster to choose. But something about the whisky-drinking, tall-talking American writer’s appetite for life, his lusty cosmopolitanism (he could cuss in Serbian, Turkish, Croatian, Hungarian and Hindi), and, above all, his unabashed affection for India, left Forster touched and amused. Read this book, he urged his faraway listeners.
As Tata Steel prepares to sell its loss-making steel plant in Britain, Keenan’s book makes for fascinating reading. Tata Steel’s links…Continue reading