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Grow Old Along With Me...

I dislike companies that change names from time to time, like divorced women taking up new husbands and new names

Tata Iron & Steel Company, or Tisco, is not Tisco anymore. It has changed its name to Tata Steel, which sounds more modern, as steel is more modern and chic than plain iron, which you can make in your back garden. Actually, Tisco started life as an iron-maker, supplying pig iron, among other things, to Indian Railways, but that is another matter.

I dislike companies that change names from time to time, like divorced women taking up new husbands and new names. After all, Tisco is an ancient hundred years old company and is known all over the world as Tisco. But the Tata management apparently does not like the sound of the old name.

So many companies keep changing names that is difficult to keep track. Grasim used to be Gwalior Rayon, a venerable old company, and Hindalco used to be Hindustan Aluminium. As soon as they change their names, I sold my shares. I shall sell Tisco too, for I have known the company for over 50 years, and we grew up together.

The oldest company in the world is a Swedish company, whose name I have now forgotten, but is said to be over 600 years old, and still going strong. It still bears the same name, and probably does the same business, buying and selling timber. Its head office is in the same place too, and believe it or not, in the same old building, patched up here and there, but looking none the worse for wear. When I last saw it - for I collect old companies as some people collect old stamps - it was still there, looking a little like Hema Malini with greying hair.

Then there is East India Company, which received its charter from Elizabeth I in 1599, in fact, on the last day of 1599. It was 400 years old five years ago, but does not feel its age and is still there in Threadneedle Street, London near the Bank of England, with a brass plate that is still polished every day, as it no doubt was during the time of Robert Clive and other rascals who followed him.

The oldest company in India, that is, a company registered in India, is also going strong, with a brass plate that is even more polished than East India Company's. It was founded in Bombay, which, I am sorry to say, is not Bombay anymore, by one John Forbes around 1775, that is, 230 years ago. Forbes used to work for East India Company, as did Robert Clive, and set up his agency house after retirement.

The company is now called Forbes, Forbes & Cambell, and is still housed in the same building where is was founded, just behind Khadi Bhandar, not far from Bombay Gymkhana, which was also probably founded by John Forbes. The firm was an agency house for a number of years, like Greaves Cotton, and now owns a textile mill in or near Hubli in Karnataka. The company is now part of the Tata group.

Bombay has lots of companies that are more than a hundred years old, and you often see their nameplates as you climb the rickety wooden stairs to see your travel agent or get your hair cut. Some companies are so old you don't know they exist. Many of them used to be cotton brokers and now deal in shares. Their name plates are polished everyday, just like East India Company's in London, four thousand miles away. And like East India Company and Forbes, Forbes and Campbell, they still carry their ancient names.