Women in saris or gowns and moguls in tuxedos convened in New York last night to raise money for the World Monuments Fund and honor Ratan N. Tata, whom one attendee called the Andrew Carnegie of India.
“We owe it to future generations to preserve the history and heritage that came before,” Tata, 72, said at the Plaza upon receiving the fund’s Hadrian Award, named after the art- loving Roman emperor. “If we do not, it will die.”
Tata is chairman of Tata Sons Ltd., which controls 100 or so companies including steelmaker Corus Group Plc and Jaguar Land Rover. It also operates the nearby Pierre Hotel, where Tata, who lives in Mumbai, was staying.
An aide declined to say whether he occupied the Tata Suite, advertised at $20,000 a night and adorned with photos and books of his family’s history. Tata, who trained as an architect at Cornell University and is described by friends as private, declined to comment.
The priciest ticket for the gala was $5,000, which could buy two of Tata Motors Ltd.’s Nanos, the world’s least-expensive car at $2,500. Attendees enjoyed spiced rack of lamb, vegetable timbale and passion fruit brulee tart. Among the guests were KKR & Co.’s Henry Kravis, theater producer Roger Berlind (whose wife, Brook, is a trustee), actor Jim Dale and writer Gita Mehta.
“Tata is a byword for honor,” said Mehta, who is married to Sonny Mehta, head of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Tata was lauded for working with the WMF and Indian government to restore the Taj Mahal, as well as renovating and operating historic hotels in India and a variety of philanthropy and arts patronage. Today, the Harvard Business School said it received $50 million from Tata Group to fund a new academic and residential building in Boston.
Actress Sharmila Tagore, who flew from New Delhi, appealed for help for Indian cinema when she was done toasting.
“We so badly need an archive and museum,” she said. “I hope this will find favor, sir.”
Tata responded with a smile when he spoke: “Little did I know she could be so persuasive. I guess it proves there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
The evening grossed about $500,000 for the Monuments Fund, founded in 1965 to protect and preserve endangered architecture and heritage sites worldwide. The Hadrian Award dates back to 1988 and previous recipients have included David Rockefeller Jr. and the Prince of Wales.
“People all over the world realize they lose a part of themselves when we allow an old, unique building to disappear,” said Marilyn Perry, WMF’s chairman from 1990 to 2007.
Jean-Marie Eveillard, a senior adviser with First Eagle Investment Management, said when he and his wife vacationed in Peru last year they visited two remote churches the WMF was restoring. They went at the suggestion of their daughter Pauline, an art historian who works as a WMF field program administrator.
“The façade was austere and the inside was flamboyant,” he said. “I love old churches.”
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