First Indian female tennis player to feature in Olympics – Lady Meherbai Tata

This story is about Meherbai Tata, lady who used to play all her tennis matches in a Parsi saree to display her pride in her culture.

Meherbai was born in Bombay on October 10th, 1879 to Hormusji J. Bhabha who was one of the first Parsis who went to England to complete his education. He gave his daughter an english name “Mary”, but she found this not to her taste and pride in her nationality made her change the spelling to Persian “Mehri”.

Mehri progressed in English and Latin under her father’s guidance. She was an accomplished pianist and one of those who sought after at every public concert in Mysore.

Connection with the “House Of Tata”

In 1890, Jamsetji Tata who was the founder of House of Tata visited Bangalore and came in close contact with the Bhabha family. Jamsetji took a great liking for Meherbai and he advised his son Dorab to visit Mysore state and call on the Bhabha family. Everything went smooth and the beautiful couple tied wedding knot on 14th Febuary, 1898.

Sir Dorabji Tata and Lady Meherbai Tata’s Love for Tennis

Mehri shared Dorabji’s love for tennis. She played in several tournaments and won over 60 prizes. She also won the “Triple Crown” in the Western India Tennis Tournament. Together they scored many successes in the All-India Championships.

At Wimbledon, Kissengen and Baden-Baden, besides nearly every important court in India where she was a familiar figure. Her pride in her national dress, “the saree” drew instant response from many spectators. She was also a good horse rider and drovr her own motor car.

Lady Meherbai Tata – The Philanthropist and Social Worker

Meherbai was keen to see all women taking charge of their own lives. She was the founder of Bombay Presidency Women’s Council and then of the National Council Of Women. Later, she also introduced India into the International Council Of Women.

Lady Meherbai campaigned for higher education for women, for banning the purdah system and for the eradication of the practice of untouchability. Meherbai believed that without education and knowledge the status of women in India can never be raised. She was also consulted on the Sarda Act designed to outlaw child marriage.

Saviour of Tata Steel from insolvency

Sir Dorabji and Lady Meherbai possessed the 6th largest Jubilee Diamond in the world which weight about 245.35 carats. The diamond was in a platinum chain which Meherbai use to wore on her visit to the royal courts and functions.

After the first World War, Tata steel (then names TISCO) went into financial troubles. Dorabji and Meherbai Tata decided to give all their assets including the Jubilee Diamond to the Imperial Bank for the loan. And with this loan they revived the fortune of TISCO, they ensured that all of there workers were paid during this difficult period. Later, when the company progressed they reclaimed the diamond but Lady Meherbai sold of this diamond to start Sir Dorabji Tata Trust which is one of the oldest philanthropic organization in India.

Lady Meherbai Tata wearing the Jubilee Diamond

Last stages of her life

Suffering from leukaemia, during the last stages of her illness Lady Tata was admitted to a nursing home at Ruthin in North Wales and passe away on June 18, 1931. The ashes of Meherbai have been interred at the Brookwood Cemetery where a beautiful mausoleum has been erected on the site, specilly designe in old Persian style.

In 1932, Sir Dorabji Tata established, the Lady Tata Memorial Trust in memory of his wife Meherbai. On April 9, 1932 another trust the Lady Meherbai D. Tata Education trust was founded by Sir Dorabji Tata offering scholarships for work in specific fields as indicated in her will.

P.S : credits to Tata central archives for story and pictures

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