On the face of it, 1963 was an altogether ‘normal’ year at Air India. Old-timers say ‘nothing special’ happened that year, apart from the delivery of Air India’s seventh Boeing 707 aircraft. It was a mere 17 years after Tata Airlines became a public limited company, named Air India.
In those heady early days of India’s independence, the airline’s image was young, edgy, efficient, and aspirational—light years away from the sorry state of affairs the national carrier finds itself in today.
In the 1960s, leading trade magazines Flight and Aerospace International ranked Air India among the ‘Top 10’ airlines in the world. It was the first airline to have a mascot, the Maharaja, which was introduced in the early 1960s. It was admired globally—even by the Swiss—for its outstanding service and its cheese platters. Young ladies from ‘good families’ vied to be air hostesses—and some even married into better families thanks to the glamour and excitement associated with flying.
AI’s advertising campaigns were considered edgy (a bit like how Indigo’s missives are today) with lines like “Goodness Gracious, It’s Mauritius”, when services were started to the then unknown fii destination.
“There was no interference from politicians, the ministry, bureaucrats and carpetbaggers,” smiles a former Air India managing director. “I wish I could breathe in that air of freedom.” The key factor—and the man behind this utopia—was the towering personality of J.R.D. Tata, the “be-all and end-all” of the airline till 1977, when he was unceremoniously sacked. In the running of the airline, he was assisted by a crack team led by S.K. “Bobby” Kooka, Air India’s efficient commercial director, who introduced the Maharaja as a powerful branding tool for the airline and the air hostess saree as a global symbol of innovation and India’s soft (cloth) power. There were others, like ICS officer B.R. Patel, who provided much-needed stability during the 1960s.
But it was Tata who got the message out—the entire board consisted of professionals with only one government nominee. Such was his integrity that in the 1960s, legend had it that a civil aviation minister discussing aircraft acquisition with Tata said, “Tata Saab, aap jo bolenge, hum karenge.” That’s why there was pride in the airline, all the way down to the lowly loaders, who saluted Air India’s aircraft on the tarmac, whatever be the time, early morning or late night. This pride is, alas, a fleeting memory.
A young Air India was magical and unforgettable (A Princely Kingdom In Rarefied Air). The unique mascot, Maharaja, used to lure travellers by naming the carrier ‘your palace in the sky’. The Maharaja, alas, has since been retired, and with dark clouds around, we can only hope that Air India regains its past glory.
Those were the unforgettable days when Air India's unique mascot Maharaja used to lure the travellers by naming the carrier as "Your palace in the sky". However, Maharaja has since been retired and now amid dark clouds around, we can only hope that our esteemed pride of the nation regains its past glory and shines again in the sky.
The failure of Maharaja is the failure of the misguided and unscientific NEHRUVIAN SOCIALISM, that called for Governments to spend (money and time) on running luxury air services over building roads, schools and hospitals.
But 50 years latter, we are not ready to unlearn those wrong lessons. We still worship the failed Nehruvian Socialism and we still spend 30K crores on Air India while not giving priority to building rural roads, schools and toilets. That is SHEKKULAR INDIA WORSHIPPING NEHRU LEGACY ! Jai Congress !
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