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Eighty years ago, on October 15, 1932, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata—the first person in India to be issued a pilot’s licence—transported some (air)mail in a single-engine de Havilland Puss Moth from Karachi to Bombay. This was the inaugural flight of Tata Aviation Services—the precursor of the Air India behemoth. The first route was Karachi to Madras, via Ahmedabad and Bombay.
In the very first year of operations, the airline made a profit of 60,000 rupees, which is more than can be said of the beleaguered carrier now. The airline was nationalised in 1953 but JRD continued to run it to the highest standards for many years. Those were the airline’s heydays, when it commanded the skies, slowly but steadily spreading its web across the globe.
The now familiar figure of the Maharajah made his first appearance in 1946. He was the love child of Bobby Kooka, Air India’s commercial director, and Umesh Rao, an artist with the agency J. Walter Thompson. Most of these gorgeous posters are from the 1950s and 1960s, drawn by a variety of artists under the supervision of art director J.B. Cowasji. With the Air India Dreamliner taking flight, the Maharajah seems to be dusting off the cobwebs from his turban. If you have an old poster tucked away somewhere, hang on to it—it’s probably worth a king’s ransom now.