The 8 June 1948 stamp issued to commemorate the first Air-India International service to London was only to be used for mail carried on that flight. Here are two interesting examples of covers used later, and how the postal authorities (correctly) treated the mail.
This Air-India International souvenir cover with the 12 as. stamp is cancelled CALCUTTA 9 JUN, and also has a LONDON 9 JY 48 arrival postmark. The cover is from the Murli Nair collection. Since the letter was posted in Calcutta after the 5 June deadline, it was too late to be sent to Bombay and be carried on the 8 June inaugural service, and also have the first flight cachet applied there. The Calcutta postal authorities did the right thing in treating the cover as unstamped, and still sending it to London with a Postage Due mark. There is a faint 7 visible under the mess of two round black obliterators beside the stamp. This is perhaps the postage due marking. They also cancelled the stamp, thereby rendering it unfit for further use.
Another unusual aspect is the application of the London arrival mark on the stamp itself, which is contrary to normal practice of applying it on the reverse of the cover. Interestingly, mail carried on the 8 June flight did not receive any arrival mark in London.
One more interesting cover is shown below:
Here is a similar cover, with the 12 as. stamp, this one with a CALCUTTA, 9 JUN 48, cancellation clearly visible on the reverse. The stamp is cancelled with a LONDON 9 JY inverted arrival mark quite clearly, and there is a handwritten T 50/c postage due endorsement in red visible beside the stamp on the front. Both covers are very interesting, and add spice to any collection.
Undoubtedly, one of India's, and perhaps the world's leading contemporary artists, Hussain's work for Air-India must have been treasured by the airline. Very similar objects as in the poster were used to design the Air-India timetable of April 1963. This was almost 7-8 years after the poster was printed. So, it would be an understatement to say that I was bemused when I saw what they did to the artist's work in the timetable. One of the characters the artist painted, the drummer, has had his head replaced with that of the Maharajah!
I am still in shock, and all I can say is that no one but the Maharajah would have the courage to do something like this. There is one part in me that wants to smile broadly at his gall in pulling this perhaps innocent prank; and another part that is absolutely horrified at how such a liberty could be taken with the master's work.
Judge for yourself, but do remember: he is our Maharajah and all his indiscretions are forgiven.
Top left: The mid-1950s Air-India International travel poster with puppet like cut-outs by M. F. Hussain. Catalogue # 28, size 72 x 101 cms.
Top right: The April 1963 airline timetable with similar characters, but the drummer's head has been replaced with that of our Maharajah.
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