The story goes that whenever an accomplished, and even emerging artist or performer wanted to travel, the Taj stepped up to provide subsidised or free hotel accommodation and Air-India provided the air tickets. Out of gratitude, these artists would lavish the two corporations with gifts of their art, and both of these built extensive art collections running into thousands of paintings. these would adorn the walls of their various properties, and also be used in promotional material.
This photograph taken around mid-late 1955 shows the tastefully decorated Air-India International booking office in Geneva. Seated on the sofa in the sari is young Nargis who was on vacation in Europe at the time. Now look at the murals on the walls, and guess what: Hussain again! Yes, the murals on the walls were done by the master himself. The same wooden puppet cut-out treatment as in the poster. Notice the group on the right, two drummers and a dancer. Also, the second group from the left, partly obscured by the pillar has horses, and a chariot. now look at the poster again. Amazing.
It is difficult to put in words how pleasing this hobby is for me, and how grateful I am to the kindness of well-wishers who come forward to bless me with stories of this airline, and endow the collection with irreplaceable artifacts. Air-India is the stuff legends are made of.
Air-India International reservation office at 7, Rue de Chantepoulet in Geneva. (c.mid-late 1955)
The mural is by M. F. Hussain, one of the greatest contemporary artists in the world.
Please pardon the fold in the center of the photograph.
Meet Sheela 'Charu' Gupte (nee Tipnis) an artist, who worked in the Air-India Art Studio during the 1970s.
The Air-India offices were then at the Bank of India building at Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk). She recalls the move to the iconic Air-India building at Nariman Point in 1971, and how deserted and lonely the walk was then to the office from Churchgate Station. The Art Studio occupied the pride of place in the skyscraper at one of the topmost floors, with plenty of natural light and a great view of the city.
Charu regaled me with stories of the evolution of the Maharajah, and how he was at first a slim and tall character, and over time got shorter, and a little portlier. Also, how his persona evolved. Earlier his eyes were shown open but later were always seen closed or looking downwards, as though he is humbly welcoming the real maharajah, the passenger, on board his flying carpet. In the beginning, his palms were not joined together although he was in the bowing pose. The right hand was bent, placed midriff, and left hand was to his side. It was only in the early 2000's that the pose was changed to a 'namaste' one.
Among numerous designs for Air-India, Charu recalls drawing and re-drawing several of the coasters that were issued in the late 1970s in a new design (Type 4.1).
Charu retired as the AGM, Advertising and Special Promotions, Air-India. She has many more photographs of her stint in the Art Studio, and other colleagues she worked with there, and I am hoping that I will get an opportunity to add them to the web-site soon.
Charu at work in the Air-India Art Studio c. late-1970s, with her artists material all around her. She is working on a brochure on How to tie a turban, and you can see the open books being used as reference material. Also on the drawing board, you can see sketches of the coaster designs she has been working on.
Klaus Vomhof lives in the U.K., and is the author of Leisure Airlines of Europe: The History of European Charter Airlines from 1945 to the present day. I got in contact with him when he was selling his collection of about 35 Air-India flight schedules from the 1950s thru 1970s. It is generally very difficult to get such a large bunch of timetables.
You may wonder why these are collectible. A comprehensive Timetable collection actually helps chronicle the history of an airline and records the introduction and cessation of routes, aircraft used, flight timings etc. All very valuable to an airline historian and to an aerophilatelist. They also often contain route maps, fleet information, fares etc.
The Press Release had a most wonderful label affixed on it. This had the image of a Travel Poster issued in 1948, and the release also mentions that Air-India had issued a re-print of 1948 poster itself. Now, that would indeed be an interesting find.
Thank you Mr. Vomhof for your generous gift. I am sure many Air-India enthusiasts will enjoy viewing these.
Here I will update you on interesting information about