Over time we become increasingly aware about aspects of our behaviour that adversely affect our health and the eco-system around us. Even in the early history of Air India, this is very evident. The airline prided itself in high quality gifts to passengers and business contacts. Often in the 1950s all the way through to the 1970s, these were cigarette lighters and ash trays. You can see images of these elsewhere in our website as well (https://www.airindiacollector.com/gifts-and-souvenirs.html).
Over time the airline became more aware of the ill-effects of tobacco, and participated in a campaign to create awareness of the harmful effects of smoking.
The poster itself was released in July 1977, and was ironically sponsored by the Cigarette Manufacturers Association. In classic Air India style, it features our Maharajah, and a touch of humor consistent with his unique personality.
Bobby Kooka himself was a bon vivant, and enjoyed his smoke, so this is hardly surprising. What is amazing is the transformation of the image of the airline from one that prided itself in promoting smoking into one that promoted awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco.
This story does not end with smoking alone. Kooka himself was an avid hunter, and it is not surprising that in the early years the airline glorified this bloody sport.
In June 1969 the airline published it’s Shikar (hunting) poster
A product of the Air India art studio, this is an adaptation of an old Indian Miniature painting. This version shows our Maharajah on horseback, out for Shikar (hunting), and his attendant is spearing a tiger to death. At one time, Shikar was considered a royal sport. The Maharajah on Shikar made an appearance also on the cover of the January 1967 timetable.
There is another depiction of a hunt, on the cover of the June 1967 timetable. In perhaps the most unforgivable depiction of our maharajah, this one has him hunting using a long barrel rifle, and an innocent deer is the unfortunate victim. One cannot help but shed a tear at this sight. There is nothing sporting or manly about such a shameful act.
However, the airline did finally redeem itself. Kooka himself was closely associated with the World Wildlife Fund in his later years, and Air India released a series of posters encouraging protection of the animal species. Here are some of the wonderful creations that were to follow.
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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