The Maharaja is no longer the mascot of Air India alone. The gent with the handlebar moustache, striped turban and curled-up shoes will now also be the colourful representative of the new entity called, um, Air India, formed out of the blessed union between (the old) Air India and Indian (the old Indian Airlines). Maharaja-lovers were crossing their fingers hoping that in the zeal to bring in everything new and shiny, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel does not send the lovable royal packing. He hasn’t and for expanding his duties as a mascot, Mr Patel deserves a bright, striped pagri himself.
The Maharaja was born in 1946 as part of the decorations in the new offices of Tata Airlines (precursor of Air India) in Bombay. The first Maharaja was a pudgy, dignified but clearly fun-loving Indian ‘maharaja’ on a flying carpet and smoking a hookah. He was inviting the world outside to exotic India. Very soon, this maharaja became the Maharaja, capturing the jovial bonhomie that both Indian and AI represented. In the words of Jal Cawasji, AI’s art director, who along with his team drew the ‘Maharaja’ doing various things while Bobby Kooka, AI’s commercial director, wrote the words in its ads, “(the Maharaja’s) blood isn’t blue. He may look like royalty but he isn’t royal.” Which makes him a sort of hotel doorman with immense chutzpah.
Unlike the Maharaja, the less lovable Centaur of ‘old’ AI and the less identifiable logo of the Ashok chakra have been replaced by a flying swan with the chakra in the middle for the new brand, Air India. We can now safely say that the Maharaja was never hoi polloi.