Air India hoarding by Air India Collector.
It was this creative nerve and humor that wowed Khaitan and Matthai and launched them on a quest for Air India memorabilia. “You have to understand that Air India, despite being a small airline, has had a big impact with this kind of visual storytelling,” says Khaitan.
It flew first class on board in the early 1970s. It was a jumbo jet with interiors decorated with references to Krishna’s Vrindavan with gopis; the windows had designs of jharokas from Rajasthan. The elegant flight attendants would be dressed in saris or salwar-kameez and, in first class, ghagra-cholis. “As soon as you entered the airport, you were greeted with the visual of the Maharajah who said ‘fly on my magic carpet’. You took off with this imagery in mind.
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When Khaitan flew with Air India, they had television in flight. But before TV there was in-flight reading material, comics created by the Kooka team, with names like Better Acquainted and Foolishly Yours. Global newspapers, such as the South China Morning Post, wrote about these comics, Khaitan explains.
All of this motivated the duo to document the achievements of India’s first international airline. “People around the world need to know the genius that made this airline possible,” says Khaitan.
(From left to right) An ashtray designed by Salvador Dali; a vintage pilot badge and a centerpiece featuring the iconic Maharajah. (Air India collector)
Documentation of material, some of which is over 70 years old, requires retention. There are approximately 6,000 artifacts stored in Khaitan’s house. He gets them from various sources: auction houses, gifts from friends. Some of the rarer materials come from scrap metal vendors in Mumbai. Visitors to the website told fascinating stories about Air India and also shared valuable finds. One of them is a retired policeman who lives in France. He sent material from a crash site. “Allan Tramontana was hiking near the Bossons Glacier in Mont-Blanc when he came across flight debris. In 1966, an Air India Boeing 707 had an unfortunate accident. Because it’s a glacier, the snow continued to melt, and this man found debris near his feet. There were newspapers like The Hindu and The Times Of India from January 1966 that he shared with me, ”Khaitan explains. It was the accident in which nuclear scientist Homi Bhabha lost his life.
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Some of the material needs to be restored. Artifacts, such as posters, are mailed to poster restoration specialists in Chicago. “They clean them completely, remove any fungus or bacteria, mount them on archival quality linen, then mail them to me in a condition that can be preserved forever.” At one point, the duo want to give them a permanent home in a museum dedicated to the Maharajah.
A drawing on a Do Not Disturb card (Air India Collector)