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Hope God Almighty Wants Air India to Succeed

Edited excerpts from an intimate Facebook post by Rohit Bansal, editor, beat reporter, well wisher - and an AI passenger for 45 years.

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Today, Air India has gone back to the Tatas. After 69 years. Like many of us here from India, my first flight too was on AI (or Indian Airlines, the merged entity). In 1976. Dad was in Australia and he and Mom, Usha, decided that my sis, Rajita, and i must have an airplane ride. So off we flew to Hyderabad. Unsure if we’ll ever have another chance, we preserved the plastic forks! The gracious air hostess gifted nine-year-old me a board game. 

Come 1979-80 and I found myself among a group of Indian kids lined up at the tarmac of Plaissance Airport to welcome Atal Bihari Vajpayee. India’s charismatic EAM has flown in on a gleaming Air India commercial flight. PM Seewoosagar Ramgoolam was with us bachchas to welcome him in person. 

Cut to 1992-93, TOI assigned me the civil aviation beat. That afforded me a chance to meet the cats who weilded the baton: S/Sh Russi Mody, Michael Mascarenhas, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Yogesh Chandra, Brijesh Kumar, PC Sen, Capt DS Mathur, KN Ardhanareeeshwaran, DS Khola, to name just a few. These talented men hoped to save the exchequer from endemic losses. They were set for failure - and did. But not before I could fly the special charters they mounted for the PM (to France, Morocco, Jamaica, Trinidad, and the U.S.). For those few hours of flying ‘AI One’ we are unashamedly oblivious to the host’s balance sheet. Alcohol flowed. We strutted to the VVIP chalet just in case Jaswant Singh or Brajesh Mishra ji were in a chatty mood. I cherished a green Cross ballpoint that the charismatic Mascarenhas hand-couriered to me onboard. On a few occasions I was bumped up to First Class. Once, on the way back from London, I was the sole passenger in ‘F’ with an entire trolley of fruits and cake plus a purser to myself. Terrifying, the state of sales.

But I am overspeeding. In 1994 itself, I had bumped into Karamjeet Singh, a tall Singaporean sardar, with a booming voice and regal manner. We were in the lift of India’s aviation ministry - me to sniff around and Singh with an intent to set up Tata-SIA. The page one story in TOI next day set my stock soaring, Months later, Singh was named the station chief in Delhi. What undid everything was what I sat down to write after ~eight years following a chat with the disinvestment secretary, Pradip Baijal. SIA had got fed up with our red tape and Singh has relocated to Singapore. This is exactly what had happened to Mody, the great Tata alum. He was straight and charismatic, but the czars of Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan only saw hot air. We gave him the headline, “Russi Mody says he can privatise AI-IA management.” It was just a headline. Hone ka kuchch nahin thaa. Yes, Mody did make a 12-egg omlette for my camera. No crowning glory there.

In the last few flights on AI, I have had to look the other way when the seat cushion had stains. Everything seemed frayed at the edges. I shifted to Jet and then Vistara, but never angry enough to snap when better connectivity forced me to fly the Maharaja. I lived in hope that AI will FLY again. Not just literally, but in the glory that JRD conceived it. The flag bearer of a young and proud nation. 

Are the Tatas up to it? Only God Almighty is. But for now, let’s wish them well.

( Mr Rohit Bansal is the Group Head of Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Rohit Bansal

The author is Founder, AQI India & Purelogic Labs India

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