Friday, 12 June 2020

The story of the famous Maharaja!






(Contributed by Salil Naik)

This is a story of a Marketing Maverick: Bobby Kooka - the creator of the Air India Maharaja.

This is the delightful story of one of India’s first marketing wizards, a maverick of the Tata Group, a close associate and friend of JRD Tata: Bobby Kooka, the man behind the creation of Air-India Maharajah, which came to be known and identified worldwide for it’s quality service and hospitality, till a few years ago it was done away with a new logo. And the downslide of Air India started. Maharaja was associated with Air India’s glorious past. But some wise men in Air India felt it was like continuing the British legacy and insisted on removing the Maharaja from the promos, flights, etc and introduced a new logo suitable to modern times and air travel. Some traditionalists believe that removing the mascot of Maharaja brought bad luck to Air India and it’s eventual downslide.

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Sorab Kaikushroo (Bobby) Kooka joined the aviation department of the Tata Group in 1938, the same year in which the fledgling Tata Airlines, India’s first commercial airline service, began to fly. 

Many years later, JRD Tata would fondly narrate the tale of how he first met the man - “I don't know how many of you there are here tonight who were in Tata Airlines in May 1938 - probably not many - when Mr. Kooka first burst upon an astonished air transport world which has never been the same since. On that fateful day in May, Mr. Kooka appeared in my office and having pointed out the deficiencies in the Tata Organisation, explained how badly needed he was in Tatas to put them right … I decided that if there was any place for him in Tatas, it could only be in Tata Airlines. Furthermore, in those days, the chances of survival of Tata Airlines were pretty dim and so it was clear that by employing him there we would be taking little risk of making any permanent commitment.”

Bobby Kooka also recalls this first encounter with JRD Tata in his own inimitable style – “I was told that I would have to see Mr. JRD Tata. I was warned that Mr. Tata was a terror. Heart in mouth, I went to his office. He asked me very searching questions, none of which could I answer. He was obviously impressed, so impressed, that within seconds, I was ushered out of the room …”


Behind this banter was a brilliant, fertile marketing brain. After spending a few years as Secretary of Tata Airlines, Bobby Kooka decided to give the brand (now re-christened Air India, with JRD as Chairman) a human face, that represented India with charm and dignity.  At the first booking office of the Company, located in Churchgate in Mumbai, he created “an oriental potentate, sitting on a magic carpet, smoking a bubble hookah.” This was the beginning of the Air India Maharajah, perhaps India’s first advertising mascot  who went on to win millions of hearts across the world.

Here is how Bobby Kooka described the Maharajah. “We call him a Maharajah for want of a better description. But his blood isn’t blue. He might look like royalty, but he isn’t royal.” Working together with Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thomson, the advertising agency, this duo created this loveable symbol of India – a round face, an outsized moustache, striped turban and long, sharp nose.

After making his first appearance in 1946, the Maharajah was soon all over the world, and in the process, he made Air India one of the most visible and engaging brands globally. Fifty years before Google even thought of its frequent Google-doodles, Bobby Kooka was constantly reinventing the Maharajah to suit topical themes - as a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a Romeo in Rome, and a guru of transcendental meditation in Rishikesh. The Maharajah was funny, irreverent, up to antics, but always full of India, his proud homeland. He was a friend to every traveler on India’s national airline, reaching out with warmth and hospitality.

Bobby Kooka also took forward this “Indianness” to every office of the airline, worldwide. Indian imagery, dance, paintings and sculpture appeared in the offices of Air India in New York, Geneva, London and elsewhere, making the airline a beautiful showcase of the country’s great heritage. This, in turn, attracted many global travellers to make this the airline of their choice. The filmmaker Muzaffar Ali, who worked  in Bobby Kooka’s marketing team for many years, says – “For eleven years, I was on a flight, dreaming through the eyes of Kooka and his mentor JRD. I was not working for Air India, but for India.”

But if Kooka was a marketing genius, he was also a maverick, who created storms in many tea-cups, in his time. He used to write for the Tata House magazine of the time, editing the last page called the “Tata Patter”, under various pen names ranging from Pestonjee Pepper to Umslopogas, Chief of the Amazulus. On this page, he proceeded to, in the words of JRD Tata, “play havoc with the whole Tata organization by demolishing the ego and assassinating the character of every Tata Director and official official... (also), through Air India hoardings, he demolished and punctured innumerable egos, which placed me at the receiving end of endless complaints from MPs and Ministers, including  Morarji Desai and Krishna Menon, who were depicted in red pants running a track race with Mr. Kripalani.”

But nonetheless, JRD Tata provided Bobby Kooka with the required support throughout his career, because he recognized Kooka’s genius, and perhaps also the need for some benign humour in the midst of our daily challenges. As JRD said at Bobby Kooka’s retirement function in 1971 – “May you never cease tilting at windmills, at the pretentious, the charlatans, and the hypocrites of the world.” He also said - “I forgive him all the apologies I had to tender on his behalf. I forgive him all the scars that I have borne because of the pleasure, the laughter and the relief from frustration and boredom that he provided to thousands, and perhaps millions, of people.”  

This reminds me of one of JRD Tata’s key secrets to his success, of which he says – “If I have any merit, it is getting on with individuals according to their ways and characteristics …to be a leader, you have have to lead human beings with affection.” JRD led the maverick Bobby Kooka with that same human affection, and, in turn, Kooka led the fabulously successful marketing and publicity efforts for the nation’s flagship airline, including the creation and nurturing of the wonderful, timeless Air India Maharajah.

Also read: Las Vegas through the lens   Greece through the lens 

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Happiness is just not a state;  it is something you can learn.

(Contributed by Mrs Rita Rao, Chief Happiness Officer & Administrative Support, AlMansoori Specialized Engineering, Abu Dhabi, UAE)

Research has confirmed that through intentional practices, we can actually change the neural pathways of our brain to become happier. 

When you have been gifted with a dream, it is up to you to make a plan to achieve it! Here are some steps to get you started: 
Step 1: Write down your dream.
Step 2: Write down how you’re going to get there. Break it down into small action steps. Something you can accomplish in a day, then a week, then a month, then a year. 
Step 3: Break down your small steps into even smaller baby steps – so ridiculous that you have no problem doing it. 
Step 4: Make sure your environment is conducive to your goal. For example, if your goal is to read 10 books by the end of the year, then clear your space and have books visible and accessible! So the next time you might choose to read vs. watch a show or movie. 
Step 5: Make it into a habit. When you operate on autopilot to achieve your goals, everything is easier.

For example, “when I get up at 6am, I will exercise.” Pair your goal with an established routine  (like getting up at 6) - then you can bypass the inertia of starting something new. Reward yourself for consistency - you deserve some love for taking action towards your dream.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” –Harriet Tubman


Stay Safe !! In Happiness. 


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The ghost mansions of Chettinad, Tamilnadu
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Anil Naik
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