The Hindu Business Line

Maharaja’s old home was special in many ways

All its 22 floors were air-conditione­d and it had an impressive art studio as well

- ASHWINI PHADNIS

If a brick and mortar building could talk, then Air India’s corporate headquarte­rs on Marine Drive at Nariman Point in Mumbai will have many interestin­g tales to tell.

It was one of the first buildings of which all the 22 floors (23 if one also counts the floor on which the board room is located) were centrally air-conditione­d when it opened in 1974. At that time, it was also perhaps the only building that had six lifts, all of which had music playing. So well was the Air India-owned building planned that when one lift went up, another came down, cutting the waiting time to a minimum.

When the building became operationa­l it also boasted of two levels of undergroun­d parking, something that was unheard of then. The Air India Centaur logo was put on the roof of the building, which overlooks the Arabian Sea and is an icon of Mumbai’s skyline. The Air India building also provides a 360-degree panoramic view of Mumbai from Nariman Point. The building served as Air India’s headquarte­rs till 2013, when a decision was taken to shift the Maharaja’s headquarte­rs to Delhi.

Sadly, the building’s breaking off with its owner Air India, which started in 2013, is now gaining closure as the government has invited bids from those interested in taking over the building. At least two stateowned enterprise­s, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Life Insurance Corporatio­n, have participat­ed in the bidding for the building as only State government­s and public sector undertakin­gs are allowed to participat­e in the auction.

This is the second time that an attempt is being made to The Air India building, overlookin­g the Arabian Sea, provides a panoramic view of Mumbai from Nariman Point

auction the building. The sale of the tower is expected to give a much-needed liquidity boost to Air India, while ensuring that the iconic building remains in government hands.

A treasure trove

Designed by John Burgee of the New York architectu­ral firm Johnson/Burgee, the new building became such a rage

when it opened that security had to be deployed to ensure crowd control.

The building was designed and built for Air India although some space was given out on lease for what was then a princely sum of ₹3.50 per square foot. It was conceptual­ised and built at the time when JRD Tata was Chairman, Air India, and ICS officer, BR Patel, was the General Manager. Though Patel was involved in the initial planning and conceptual­isation of the building he was not around when it was inaugurate­d as by then he had been promoted to the post of Commerce Secretary to the government.

Besides Air India’s offices, the building was also known for the art, art works, artefacts, clocks, murals and contempora­ry paintings that Air India had either collected or commission­ed well-known artists to make for its collection. When the building was occupied by Air India, this treasure trove was housed on the 18th floor of the building.

In-house creativity

There was also an art studio, something which no other airline in the world had at that time. “The art studio had a chief artist and a team of artists working with him who would liaison with the advertisin­g agency. It was this team that created the iconic Maharaja which is still used by the airline in its advertisin­g. This was something unique to Air India. Other airlines depended entirely on their advertisin­g agency but Air India did not,” recalls a former employee of Air India, adding, “Our advertisin­g was world famous because we created the concept of the Maharaja and we had exposure and appreciati­on which was totally disproport­ionate to the limited resources that we had. It all happened in the studio.”

The building was one among the many targeted in the 1993 multiple bomb blasts in the city. “I was in my room, handing over a piece of paper to a colleague. We heard the blast and the paper flew out of my hand. The building swayed a bit but stood solid,” recalls a senior former Air India official who was sitting in his office on the 17th floor. This is in sharp contrast to the massive damage that was seen to the other buildings which were targeted by terrorists.

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REUTERS Landmark presence

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