The Time I Stole a Rotring Pencil

I have been thinking a lot about pen pencils these days, their gradual decline in sales over the past decade owing to a faster decline in people preferring to write on paper over type, and the lack of options when one goes shopping at a stationery store. “Here you go,” said the shopkeeper as he opened a flat plastic box containing several colorful pen pencils. None of them of a notable brand, so I asked him for one. He then showed me pen pencils made by Cello, Faber-Castell, and Camlin. No sight of Rotring or Staedtler and I did not dare pronounce the words for he would have taken me for a madman. I don’t blame him because no one buys pen pencils these days the way they used to ten years ago. No one other than the New York Magazine spends much time in selecting a pen these days the way they used to five years ago. And no one talks about stealing pens from their friends like they have been doing since they invented stationery. You may call me a madman for confessing the crime. But I can’t stop thinking about pen pencils and the time when I stole a distinctive yellow Rotring Tikky II mechanical pen pencil from a classmate during my diploma days sometime between 2009 and 2011.

I don’t remember the details of how it found its way into my person but I can assure you that it must have been a voluntary move. Nothing happens by chance in this world and I can guess how my love for stationery must have helped me bag that big boy when its original owner was not looking. I was focusing on the impending horror of a degree education at that time, but I clearly remember the nature of the person I stole it from. He was a good young guy nearing adolescence, the only son born to possible rich parents who could either afford to buy him a Rotring pen pencil or had wealthy friends or business partners who could buy it from the West or the home country Germany itself and gift it to their son. Either way, he didn’t take care of it much because one, it was easy for me to steal it, and two, he seemed unperturbed after it went missing. As a young, taciturn and still slightly cunning for his actions, I would keep an eye on him on the days after the crime was committed. Nothing. No signs of irritation nor did the principal or head of department come to our class to investigate about a missing pen pencil. I was safe.

Rotring Tikky II pen pencil yellow
An example of the yellow Rotring Tikky 2 pencil I stole with its trademark grip, currently not in production. They have an upgraded version of it now. / © Souq.com

I also don’t remember having used it much. Because I had this common life feature of saving the best for last and not using it lest I damage it or use it up completely, my memories with the pen pencil are short-lived. I was not much into reading either at that time, which is where I use it extensively these days in case you’re wondering why I visited the stationery store before. I have a good habit of scribbling thoughts and underlining sentences while reading, which helps me retain stuff months, years after I have read a book. So, a pen pencil is absolutely essential if you are a reader.

I don’t think I used the Rotring pen pencil any more than the time it takes for a single 0.5mm lead to finish itself either by chafing itself on paper till the last bit of graphite or through the easier, more common, and the classic, irritating way of fracturing itself by the time you have reached 60% or so of a single lead. The USP of the Rotring pencil – as compared to other local, cheaper ones that we get in India – is that when you click and release, the chuck (that holds the lead in place) does not slide back. It stays there, giving you enough lead to write with in a single press. Most popular alternatives that we have today need to be pressed a couple times before you get the perfect lead-to-nib ratio in order to write without breaking it. It was also heavier than other pencils, and even some popular pens like Lexi 5, Racer Gel, Cello Papersoft, and Cello Gripper. You felt like you were holding a piece of something royal you can’t really figure out what. Maybe that’s why Rotring is still so active in the stationery business.

What I do remember, however, is the immediate fate of the stolen pen pencil. It did not last long with me as soon after my initial excitement over its acquisition I misplaced it. I had at least four different pencils at that time and only the Rotring left me without saying a goodbye. I have not ruled out the possibility of someone having stolen it from me and neither of the possibility that that someone could be its original owner. All I know is that my fleeting experience with the pencil really got me. In a way, it really pushed me off to this utter madness about stationery that I have maintained even after starting my career in marketing.

It is how I got introduced into this unknown field of consumer products, a field higher than that of the common things you see in the shops and online stores. For every product that you buy there is a better, costlier version which if you manage to buy is going to make going back to the lighter, cheaper version very difficult. The same way I haven’t been able to make peace with all the pen pencils that I have owned since then, none of which have been a Rotring. You and I know both know the reason. TN.

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Bombay and Alienation: Interview with Island City’s Ruchika Oberoi

Disclaimer: I talked to Ms. Oberoi in 2016 on phone soon after the premiere of her film Island City at the 2015 Mumbai Film Festival. This was originally written for The Review Monk but never published due to last minute edits. I am publishing this today without her approval.


Island City is the dazzling debut feature by Ruchika Oberoi who has already collected accolades for writing from various major film festivals around the world.

Her anthology film consists of three stories that sample themes of alienation and vapidity in the city of Bombay (Mumbai). Oberoi’s characters are ordinary people, whose tragic narratives have been carved from her own experiences as an outsider. She came to Bombay after graduation. Island City, starring Vinay Pathak, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Amruta Subhash, which won the FEDEORA prize at the Venice International Film Festival in 2015, is about people trying to find hope and meaning in a life without substance. Excerpts from the interview with director Ruchika Oberoi:

Island City is about three stories – three short stories that talk, in some way or the other, about the chilling solitude of living a fast-paced life in Mumbai. What was the inspiration behind these stories?

Being a Bombay-ite and living here for so many years definitely did help. But most importantly, not being born in Bombay, and experiencing the city as an outsider really was the starting point for these stories. I have lived in so many places in India including Bihar and Darjeeling, and then I came to Bombay only after my college. At that time, a lot of things affected me, and many years later, when I began to write the script for Island City, the vivid experiences of Bombay came back to me. I wanted to write about the arrival and adherence of Western culture in the city’s work ethics – the corporate culture – which is now an integral part of the system.

Island City still
Vinay Pathak in a scene from Island City / © NFDC

Overall, my aim was to capture the tragedy of the working class – the middle class – especially where women find themselves circumscribed within the household with no scope of chasing their dreams and aspirations. I was working on these stories separately, and in the case of the third short, “Contact”, it was based on a story written by my husband. But, while the original idea was for a TV serial, I worked upon it and created a story within the working class milieu. The characters, played by Tannishtha Chatterjee and Chandan Roy Sanyal, are both working people and are trying to figure out life through romance and matrimony, respectively. Later, at some point of time, I decided to bring these stories together and furnish it as an anthology. However, these stories are not about any one thing, but about many things at once. In terms of plot, they have more to do with the city of Bombay and alienation.

The first story, “Fun Committee”, starring Vinay Pathak was inspired by an incident involving your spouse. Can you tell us more about that?

My husband was working with a bank and was not really happy with the job. He was contemplating moving on, and finally when he did, the bank asked him to join back. Although, even after joining he was not very happy with the projects. One day, after coming home from work, he was emptying his pockets when some bright-coloured coupons fell out. So, when I asked him about them, he told me that those coupons were part of his bank’s ‘fun committee’ department which distributes such freebies and vouchers to employees to keep their spirit up. I found this idea very interesting and decided to carve it into a story.

That’s how “Fun Committee” was born, which is indicative of the present corporate culture, where you have jobs that suck out all the fun from your life. Everything that you do is decided by the committee who also has the final say in your happiness quotient. A sense of black comic story is what it is.

(Note – I wrote about this company culture on my LinkedIn.)

So, do you have a favorite? From your three stories?

No. No favorites, because all three talk about diverse things that are primarily only related by the city in which they are based in. They have different tones, but similar culminations. Also, after watching the film, a lot of people came to me during festival screenings and told me that they could connect with the first story or the third one. Even in Venice, lots of people were vocal about their connections with the second story, “Ghost in the Machine”. So, it is evident that obsession with the idiot box is not local, but universal. While some could connect with the first one, some found the second one more relatable, with others finding the third short more interesting. So, basically, since the stories talk about ordinary people,
they were perceived well.

Tannishtha Chatterjee, Chandan Sanyal in Island City
Tannishtha Chatterjee and Chandan Sanyal in a scene from Island City / © NFDC

The underlying theme of the stories is slightly offbeat. For example, in “Fun Committee” we have Vinay Pathak’s character going on an impromptu fun ride organized by his employer. How did you market this to your artists and producers?

Vinay was one of the first to read the script and he instantly liked it. Similarly, the producers actually went for the quirkiness of the stories – the offbeat nature of the stories that you mention – that’s what worked for me. I didn’t have to market it in anyway. The stories are black and slightly oblique, which is the USP of the film. That was the thing that everybody liked and connected with the film as a whole.

The Hollywood Reporter compares “Fun Committee” with the Orwellian concept of Big Brother. What do you think? Is the semblance real?

Sure. George Orwell’s 1984 was there in my mind when I was crafting the story, although it is not overtly thick as the novel. When you have read these books about dystopia and the idea of Big Brother, they are always present in your subconscious. That is why you connect with these stories in the first place. That is why when my husband described the coupons he had got from his office, I could connect the dots and create what is “Fun Committee”. So, yes, definitely there are Orwellian elements in the story – as in the voice that Vinay’s character follows, in the short. The voice is totally disconnected from the activities that are happening. For a moment, we wonder if it’s really of a real person, is it really a fun committee, or is it a machine, or a program which has no idea what’s going on. What if this program goes wrong and it won’t be able to deal with it or fix it? Something of this nature is currently happening around us, wouldn’t you say?

What genre would you collectively place this anthology in? Black comedy? Tragedy? Or is it genre- neutral?

They have diverse tones. So, collectively, I would put them in the tragic-comedy genre with traces of black humor. And the final story with Tannishtha – it does have bit of a romance in it. But, for me, it is not very important to set the stories in a single tone. All of them are interesting, per se, and together they have a voice that communicates the city’s core as it currently stands.

Could Island City be based on another city in the world and still be similar?

Absolutely! I can’t say any particular city, but like I said, in Venice, the audience could relate with the second story where people sometimes forget their own life owing to their habit of TV-watching. Talking about the first story, the entire concept is about a Western culture, so it connects with a universal audience. Of course, the working class conditions will be different, but in general, the essence remains the same. Island City has played in different countries like Colombia and in the States, and the fact is that people have managed to connect with the stories.

How was it to win the FEDEORA prize at Venice?

Totally unexpected. To even get selected was a big thing for us. I personally thought it was difficult to get selected mostly because it’s not that serious a film. Although it does deal with serious issues, it is narrated in a dark humorous way. But, the selectors were unanimous in their praise for the film and they promoted it very well from their side. It was screened at a huge hall with 500 occupants, and it was jam-packed. At the end, we even received a standing ovation. Overall, it was a wonderful experience for the whole crew, and afterwards when we won the prize, we were sort of ecstatic. At the end of the day, festival selections and awards are what build credibility for you as a filmmaker and your independent films. Such treats provide hope to us that, yes, films like this are worth people’s time.

Ruchika Oberoi
Ruchika Oberoi / © Loudspeaker Media

What do you think about independent films in India? How are they perceived? Will the trend change?

As in, have people started accepting independent films which convey strong messages? I know that more and more are being made here in India, but the artists are not making much money. I think, with the digital media coming in, it has been easier than ever to get a film out there; at least the publicity part. Great films are definitely happening in India and are competing at major film festivals around the world. However, I am not sure whether the public is watching it or not. There are certain people – the youth – who are interested in watching a different kind of cinema, but I don’t know why it snaps there. The interest and content are not connecting with each other.

I also don’t know if filmmakers even recover the costs. But, we have to keep doing what we do and hope that somewhere down the line, things will change for us. The audience also does complain about a lack of quality films, but at a time, when there are films which are also easily available to watch, why don’t they give it a try? I can sense that producers are trying to bring content and relevant audiences together through digital and social media. And that’s a good thing for this part of the industry.

Last year when we talked, you told me you were trying to find a distributor for the film in India. Can you share the experience? What challenges did you face?

I was not involved much in the distribution side of things. Sure, we had NFDC with us which gave us all the support we needed. As you know, NFDC is of great help to independent cinema filmmakers, and they were sure that they were going to give it a wide release. We were happy with the press the film was getting and we wanted to get good distributors. Moreover, it was our decision to let the film travel for a year and let it make a name for itself before getting a theatrical release. So, that’s why it premiered last year (2015) in September at Venice and now 12 months later, it is releasing nationwide on September 2nd (2016). We are lucky to have NFDC and Drishyam Films supporting us.

Trailer of Island City

What was the budget of Island City like? Do you plan to do big-budget films?

The budget was pretty low, but the film was not based on a budget. The actors definitely helped by cutting down their fees; otherwise, it would not have been possible to complete the film. Plus, I cannot outline a script on a budget. It has to interest me and help in my own understanding of the medium and of myself – only then will I write it. For me, filmmaking is not really about the budget.

Do you have anything in the pipeline?

Nothing right now. I do have an idea in mind, but I think I am going to take a brief break for a couple of months, get some rest, and then get back to writing.

One last for the audience: why should people go and watch the film starting this weekend?

I think people should go and watch it just to be entertained and to dive into a series of poignant stories. No other reason at all.

Island City, directed by Ruchika Oberoi and produced by NFDC in association with Drishyam Films released September 2, 2016 across India and is available to watch on Hotstar.

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Observations During My May 2019 Kerala Visit

I took the courage to apply for a week-long leave at work so that I could spend some quiet time with my family at our heirloom house in an Ernakulam town in Kerala, India. These are what I saw there between 18 May and 25 May. My photography skills are obviously weak.

cinema ticket alley in kerala
The classic cinema ticket alley riddled with graffiti at Maria single-screen theater in Muvattupuzha
Velloorkunnam temple
Entrance of Velloorkunnam temple in Muvattupuzha
Types of cinema tickets
3 types of movie tickets from – a single screen (Maria) and multiplexes (PVR, Carnival)
Merriboy icecream
A south Indian specialty – Tender coconut ice cream from Merriboy
Rains in India fall first in Kerala
Sharjah Shake
The famous Sharjah Shake of Kerala
Kalady temple stupa
The popular temple stupa of Kalady
Coconut breaking in temples
The omnipresent coconut breaking trench at every other temple across south India
Muvattupuzha village
The view from my place in Muvattupuzha

The climate was not so pleasant yet I made a few observations that seem interesting:

  • People prefer train travel primarily because they can take their entire world with them as opposed to flights despite there being a higher limit of 150 kilograms[1]In AC first class including free allowance of 70 kilograms (erail.in) that no one follows
  • Most high-end hotels/restaurants in Kerala have a VIP lounge room that can be only accessed through the backdoor. This is frequented by politicians and friends of owners
  • Hiring a cab in Kerala costs you more because most drivers include return trip expenses in the final price. This is because distances more than 30 kilometers are considered intercity travel (for example, from Cochin International Airport to Kothamangalam)
  • It is very difficult to rent a private vehicle for self-drive in Kerala without a reference. This is because of the increasing use of such vehicles to engage in terrorism and other anti-social activities
  • Sewage and bad water treatment in Ernakulam and surrounding areas is not as fine and safe as you think it is. There is a peculiar stench everywhere in the city and even around Lulu Mall, aggravated by a poor drainage system
  • Single-screen theaters usually skip the national anthem (which is a welcome move if you ask me)
  • Most temples in Kerala do not allow you to enter if you are wearing “western clothes”. Additionally, men need to be in a veshti and not wearing anything on top as part of their traditional and cultural limitations
  • Public bus travel is akin to daredevilism; but they will stop in the middle of the road if you show a hand.

Have you observed any peculiar things when in Kerala? Let’s discuss. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. In AC first class including free allowance of 70 kilograms (erail.in)
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Few Observations During the Day of Poll (Lok Sabha 2019)

People who know me know that I voted for the first time in my life yesterday. It was a breezy experience for me, but not without a few critical observations I made during my time at the local polling station.

  • The electoral list is not smart enough and randomly assigns voters to polling booths. That is why a certain man in his 60s kept cribbing (rightly so) he had to climb the stairs to the third floor of the school
    • Or the local election body did not think to go through the voters’ age before assigning classrooms as booths. Ground floor for people in their 50s and above or those with special abilities and the highest floor for the youth – or something like that
    • A lack of elevators and ramps in at least two of the polling stations in my locality meant people with special abilities went back home without posting their ballots or did not even consider. Save for the brave ones
  • It is impossible to choose a candidate who is a saint; but then can politicians ever be saints?
  • Some candidates have absolutely poor aesthetic and logical abilities; just looking at some of the party logos made me think about their volition to contest
  • Despite police bandobast, the locality was a bit more lawless than it is on any other day. People carrying 20 chairs on a motorcycle, parking in the middle of the road, misbehaving with policemen or government officials (although, usually it’s the other way around), and staring at the opposite sex became more apparent, unhindered
  • A lack of interest in going to vote because of the heat or the polling booth is not near where they live.[1]Turnout in the Thane constituency was a measly 50% (approx.) in 2019, worse than the Mumbai average.

Walking out of the polling booth, having my left index finger inked gave me a good feeling even though choosing whom to vote was a mind-numbing exercise the previous day. It sort of made me feel good about the idea of democracy but then I came home and things were back to normal within an hour. Which makes me liken the idea of voting to that of any activity that you do for pleasure. You crave for it before you do it. But once you have done it, you really start questioning its impact. TN.

And lastly, here’s the mandatory selfie I took after I voted.

View this post on Instagram

The look of a first-time voter.

A post shared by Tejas Nair (@tejasnair_) on

Featured image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Turnout in the Thane constituency was a measly 50% (approx.) in 2019, worse than the Mumbai average.
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List: Airlines in India and Their Fall

I originally wanted to write about airline livery, a mildly interesting topic that you can read up on Wikipedia now. But then Jet Airways, one of my favorite airlines in India, announced its premature death and I couldn’t control exploring the history of other airlines in India that have gone under for various specific reasons. Then Santosh Desai shared his opinions on the Jet Airways crisis last week in a TOI column, where I read mentions of defunct airlines like Damania and Archana for the first time, and I think this was called for.

Here’s a list of almost all inactive airlines in India, checked and verified a day before publishing. Most of these have been forgotten, with some names not even in my parents’ memory (the elder one was born in the 1950s) – all of which makes this a sadistically interesting exercise for me. There are a lot of reasons here why airlines went bust, mostly voluntarily to avoid further disaster, but one common factor is shortage of money due to a common reason of high fuel prices. Reminds me of a time when Germany’s Lufthansa said it is difficult to run an airline in India because of the “high cost of operations”. Jet will agree. And so will some of these four dozen and more now defunct airlines in India. But there’s a hidden reason why some of these companies embraced death. See if you can find that out.

List of Airlines in India and Why They Shut Down

This list of airline graveyard is in alphabetical order. To state the obvious, most airlines permanently stopped their services because of eventual license (Air Operator Permit aka AOP or Air Operator’s Certificate or AOC) suspension or cancellation by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) or suspension by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which is why I haven’t added that as a reason. I have focused on what led to the licence revocation.

Cargo and charter carriers are not included. Those that have been merged or acquired are also not added unless the merged or acquiring entity has ceased operations, except in some notable cases like Tata Airlines and Air Sahara. Suffixes and prefixes like “airlines” and “airways” are mostly not included to allow brevity, unless absolutely needed. You may have to scroll up and down because some of these airline names have direct connections.

  • Air Asiatic – Legal hassles involving chairman and managing director K C G Verghese who went on to write an autobiography[1]Thomas George And Ors. vs K.C.G. Verghese And Ors. on 7 June, 1994 – Indian Kanoon[2]Air Asiatic was the first airline to get a private air taxi operator license in India, circa 1989 (Review of “Wheels and Wings: An Autobiography by K.C.G. Verghese” – Anil Aggrawal, 2007)
  • Air Carnival – Unsafe and unreliable service, cash crunch
  • Air Costa – Cash crunch
  • Air Deccan – Acquired by industrialist Vijay Mallya and renamed as Simplifly Deccan, eventually converted to Kingfisher Red (see Kingfisher below)
  • Air Dravida – Cash crunch; shut down the same year it hoped to commence its operations after failing to create a fleet using aircraft from Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier
  • Air Mantra – Low seat occupancy
  • Air Pegasus – Cash crunch
  • Air Sahara – Renamed from Sahara Airlines in 2001 and then acquired by Jet and again rebranded as JetLite in 2007 which converted it from a “full-fare airline” brand to a “discount airline”[3]Sahara Airlines history – Jennifer Mangally, USA Today before merging it with JetKonnect in 2012 (see Kingfisher below)
  • Air Services of India – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • Airways (India) Limited – Income tax issues; merged into Indian Airlines
Airways India Limited 1950
The front cover of a timetable book (circa 1950) for Airways (India) Limited, probably the least known airline in India / © David Zekria[4]http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/ail1ai.htm
  • Ambica – Low seat occupancy; legal hassles
  • Archana – Heavy financial losses due to low seat occupancy and high cost of operations (with aircraft being returned to the manufacturers against pending dues)[5]https://gyaniz.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/defunct-airlines-of-india/24 April 2011
  • Bharatair (aka Bharat Airways) – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • CityLink – Cash crunch; eventually liquidated
  • Cornecon – Unknown
  • Cosmos – Unknown
  • Damania – The Aviation Ministry’s 1995 mandate that private airlines must fly to secondary routes to be eligible for major, profitable ones; acquired by Natural Energy Processing Company (NEPC) and converted into Skyline NEPC (see NEPC below)[6]According to brand strategist Harish Bijoor, Damania was the first to utilize the ministry’s permission to serve alcohol on board its flights, a welcome move allegedly jinxed by the arrival of low-cost carriers (LCC) like Kingfisher, IndiGo, and SpiceJet in the mid-2000s. (The Hindu Business Line, 23 February 2011)
  • Darbhanga – Gradual fall of the Darbhanga dynasty of Bihar further triggered by the death of its Maharaja Kameshwar Singh in 1962; DGCA cancelled its licence and one of its fleet (a VIP liner, possibly a Douglas) was taken by the Indian Air Force (IAF)[7]In December 2018, Union Minister for Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted about the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Darbhanga Airport.
  • Deccan – Operation Polo which resulted in the annexation of the Hyderabad state from the Nizam in 1948, which, in turn, led to its changing hands from the Hyderabad government and Nizam State Railways to the Government of India; one of the eight pre-Independent domestic airlines to be merged and converted into Indian Airlines under the Air Corporations Act (see below)[8]In 1953, eight pre-Independent private airlines – Deccan, Airways (India) Limited, Bharat, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga, Indian National Airways, Tata, and Air Services of India – were nationalized and merged and converted into Indian Airlines Corporation (IAC), which later became Air India after its domestic and international fleet joined hands until the early 1990s when the national monopoly of the skies changed[9]Deccan was the first airline of south India, bankrolled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, taking cues from the Tatas.(The plane that made India fly – Muthiah, The Hindu, 20 November 2006)
  • East-West – Murder of managing director Thakiyudeen Wahid which added fuel to its financial problems[10]East-West was known for its alleged ties with underworld mobster Dawood Ibrahim. “I gave the instructions for Wahid’s killing”, underworld don and Ibrahim’s arch nemesis Chhota Rajan said in an interview with India Today’s Special Correspondent Harinder Baweja, 31 January 1996
  • Goa Way – Unknown[11]Dutch aviation enthusiast and photographer Ruud Leeuw mentions something about a deal between Lufthansa Cityline and Goa Way Aviation falling through. (20 May 2004)[12]Goa Way was branded as “India’s holiday airline”
  • Gujarat Airways – Intense competition[13](Airlines That Went Bust – Ranju Sarkar, Business Standard (pdf)
  • Himalayan Aviation – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • Huns Air – Possible heavy competition from Pushpaka Aviation and Air India[14]“Pushpaka Aviation gives tough competition to Air-India” – Chander Uday Singh, India Today, 15 April 1981; a zero-casualty accident during landing of its major flight – a Vickers Viscount 768D – at Vijayawada Airport in Andhra Pradesh on 28 August 1980 which reportedly damaged the aircraft beyond repair[15]https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19800828-0; possible consequent financial issues
  • Indian (formerly Indian Airlines) – Merged into Air India after the formation of Air India Limited (erstwhile National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL)) in 2007; its subsidiary Air Alliance was also merged into Air India along with the latter’s Express brand, all of which are now operational[16]“Why one large airline makes economic sense” – Bhanoji Rao, The Hindu Business Line, 30 June 2005
  • Indian National Airways – (Pretty successful bout till its) nationalization and merger into Indian Airlines[17]Indian National Airways was the second private airline to start operations in India (circa 1933), albeit using a government contract, after Tata Airlines. Incidentally, Indian State Air Service was the first, operating in the Karachi-Calcutta route as early as 1929.
  • Indian Overseas (formerly Mistri Airways) – Cash crunch
  • Indian State Air Service – Unknown; possible government voluntary withdrawal
  • Indian Transcontinental – Unknown[18]During its prime, Indian Transcontinental Airways partnered with Imperial Airways (now British Airways).
  • Indus – Cash crunch; inability to obtain safety-critical Bombardier aircraft parts from General Electric’s Commercial Aviation Service (GECAS)
  • Irrawaddy Flotilla & Airways – Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942 (during World war II) forced the company’s personnel to destroy some of its own fleet (housed in Pazundaung (now in Myanmar)), the rest of which were automatically handed over to the Burmese government in 1948; supposedly the fleet owned by its Chennai division never saw a resurrection as the company went into voluntary liquidation two years later[19]Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (1865 – 1950) by the Maritime Archives & Library – The National Archives of the UK, October 2008 (pdf)
  • Jagson – License lapsed without a single regional flight operating between 2009 and 2010[20]Its charter service apparently is still operational between New Delhi and Mumbai.
  • Jamair – Cash crunch, legal issues, labor problems, increasing competition, and shrinking fleet[21]Jamair – Wikipedia (unreferenced and unverified)
  • Jet – Cash crunch; lack of trust by lenders (mainly SBI)[22]Jet’s subsidiaries JetLite and JetKonnect were discontinued in 2012 and 2014 respectively. As it happens, the former was merged into JetKonnect.
  • Jupiter – Possible competition by national carriers; lack of profitable routes
  • Kalinga – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • Kingfisher (+Kingfisher Red) – Massive financial losses and eventual cash crunch, probably a precursor to Mallya’s fraudulent activities
  • MDLR – Cash crunch due to the 2007-2008 financial crisis and a rapid rise in fuel prices; tax irregularities which resulted in convictions of several employees; failed to give lease payments to British Aerospace (BA) for its aircraft; founder Gopal Kanda was arrested for abetment of an employee’s (Geetika Sharma) suicide with charges later dropped by the Delhi High Court; eventually became a part of Emirates in 2010[23]MDLR stands for Murli Dhar Lakh Ram (Group); was known for its high number of female employees
  • Mesco – License withdrawal by DGCA probably by request in 2001; first private helicopter charter company (air taxi) in India and still active in charters and maintenance work
  • ModiLuft – Mounting tensions with its technical partner, Germany’s Lufthansa; was set to make a comeback as Royal Airways through a different owner[24](Airlines That Went Bust – Ranju Sarkar, Business Standard (pdf); its permit was eventually bought and converted into SpiceJet by entrepreneur Ajay Singh
  • NEPC – DGCA’s policy of mandatory ACAS-II/TCAS-II fitments and cash crunch; eventually the IATA suspended it and its subsidiary (Skyline NEPC) for non-payment of dues[25]NEPC Airlines, Skyline Grounded – K Giriprakash, Business Standard, 11 July 1997
  • Orient – Base transfer from Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) to Karachi, Pakistan; requisition by the Pakistan government post Partition of India; in 1955 was merged with the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA)
  • Paramount – Legal tussle with lessors of their liners manufactured by Brazilian aerospace firm Embraer; fleet grounding; multiple attempts to restart operations using Airbus and Bombardier aircraft in 2010, and then in 2013, did not materialize as lenders (SBI, again, among others) took its promoters to court (and DGCA) for pending dues and eventually seized the fleet
  • Premier (aka Easy Air) – Founder Umapathy Pinghapani’s arrest[26]Pinghapani, who promoted Premier Airways and its Easy Air brand from the United States, was arrested after he withheld the flying licence of a pilot (M Bhaskar) he had hired. (Anirban Chowdhury, The Economic Times, 4 March 2016); starting trouble; ministry’s no-objection certificate (NOC), which it gathered in 2014 expired a year later even before it could fly even a single flight
  • Pushpaka Aviation – Financial fallout with Air India, which Pushpaka was an associate of in running international flights between Mumbai and the Persian Gulf in the early 1980s; India Today reported a suspicious revocation of the contract between the parties including DGCA in late June 1983
  • RajAir (formerly Raj Airways) – Non-viability possibly due to high cost of fuel and competition[27]It began as Raj Airways in 1993 and shut down in less than a year before briefly reemerging as RajAir in 1995. (airlinehistory.co.uk, 29 July 2018)
  • Royal Star – Unknown
  • Safari – Government’s “very anti-private sector” reluctance to issue permits other than for 24-hour non-scheduled ones, as complained by founder and India’s “Air Commodore” Vijaypat Singhania; one of the first private aircraft operators in India in the 1970s[28]Action man Vijaypat – Archana Chaudhary, The Hindu Business Line, 24 July 2000[29]Safari is still known among aviation enthusiasts for its maintained fleet of three Douglas Dakotas (DC-3)
  • Sahara – Rebranded as Air Sahara; later acquired by Jet, rebranded as JetLite, and then merged with JetKonnect (see Air Sahara and Kingfisher above)
  • SGS (aka Air SGS) – Never took off despite a NOC from the ministry in 2016[30]SGS stands for Subhaash Gulaati Group
  • SpanAir – Grounded in 2014 due to safety violations both inside the cabin and on the ground; it still runs charter services
  • Svarima – Unknown
  • Tata (aka Tata Air Services) – Became a public limited company post Independence and was thus registered as Air India; while Air India International Limited catered to international flights, Air India (along with Indian Airlines) flew flights domestically as NACIL/Air India Limited; currently operating all flights under the single brand name of Air India[31]Air India is the first and the only Star Alliance member from India. (Air India to join Star Alliance – Cuckoo Paul, Air Transport World, 25 June 2014)[32]Tata now promotes Vistara as a domestic airline in India in partnership with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and AirAsia India along with AirAsia Berhad.
  • TAIP – Annexation of Goa in 1961; last of the fleet (Douglas DC-4), which escaped bombing by the Indian Armed Forces (IAF), was flown to Lisbon and never came back[33]TAIP stands for the Portuguese transliteration of Air Transport of Portuguese India
  • UBAir (UB Airlines) – Unknown or not launched[34]FDI in aviation: No flights of fancy, yet – Ashwini Phadnis, The Hindu Business Line, 25 October 2004; possible working name for United Breweries (UB) Group’s Kingfisher Airlines
  • Vayudoot – Money bleeding due to low seat occupancy; was run by the government
  • VIF – Inability to scale up with its single Dornier aircraft
  • Vijay – Unknown
  • Zoom Air – License suspension by DGCA over safety concerns in 2018; attempts to revive fell through in 2019.

That’s a interesting history of airlines in India, isn’t it?

A lot of these players entered the commercial aviation market following the Indian government’s Open Sky policy in 1992, but soon began to bite the dust due to “high cost of operations”, a reason given out by many modern, private players both inside and outside India. Really shows how many businesses aspired to fly high in the world of civil aviation in India and failed. And the small number of airlines active today (GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara, AirAsia, TruJet, and Air India (Express, Alliance)) is not that encouraging either.

The fact that Jet is trying to revive itself makes me a hopeful man this otherwise dull pre-election-day Sunday. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Thomas George And Ors. vs K.C.G. Verghese And Ors. on 7 June, 1994 – Indian Kanoon
2. Air Asiatic was the first airline to get a private air taxi operator license in India, circa 1989 (Review of “Wheels and Wings: An Autobiography by K.C.G. Verghese” – Anil Aggrawal, 2007)
3. Sahara Airlines history – Jennifer Mangally, USA Today
4. http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/ail1ai.htm
5. https://gyaniz.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/defunct-airlines-of-india/24 April 2011
6. According to brand strategist Harish Bijoor, Damania was the first to utilize the ministry’s permission to serve alcohol on board its flights, a welcome move allegedly jinxed by the arrival of low-cost carriers (LCC) like Kingfisher, IndiGo, and SpiceJet in the mid-2000s. (The Hindu Business Line, 23 February 2011)
7. In December 2018, Union Minister for Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted about the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Darbhanga Airport.
8. In 1953, eight pre-Independent private airlines – Deccan, Airways (India) Limited, Bharat, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga, Indian National Airways, Tata, and Air Services of India – were nationalized and merged and converted into Indian Airlines Corporation (IAC), which later became Air India after its domestic and international fleet joined hands until the early 1990s when the national monopoly of the skies changed
9. Deccan was the first airline of south India, bankrolled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, taking cues from the Tatas.(The plane that made India fly – Muthiah, The Hindu, 20 November 2006)
10. East-West was known for its alleged ties with underworld mobster Dawood Ibrahim. “I gave the instructions for Wahid’s killing”, underworld don and Ibrahim’s arch nemesis Chhota Rajan said in an interview with India Today’s Special Correspondent Harinder Baweja, 31 January 1996
11. Dutch aviation enthusiast and photographer Ruud Leeuw mentions something about a deal between Lufthansa Cityline and Goa Way Aviation falling through. (20 May 2004)
12. Goa Way was branded as “India’s holiday airline”
13, 24. (Airlines That Went Bust – Ranju Sarkar, Business Standard (pdf)
14. “Pushpaka Aviation gives tough competition to Air-India” – Chander Uday Singh, India Today, 15 April 1981
15. https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19800828-0
16. “Why one large airline makes economic sense” – Bhanoji Rao, The Hindu Business Line, 30 June 2005
17. Indian National Airways was the second private airline to start operations in India (circa 1933), albeit using a government contract, after Tata Airlines. Incidentally, Indian State Air Service was the first, operating in the Karachi-Calcutta route as early as 1929.
18. During its prime, Indian Transcontinental Airways partnered with Imperial Airways (now British Airways).
19. Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (1865 – 1950) by the Maritime Archives & Library – The National Archives of the UK, October 2008 (pdf)
20. Its charter service apparently is still operational between New Delhi and Mumbai.
21. Jamair – Wikipedia (unreferenced and unverified)
22. Jet’s subsidiaries JetLite and JetKonnect were discontinued in 2012 and 2014 respectively. As it happens, the former was merged into JetKonnect.
23. MDLR stands for Murli Dhar Lakh Ram (Group); was known for its high number of female employees
25. NEPC Airlines, Skyline Grounded – K Giriprakash, Business Standard, 11 July 1997
26. Pinghapani, who promoted Premier Airways and its Easy Air brand from the United States, was arrested after he withheld the flying licence of a pilot (M Bhaskar) he had hired. (Anirban Chowdhury, The Economic Times, 4 March 2016)
27. It began as Raj Airways in 1993 and shut down in less than a year before briefly reemerging as RajAir in 1995. (airlinehistory.co.uk, 29 July 2018)
28. Action man Vijaypat – Archana Chaudhary, The Hindu Business Line, 24 July 2000
29. Safari is still known among aviation enthusiasts for its maintained fleet of three Douglas Dakotas (DC-3)
30. SGS stands for Subhaash Gulaati Group
31. Air India is the first and the only Star Alliance member from India. (Air India to join Star Alliance – Cuckoo Paul, Air Transport World, 25 June 2014)
32. Tata now promotes Vistara as a domestic airline in India in partnership with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and AirAsia India along with AirAsia Berhad.
33. TAIP stands for the Portuguese transliteration of Air Transport of Portuguese India
34. FDI in aviation: No flights of fancy, yet – Ashwini Phadnis, The Hindu Business Line, 25 October 2004
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  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »