The popular portly mascot has appeared as a playboy, artist and even sumo wrestler to help identify his carrier FOR THOSE WHO have recollections of the golden age of air travel before mass-transiting took place in the 1980s, the diminutive Indian gentleman from Air-India, the Maharajah, immediately comes to mind whenever the airline is mentioned. One of the most familiar airline mascots known globally, the Maharajah with the namaskaar, the traditional Indian form of greeting with palms together and head bowed - suggesting the infinite that resides in man - has been seen around the world for nearly six decades. The origin of the 58-year-old character came about when a memo pad was requested by the airline. When a simple line drawing of an affluent Indian potentate, suggesting high living and graciousness, was created, it soon evolved and came to life in the guise of a royal-looking gentleman ready to offer his best services. S. K. (Bobby) Kooka, a commercial director of the airline who created the character with artist Umesh Rao, thought up the character in 1946 as a ploy to rival other airlines in the post-war years. 'Looking around us, we saw airlines much bigger than we were ... their advertising budgets were fatter than ours ... we realised then that we'd have to do something about it,' Mr Kooka said. In posters, advertisements, billboards and leaflets of the airline, the portly Maharajah was, in true style, an international jetsetter and man-around-town everywhere he ventured. In an old Air-India graphics manual of the early 1970s, of which there is now only a surviving photocopy, he was seen in illustrations partying with can-can girls in Paris, sumo wrestling and dancing the Kabuki in Japan, chalking up artistic creations on pavements, and pushing saucy tourist postcards. From Canada to Latin America, Switzerland to Hong Kong, the man of many guises appeared as a professional nursemaid, lover, artist, showman, waiter and with numerous nationalities. At times, the cartoon scenarios take on touches of Carry On-style themes, like the Maharajah's adventure down a ski slope with a Swiss miss. But they are, as always, naughty but nice. While a great many of the excellent drawings could well raise eyebrows, or be found objectionable by the politically correct world of today, they are highly entertaining and reflective of the quirky charms of bygone times. The image of the Maharajah became so popular that by 1967, Mr Kooka, speaking at a London advertising conference, suspected that another equally world famous logo was influenced by the Air-India gent. 'I suspect [the Maharajah's] turban inspired - the Woolmark symbol,' said the airline man. Judging by evidence, Mr Kooka could well be right. Although Air-India's official corporate logo, featuring an adaptation of the astrological sign of Sagittarius, where an archer represents movement and speed, was created in 1948, it has yet to reach the level of popular recognition or the mass appeal of its older cousin. Today, the Maharajah continues his high-flying role as the airline's graphic ambassador. He was last spotted on a billboard outside Air-India's headquarters with his moustache extended out - forming a point-to-point connection for the cities of Los Angeles and Mumbai - for the newly launched American West Coast flight route.