Ground Report | New Delhi: When Air India gifted baby elephant; Air India was a huge collector of art. In 1967, the airline asked Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali to make some for them. Dali agreed but wanted an elephant cub for payment, they admitted.
Dali built an ashtray for the airline. The ashtray was made of swans that if flipped upside down, become the head of an elephant. The top of the ashtray was surrounded by a snake. Of these, only 500 were produced and were presented to special passengers and friends of Air India around the world.
Air India flew an elephant cub from Bangalore to Geneva, and from there it was trucked to the village of Cadaqués in Spain where it was presented to Dali by two Indian women and saris, the caretakers of the Indian elephant. The townspeople, most of who had never seen an elephant before, came to celebrate the transaction. The mayor of Cadaqués is believed to have declared a three-day holiday and a parade was held where pink champagne (Dali’s favorite drink) was served.
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Dali named the elephant Suras after Hannibal’s elephant. Dali initially had a lot of plans with the elephant, such as crossing the Alps on an elephant-like Hannibal did in 218BC, but eventually, the elephant grew too large and Dalí apparently lost interest. Four years later, Dalí donated the elephant to the Barcelona Zoo. The elephant remained there until it was permanently transferred to the Valencia Zoo, where it was renamed Noi.
When Air India gifted baby
The six-day exhibition, organized by the Society for Culture and Environment (SCE), begins on February 12 at the Nehru Centre, Worli (more details are on the SCE website). It will tell the story of Air India using 125 panels across ten different categories, films, and talks by former Air India executives on topics including engineering, advertising, publicity, and flight service.
According to the Times of India “The Dali class will be the showstopper,” Uttara Parikh, the then Air India deputy commercial director said. Another anecdote will be of 1994 marriage. “This was the first time a wedding was held in flight. Laxman Popli wanted to do something unique at his son Dileep’s wedding. So, he approached Air India. We dedicated a counter at the Mumbai airport for the wedding guests. They were given special boarding passes. Eight of the plane’s seats were removed for priests to perform the ceremony but without the use of fire. Chef Sanjeev Kapoor designed the menu and also prepared a three-tier cake for the couple. Air India gifted the couple first-class tickets for their honeymoon to Switzerland,” said Parikh.
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Speaking about the idea behind the exhibition, SCE Secretary and Exhibition Curator Mira Das said: “We felt this story was worth telling. A story that needs to be told to the nation at large. He added that Air India would be the only airline to have such a large art collection and not the Shubhankar Maharaja, which is recognized worldwide, thanks to the simple branding.