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The Birth Anniversary of Civil Aviation in India

October 15th is considered to be the birthday of Civil Aviation Movement in India for on the same historic day the year 1932 JRD TATA flew his aircraft from Karachi to Madras as a connectivity flight service to London – Karachi segment operated by erstwhile Imperial Airways via Basra and Cairo. The House of Tatas or Tata Sons Limited began Karachi – Ahmedabad – Bombay – Bellary – Madras mail services on October 15, 1932 carrying mail bags which had left London on October 08, 1932.

The service was operated by de Havilland Puss moth VT-AND aircraft flown by JRD TATA from Karachi to Bombay and piloted by Neville Vincent from Bombay to Madras. The service arrived at Madras on 17th October after a stopover at Bellary on 16th Night.

The total distance between Karachi and Madras was 1330 miles and this was the commencement of commercial internal air transport in the Indian subcontinent.

The beginning of Indian Civil Aviation
Tata Sons Ltd. Flew from Karachi to Madras 1932 (The beginning of Indian Civil Aviation)

To commemorate the occasion a special envelope was designed by Dr. Stephen H Smith (a dentist by profession but an ardent philatelist with keen focus on airmails and flown items) and featured a flying eagle over the map of India and highlighted the air route between the two stations. The cover numbering about 2000 were made available to the letter writers right from July 15, 1932 but the sale in Bombay / India was stopped within eleven days as serious objections were raised to a union jack logo printed on the covers.

A revised version of the cover with colours in blue and red were also made available without the union jack picture and were put on sale from August 17. The Department of Post, Government of India issued a special post mark reading “KARACHI-MADRAS 15th OCTOBER 1932 FIRST AIRMAIL” contained in a rectangular box.

Bombay London Flight Cover 1948
The Tatas – Air India International inaugurated the flight services from Bombay to London via Cairo and Geneva, June 1948

To quote the words of JRD Tata himself as experts from his stock at the Rotary Club of Bombay on January 24, 1933, “The Income from the Postal Surcharge levied for carriage of mails by air in India covered the rates payable to us with the result the service actually cost nothing to government and therefore nothing to the tax payer himself”.

J R D Tata
A definitive stamp issued under 'Builders of Modern India' issued since March 2009

JRD was just 28 at that time and young lad had to persuade his parents and uncles to invest rupees one lakh on air services within the corporate and sheltering himself under the wings of the vintage aircraft in the mid stuff of paddy fields in Bellary quipped “I forgot to bring an alarm clock to wake me up to continue the flight to Madras but however the mosquitoes made the job easy”.

Appropriately the services of the Tata Sons Limited were pioneered by the young Tata who was the first Indian to get a Pilot License. On the return flight the Puss Moth aircraft continued the return journey to Karachi for which also the Department of Post gestured a special cached. Till 1935 February 25, Tata Sons had to include Bellary an obscure town on account of then Nizam of Hyderabad demanded a heavy ransom for the company to allow the aircraft to land at Hyderabad. Tata Sons as noted for business acumen even in those days diligently negotiated with the Nizam and started operating the service by inserting Hyderabad in the route map instead of Bellary.

The airlines grew from strength to strength with the commencement of flight services from Bombay to Calcutta via Nagpur and Jhamshedpur. Similarly on October 29, 1935 TATA Sons experimented weekly mail service connecting Bombay with Goa – Cannanore and Trivandrum with the celebrated pilot B.K.N Rao joining the team.

Services between Bombay and Delhi were also there via Gwalior and in 1936 Karachi – Madras Airmail Service was extended to Colombo via Tiruchirappalli carrying precious Christmas mails.

Tata Airlines successors to airline operations of Tata Sons acquired Vaco-YQC-6 biplanes and in 1938 Government entered into a contract with the company with which all first class sub-charged mails between Karachi and Colombo were carried by air under the ALL-up Empire Mail Service Scheme. The story continued and in the year 1948 to be precious on June 8 the company turned to be an international airliner by operating a flight from Bombay to London via Cairo and Geneva. This was the beginning of Air India International a future carrier of Indian tri-colour and for the first service Lockheed 749 constellation VT-CQS, MALABAR Princess, was deployed.

Air Transport Nationalisation
Air Transport Nationalization 1st. August 1953

The free India issued a commemorative stamp featuring an aircraft for the occasion and lot of mail bags were carried between the stopping station of Cairo and Geneva and the last lap was piloted by the flying enthusiast JRD Tata himself.

50 Years of Civil Aviation
Commemorative Stamp on The Golden Jubilee of Civil Aviation in India, 1982

50 Years of Karachi Bombay Flight
1982, 50 Years of Karachi - Bombay First Flight

At his best sartorial treatise, immaculately tailored dark colour double-breasted suit, JRD Tata while getting down at Corydon Airport (the erstwhile name of Heathrow Airport of London) quipped, “Boys set your watch right. It is 08.00 AM now”.

That was the hallmark maintained by the airline company keeping up punctuality and utmost safety to the passengers and the precious cargo of mail bags and rest was history when all the other airline companies (about 8 operating at the early period of 1950s) and when Government of India with a stroke of the pen nationalized the airlines operations on August 01, 1953 and thereby envisaged the birth of Indian Airlines Corporation and Air-India International Limited for domestic services and global operations respectively.

Many a water was flown or between the sprawling Indian clouds and a day of sorrow and disappointment struck everybody when JRD Tata the doyen of Indian Aviation Industry ceased to be the Chairman of Air-India. While bidding farewell to his colleagues he was nostalgic of fulfilling his dream of building for India an Airline worth of her and he had no words to say other than PROFUSE THANKFULLNESS TO THE FAMILY OF THE AIRLINE COMPANY.

The passion for flying did not simmer down in JRD for even at the age of 78 he reenacted the historic of flight at 1932, in the year 1982 taking a heroic flight from Karachi to Bombay celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Civil Aviation movement in India. A refurbished Vintage Aircraft was readied for the great event and JRD himself flew the machine after soliciting special permissions from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India and as well from Government of Pakistan during which time the terms were not cordial between the two countries.

It is still green in the memory of the author who was one among the hundreds of fans thronged at the Juhu Airport in Bombay on a sunny day and when somebody expressed the feeling, “How dare you did it at this age?”. Pat came the reply from the gentlemen nibbling by three year old niece’s chubby cheeks, “Don’t I look young?”

That was the spirit of JRD Tata a passionate flyer inspiring young minds and undoubtedly one of the builders of modern India. As it was in the year 1982 when Government of India honored him as a unique gesture by releasing a commemorative stamp on a living personality, it was once again in the year 2009 the Department of Post included JRD Tata in the definitive series (the postage stamps meant for regular and perennial usage) along with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, H J Baba, C.V. Raman, Mathematician Ramanujam, Rukmani Arundale, Sathyajith Ray et al as Builders of Modern India.

Thus we remember him and we salute the ace pilot on this historic day.

Contributed by P. Soundararajan, Tiruchirapalli

About the Author: Mr. P. Soundararajan as young at 65 (born on June 26 1948) is headquartered at Tiruchirapalli in Central Tamil Nadu. He is based at Srirangam a prominent worshipping center. He is a journalist representing PTI. As a freelancer, he also contributes to EeNadu, the Telugu daily, TOI and other vernacular dailies.

He is the President of Trichy Philatelic Association for the last three decades. TPA is one of the oldest associations in the country. His interests include Indian Airmails; India used Burma, British Fiscals and Fiscals of Pudukottai State. His wife Mrs. Indhumathi is also a philatelist.

An avid reader maintaining a decent library at home, he is interested in Philatelic literature as well. Soundararajan teaches Journalists in reputed educational institutions and is a guest lecturer in leading Business Schools such as IIM Trichy in subjects like Public Relations, Communication, Corporate Image Building et al.

He has presented over a dozen research papers in seminars sponsored by Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and University Grants Commission (UGC) in India colleges and Universities. Recently ICHR has awarded a research project/fellowship on topics of India's freedom struggle with special focus in South India as culled out of philatelic references.

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