A fortnight ago, a missing Jatin Das painting uncovered what turned out to be an unfortunate and embarrassing art scandal for Air India. Artwork to the tune of Rs 750 crores was found missing from its collection of over 60 years.
The missing Jatin Das painting has finally been recovered, but not without setting the ball rolling on another dramatic, potentially embarrassing, scandal. As it turns out, the missing was with a retired Air India Executive Director who 'took' the painting home from her office on her retirement over 10 years ago and 'forgot' to return it, reported Times of India. Which has led to a bigger, more awkward question: how many more such high-value artworks that belong to Air India's collection are with retired Air India's head honchos who have, in a similar manner, 'forgotten' to return company property, post retirement?
The matter of the missing paintings became national news on July 6, when Jatin Das claimed that a painting he'd made for Air India in 1991 had been stolen and reached the open market, when an art curator contacted him to authenticate his work.
The director was called in for questioning on July 13 and she confessed to having had the painting, although she claimed it had been gifted to her.
On July 10, Air India's Delhi headquarters received a courier addressed to the CMD from a fictitious Gurgaon address. The courier held the painting, folded like ordinary paper, but still valuable, despite the damage it has sustained.
Around the same time, the internal committee set up by Air India to look into the matter of the missing paintings discovered that it was last seen in an executive director's office at the Delhi airport. Since her retirement over a decade ago, no one had seen the painting.
An airline official told TOI that the director was called in for questioning on July 13 and she confessed to having had the painting, although she claimed it had been gifted to her.
Air India now faces the unpleasant task of writing letters to its former leadership to return the artworks.
The director's revelations enlightened the committee to a unspoken, unrecorded tradition of AI in the past: Chairmen, directors and executive directors have, in the past, routinely 'borrowed' from the company's art treasure to decorate their homes. While it was generally understood that the borrowed art had to be returned to the national carrier's collection on retirement, many past top bosses seem not to have done so. Air India now faces the unpleasant task of writing letters to its former leadership to return the artworks. "There will be no action against those who voluntarily return the works," an official told TOI.
About the recovered painting, TOI quoted Das as saying, "It belongs to Air India, I'm only concerned with the painting as it's like a child."
The carrier's extensive collection, at one time, was 7,000 pieces strong, and boasted of renowned artists such as Jatin Das, MF Husain, Arpana Caur, Anjolie Ela Menon, VS Gaitonde and KA Ara. Unfortunately, at present, only 3,500 of the paintings can be vouched for, between Air India's Mumbai headquarters and offices in other cities.