“Mallya is great”, says my friend while getting high by gulping down the beer. We are sitting inside one of those dimly lit bars in Manipal in the early-90s.
“Huh?”, I responds as a result of the ignorance, cultivated over the past 20 years, about the real world.
“VIJAY MALLYA!… BEER!… UB!…”, my friend continues with adequate pauses for me to figure out the connection. I’m still in the dazed state refusing to wake up from my deep slumber.
Two significant events happened at that very moment. My friend’s loud and clear message about doing something about my ignorance. A new friendship between Vijay and me.
The next few semesters that followed in Manipal strengthened our friendship. Vijay was on a mission to introduce variants of his beer under different brands. Each new variant was more potent than the predecessor. As I progressed in college, I also progressively adopted the latest variants.
During this time, I chanced upon Vijay’s photograph in one of the English magazines. He was standing in front of his vintage car. The magazine also reported his penchant for racing and horses. In my mind, Vijay instantly climbed up the charts thereby creating a hockey stick chart.
When I started working in 1996, I switched to hard liquor. But it was hard to dissociate with Vijay because of his thirst for more (creations and acquisitions). Vijay and the UB logo followed me during those years too.
During my brief stint in Bern during the later half of 1997, the locals introduced me to the flagship product of UB, Kingfisher. They showed me the longneck version in green and proudly proclaimed about the bottling in England. Vijay was always with me.
In 1998, I saw him on the TV. He loved the movie “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”. He watched it in NY with his kids thereby showing me a world beyond the Atlantic ocean. This time, I followed him to the US.
We never interacted in US between 1999 and 2005. I was busy and acquired tastes in areas where Vijay never ventured into nor acquired. But, our paths crossed. I saw a photo of his on the net. He was holding Tipu’s sword with a saffron shawl around his neck. He was donning a politician’s cap. I came to know about his dream to start an airline through common friends. Vijay woke up after the dream and started executing the dream. He finally launched an airline.
In 2006, I was back in India. By this time, Vijay has flooded the market with longnecks (the one I loved in Bern). We renewed our friendship. The choices I made for leisure always had a UB logo in it. It was hard to escape Vijay.
When I felt rich, I used Kingfisher airlines and used Air Deccan on other occasions. In 2007, Vijay acquired Air Deccan to strengthen our friendship after playing dilly-dally while press went into a frenzy about “will acquire”, “acquiring” and “acquired”.
Now, Vijay has again hit the headlines. Vijay has brought Gandhi memorabilia for for $ 1.8 million in an auction. Vijay bid on his own.
I am also surprised why everyone is upset with a liquor baron getting the Gandhi memorabilia! Why do the press term him liquor baron? He is the king of good times. Finally, he is going to present this to the Indian government as he soon as he gets the delivery.
Sadly, I also came to know Vijay can’t bring Tipu memorabilia into India fearing the taxes that will be levied by the Indian government. I wish I could help him. But for the damn recession…