Musing: The Man Who Made the Golden Drink

From the upper floor of Cafe Coffee Day, I took several shots of the bust of Vittal Mallya installed where Lavelle Road intersects Vittal Mallya Road. Engaged thus, I realized I was lazing in the lounge-like section of the cafe, shooting the image of an exceptional entrepreneur who perhaps never found lounging-time in his life.

Inside the cafe, folks at the table back of me were talking real estate. There were young women, college-going, in the far back. On my right, four men, about thirty in age—whose conversation revealed their well-paying jobs—discussed stocks and shares.

Bust of the late Vittal Mallya, founder chairman of United Breweries Limited

In a sense, it occurred to me, Vittal Mallya and I were equals that afternoon. Even as I looked about the cafe and the world outside the window, Vittal Mallya was gazing ahead, smiling with a jacket on in the sun under an umbrella-shaped lamp-hood that didn't keep the sun off of him. I knew he was smiling because I’ve seen that bust up close many times. From the height of the cafe I could see a well before him; it was like a well I've seen before in Tokyo, before a bust of Basho the Haiku-poet.

A good eye would’ve made a good picture. As regards me, I'm a mere low-end amateur photographer. I held the camera a long time to my eye, waiting for a moment when no car or mini-truck marred the appearance of the triangular island, but every second there was a mass of them flowing round the thing. Two ladies wearing orange vests were sweeping the street, and they'd kept the entire intersection clean, as always--there's no spot in Bangalore so clean as this space.

In time I got a passable picture, with no cars passing, but with a couple of motorcycles and a bicycle. A spa had slung its promotion on the orange-striped stoplight behind Mallya’s bust. I can’t get it off the frame now as I compose this blog post. It is an illegal presence on the island, I think. Anyway, dusk had begun to fall in that moment, and I realized Mallya was looking with pleasure at a beer parlor, and that sight would of course bring a smile upon the liquor magnate’s face. I bent and peered at the pub: young people had begun to gather there, and were waiting for friends to arrive so that they could all go in together.

In that dusk I remembered a story that the architect Vasuki Prakash (first of Chandavarkar & Thacker, later of Mindspace) told me. He and his Managing Director had been invited to a meeting with Vittal Mallya, scheduled for the evening, at his office in the brewery on which site the mall-office-complex flourishes now under the brand-name UB City. This was many, many years ago.

The two arrived in time, and were requested to wait a while. After a while they were asked if they could wait a while longer. And so on. When Mallya called them in it was 2:00 AM. From the time I’ve heard the story I’ve not been able to decide who I must respect more: Vittal Mallya, who was so busy he had folks from the most respected architectural firm of the day wait until 2:00 AM? Or Vasuki and his boss, revered persons both, who waited all that time, respecting their customer and his business?

I couldn't answer that question even as I looked at the bust and watched the intensifying traffic. People were going home from work, people were coming out to party. Even as Vittal Mallya stared at the pub, nobody looked at him whom so many looked up to when he moved. People were honking round him, not ready to pause a moment on the spot where he is honored, whereas there was a time when the finest professionals would wait hours to see him.