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From billionaire liquor baron to two-time Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament to fugitive from justice living in London, life has come full circle for Vijay Mallya.



On 18 December 2015, the sky in Goa erupted with a million sparkles. Did the New Year celebrations come early in the party capital of India? Of course not. The King of Good Times, liquor baron Vijay Mallya, was celebrating his sixtieth birthday. Four hundred guests comprising the rich and famous, the super-rich and the infamous, politicians and actors, sport stars and fashionistas, singers and entrepreneurs and, of course, top models, flocked to the palatial Kingfisher villa on Candolim beach, often compared to Elvis Presley’s Graceland or Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion.

‘It’s bigger than most hotels. It’s cooler than any house. It’s James Bond, it’s Playboy Mansion, it’s the land of plenty in white concrete and glass,’ described cricketer Chris Gayle in his biography Six Machine: I Don’t Like Cricket… I Love It. The 12,350 square feet villa hosted a majority of the guests for his birthday bash with the rest staying at the ultra-luxe Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa, from where one could walk along a beautiful private stretch of the sun-kissed beach to get to Mallya’s abode. Star performers for the evening included hugely expensive pop sensation Enrique Iglesias who was flown in especially to take everyone’s breath away with his vocals and Bollywood’s Sonu Nigam who sang the ever-popular Hindi birthday song: Tum jiyo hazaaron saal… saal ke din ho pachaas hazaar (May you live for thousands of years… and every year have 50,000 days).

The bash cost Mallya a whopping $2 million or Rs 14 crore. This even when he had avoided paying the employees of his defunct Kingfisher Airlines their salaries and dues for many months citing financial troubles. The irony of this was not lost. ‘We are still not able to understand what you meant when you said “I don’t have money to pay your salaries”,’ the disgruntled employees wrote to their boss.

Mallya was in trouble. His prized Kingfisher Airlines that he had launched with much fanfare when his son Siddharth turned eighteen was defunct since 2012. He owed the banks Rs 9,000 crore and had been declared a wilful defaulter. The taxpayers were getting angry. The politicians were feeling the pressure. The press had few nice things to say about him.

But for those three days in December, Mallya was determined not to let anything upset him as he laughed and danced with his guests. ‘My biggest assets are my friends and they are all here tonight,’ said a beaming Mallya to the crowd wishing him a happy birthday.


To understand what Mallya continues to miss will require going back to 18 April 2017 when he was first brought to Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Mallya was bailed on a £650,000 bond, debarred from travelling outside England, and from applying for travel documents. Mallya may have access to all the comforts and riches, but with his wings clipped and movement curtailed, he is just a shadow of his former self. He would have liked to attend F1 races across the world, but now the only option he has is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The cricket matches he attended and the odd public appearances he made in London could provide him with neither comfort nor pleasure. This was a case of fame coming back to haunt him across the seven seas.

During the ICC Cricket World Cup in June 2019, as India took on Australia at the Oval in London, the media had expected cricket-crazy Mallya to make an appearance. And so, it seems, had many Indian cricket fans. Dressed in a light blue suit with an opencollared white and blue striped shirt, Mallya accompanied his beau, Pinky Lalwani, looking splendid in a hot pink jacket trimmed with fur and sporting dark shades, and his aged mother Lalitha to the VIP entrance gate at the Oval. He often wears blue suits at the matches, which he says is his way of showing support to the Men in Blue.

No sooner had they got out of their car, than the crowd chanting ‘Chor! Chor!’ (thief, thief) and ‘Paise de!’ (give our money back) began heckling him and his family. A defiant Mallya took out his phone and began recording selfies with the hostile crowd. He later tweeted a picture with his son inside the stadium with the caption: ‘Great to watch cricket with my son and even sweeter to see India’s emphatic victory over Australia’. A similar incident happened in January 2017 during the ICC Champions Trophy when Mallya had gone to watch the match between South Africa and West Indies at the Oval.

Though Mallya tries to have a nonchalant attitude towards people calling him names, in his less guarded moments, the hurt and pain this causes him is obvious to see. On less stressful days at the court, Mallya is happy to indulge in light banter about cricket with journalists outside the court.

Public appearances have never been easy for Mallya since his escape to London. In June 2016, Mallya made an appearance at the launch of Suhel Seth’s book at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where the high commissioner of India, Navtej Sarna, was a panellist along with UK cabinet minister Jo Johnson, brother of Boris Johnson. Journalist Rishi Majumdar, who was at the LSE event, remembers seeing Sarna quickly make an excuse and leave after spotting Mallya in the audience. Mallya, who was sitting at the back near the exit, came into the room just after the event started. Many like Majumdar found it quite ironic that an event on best practices by CEOs was attended by a man who was believed to have done the exact opposite.

To have an Indian diplomat and a (un)popular offender in the same room was a blunder that sent the ministry of external affairs into a frenzy. Statements were quickly issued that the event had two segments—first, a book launch event where the invitees were determined by LSE, and the second was a reception by the High Commission for a select few guests. ‘Mallya was certainly not an invitee to the reception at the High Commission for which the invitations were issued by the High Commission, and was not present,’ the MEA statement said. LSE also clarified that Mallya was not on its list of invitees.

Mallya was extremely upset with all the fuss created by his simple presence at what was a public event as each organiser denied ever inviting him. He took to Twitter to hit back: ‘Never gate-crashed in my life… I am not a gatecrasher and would never be one; I went for my friend—the author. Sat quietly with my daughter and listened. Headline news and unfounded speculation followed; No evidence, No charge sheet. Before claiming all this, should I not be given a chance to pursue my legal remedies? Most unfair.’

On 18 December 2020, Mallya spent his birthday attending court proceedings in his bankruptcy case, albeit virtually, requesting the judge to release funds from assets frozen by the courts. His counsel told the court that, failing this influx of funds, there was a good chance that Mallya would go unrepresented in the next hearing. The court then agreed to release £240,000 (plus 20 per cent of the value added tax on that amount), a sum that only covered his legal costs until December 2020. Mallya was back in the court in January 2021, requesting further funds. He claimed he had lost his income from the consultancy services that he had provided in recent years. With his life’s earnings frozen by the authorities, he claims he was now facing penury.

There was no sign of Mallya’s return to India when this book went into print in early February 2021. But what is clearly evident is that a man whose life was much celebrated just five short years ago, is now a mere shadow of his larger-than-life persona. There is no doubt that the party king has disappeared from public celebrations just like the fireworks that once lit up the skies, soon melt into the darkness.

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Book Beat

The Break of Dawn



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Penguin Random House, Rs 399

It’s the searing month of June, the rebellion against the British has just begun and Awadh is up in flames. Hindus and Muslims have joined hands to overthrow the foreign rulers and set India free. Some Indian rulers have started to enter into alliances to fight the foreigners, while others have thrown in their lot with them. A young soldier Riyaz Khan saves a group of Britishers from fellow ‘mutineers’ and escorts them safely to Lucknow. In this group is Alice, who falls in love with him and eventually becomes an informer for the rebels. Khan Mahboob Tarzi wrote the novel on the centenary of the uprising. Its English translation is done by Ali Khan Mahmudabad.

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Death in Colaba Bay: A Colonial Bombay Mystery



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Three young girls go missing from a prominent ‘native’ Bombay school. Their families are frantic with worry. Tara Bai, a young widow and heiress, with strong social connections, is an alumnus of the school who agrees to help the grieving parents. Police officer Arun Rao is assigned to the case. Soon, one of the missing girls is found dead on the shores of Colaba. It has uncanny similarities to older cases from Central India involving the royal family of Jaiwar. A chance encounter at the home of one of the victims brings Tara and Arun together who unmask the murderer.

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Scare Me If You Can



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At a spooky-themed resort in Mahabaleshwar, best-selling author Sivan Singh conducts a workshop on advanced horror writing. On its final day, the nine participants, influenced by their eerie experiences during their stay, along with an enigmatic writer, go all out for the story narration competition ‘Scare Me If You Can’. Jump on board this thrilling roller coaster that promises a screamy ride with mysterious prophecies, sinister sequences, and brutal acts of revenge. The 10 stories are based in different Indian cities, the horror quotient rising with each story. Let your head spin around, as you see everything going wrong and horror becoming a reality.

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Sita: Now You Know Me



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Set in the Vedic times of ancient India, Sita narrates the story of her turbulent life intimately, detailing her deepest despairs, grief and horrors, and her profound love for Ram. This is a spirited and enduring Sita calmly recollecting her transformation at various stages of her life, from an abandoned infant to a cherished princess, a delightful bride to a dissolute hermit in exile, a captive of an enemy to a queen, and culminating as a poor, homeless mother of twin boys in an ashram. Ancient India’s geographical, social, intellectual and cultural portraits accompany Sita gracefully, throughout her journey.

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How to survive in a big fat Indian family business



In her new book, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski shares a five-point toolkit to encourage younger generations wishing to enter their family businesses.

In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski, the executive director of MPIL Steel Structures Ltd and author of The Ultimate Family Business Survival Guide, shared her insights about the challenges and privileges of family businesses and how younger generations can be more passionate about them. Excerpts:

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I joined my family business right after completing my education in the US. Quickly, I realised that it was incredibly challenging to work with my own family, especially my father. When the founding generation is still involved in the business, it is still their baby. So while they are very keen to bring in their children, they are not always prepared to do so. At home, we talked about the business all the time, but in the workplace, there are a lot of tensions and conflicts. I had almost reached the breaking point and thought I would have to quit. But I managed to survive, which is why I wrote this book. Younger generations joining family businesses often need a guide or story to rely on.

Q: What are some major lessons you wish to pass on to younger generations and women who may consider joining their family businesses?

A: Family businesses are a huge resource that they should leverage. They may use it to branch out and bring in their own interests and passions, even steer it in a different direction. The resources already exist and they don’t have to start from scratch. There is a legacy of information which should be taken forward instead of losing it. There is also a lot they can learn from their background. Despite our business moving to the southern and western parts of India, my father draws from a lot of Haryanvi wisdom to work with greater agility and troubleshoot problems. Every state and culture in India has so much to offer and one does not need to look only at Western knowledge — it might actually not be suitable for Indian contexts.

For women, family businesses are an immediate platform and resource to tap into. There is a certain flexibility available to them, regarding when and how they enter it. It is an automatic launchpad, which they can then tailor according to their interests and capabilities and personalities. A woman in her 50s, who has seen the family business, will have a much easier time starting her career there, rather than in a different corporate setup. It caters to young women too. Daughters-in-law joining a family business have a good two-way opportunity, which does not disrupt their careers despite the move from their parents’ to their in-laws. There is support they can enjoy.

Q: But such support is a major point of privilege and this throws up questions of how family businesses encourage nepotism.

A: That is a frequent charge against family businesses and the perception is right in a way since there are privileges and things are handed down. But, say in my case, my brother and I grew up hearing about the business, visiting the workplace, understanding it and being groomed unknowingly. And we really wanted to join it too! In this context, there is also the ‘professional nepot’, as defined by Prof John Davis who is a pioneer in family business management. But if one is neither trained nor interested, it can have an adverse effect on the business and surely a non-family member can do the job better. So, it depends from family to family too. However, family members may be more suited to handle certain situations, especially diffuse tension at work. And there is an element of legacy and longevity associated with them, which tells shareholders that they can count on the business.

Q: Given the fluctuations in the economy due to the pandemic, how can your book help family businesses right now?

A: My book presents a practical, usable toolkit for younger generations, especially for times of scarcity and unpredictable situations like now. Family businesses are used to working against all odds. They have inherent skillsets. With this, I have drawn from my experiences and from academic research to give them five tools they can use. For instance, the metaphor of the multipurpose helmet I have used to show how you have to take on different roles in different situations. The book also tells them to be passionate about things outside of work and learn how to incorporate those.

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Jawaharlal Nehru signed the Indus Water Treaty with Gen Ayub Khan of Pakistan in 1960. The then Prime Minister defended the agreement in Parliament and explained to its members why it was a good deal for India.



Jawaharlal Nehru had witnessed it all. The bloody Partition, the canal disputes, the exchange of letters with Lilienthal and Black, the droughts of 1957-58 that saw agriculture losses in India as high as 50 per cent, the long years of water negotiations and the uncomfortable task of having to deal with the seven prime ministers in Pakistan who were sacked from 1947 to 1958.

As fate presented, Nehru, a model of democratic leadership, had to sign the Indus treaty with Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator. There could not be a greater irony. But now, in front of the House, Nehru had to respond to the sentiments of the Opposition as well as some of his party members in what probably was one of his biggest defences, on an issue which had bedevilled him for long. Some of his cabinet members had expressed strong reservations over the financial and strategic implications of the treaty. These included the incorruptible and the very austere finance minister Morarji Desai and Krishna Menon, the defence minister, who was being disparagingly referred to as “India’s Rasputin”.

After having patiently listened for almost two hours to the speeches of the members, Nehru rose to speak on the fateful day on 30 November 1960. As the leader of the House, exhilarated as he always was on such occasions, Nehru began a shade aggressively by expressing his disappointment over the members’ view on the issue.

A host of critical questions had been put forward by the House broadly signifying India’s foolhardy generosity, its unnecessary commitments and inability to settle the Partition debts. Concerns over the Kashmir issue, dispute regarding the Rann of Kutch, status of “Azad Kashmir” where the Mangla dam was being constructed by Pakistan while India’s proposal to build a dam over Chenab was put on hold owing to Pakistan’s insidious pressure, were ventilated by the members with a full sense of their responsibility. Nehru had his plate full, had made notes while carefully listening to the speakers and with “passion but not with malice” set about answering it.

Nehru agreed that the events since the canal dispute of 1948 had not been a pleasant period and one of great frustration, but in the same breath humbly submitted that “it is a good treaty for India and I have no doubt about it in my mind”. While assuring the House that close attention was paid to each detail, he tactfully praised the engineers who fought for India’s interest strenuously. As the prime minister, “I got only the broad facts,” noted Nehru and the engineers were the “experts in this matter”.

He came back to the canal dispute explaining that the time and circumstances then were radically different, “It was not a detailed examination; it was a broad approach. I regret to say that that approach was not followed later by the other side, as it often happens”.

The role of the World Bank was a less controversial issue to respond to, given that the House was not categorically vehement about the World Bank’s role except for some pointed observations by (Odia writer Surendra) Mahanty.

For Nehru, the World Bank’s engagement in the negotiations was an ‘ordinary thing to happen’, least of all alarming; “they were not becoming arbitrators or anything”.

Recalling his conversations with Lilienthal and Black on the active support of the World Bank, Nehru said, “It was only a question of an attempt, if you like, at the most, to help in our coming to an agreement between ourselves. They could not impose anything.”

From his disappointment on what he felt was the ‘narrow mindedness’ of the House on the treaty to his explanation of the circumstances of history and the complexities of the issue, Nehru enlightened the House on the question of consulting Parliament. “Are we to come at every step and ask Parliament?”

Allowing the rhetorical question to seep in, he then elaborated, “Very wisely, the Constitution and convention lay down that in such agreements, Government has to stake its own judgement, its future, on it. There is no other way. One takes a risk; maybe that Government may go wrong. But there is no [o]ther way to deal with it.”

However skilfully Nehru tried to separate himself as the carrier of a ‘broad perspective’ from the nitty-gritty of the negotiations that the engineers engaged in, there was an undeniable Nehruvian internationalist mindset to the entire water issue with Pakistan. Nehru’s interest in international problems was well known. His ideals of oneness, though, clashed with the realities of power politics and interest-oriented relations which he understood but adamantly refused to accept. More than a decade ago, he had hoped for an emergence of Asia as an influence on world peace, which soon fell apart.

Later, his famous enunciation at the Bandung Conference in 1955 that laid the foundation for the Non-Aligned Movement, “let us not align ourselves but have a line of our own”, was immediately contradicted by the creation of two military pacts, the SEATO and the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO). On the Indus treaty, having heard the diatribes, he asked the House, “Is that the way to approach an international question?”

And in a pedantic tone expressed, “Something is done because it is considered, in the balance, that is desirable… In such matters there has to be give and take.”

Nehru did regret the fact that the negotiations were long-drawn and that he had anticipated a year at best to reach a settlement. But there was no remorse in stating, “We purchased a settlement, if you like; we purchased peace and it is good for both countries.”

Nehru excused himself from the House as he had to accompany the crown prince and crown princess of Japan who were on a visit to India, but not before he clarified the issue of consultation with the state governments on the negotiations, “Whenever any proposals were put before me, I asked the Commonwealth Secretary [M.J. Desai] . . . Only when he said ‘Yes’, did I look into it… It may be that what the Commonwealth Secretary reported to me was due to some misunderstanding. He thought that they agreed when they had not.”

It is a pity that Nehru did not stay on for the entire length of the debate as Vajpayee raised an important question on the Indus Commission. He cited Ayub, who soon after the treaty was signed had said, “By accepting the procedure for joint inspection of the river courses, India has, by implication, conceded the principle of joint control extending to the upper region of Chenab and Jhelum, and joint control comprehends joint possession.”

The excerpt is from the book ‘Indus Basin Uninterrupted’ (published by Penguin Random House).

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