I once witnessed a party thrown by Vijay Mallya’s Force India Formula One team, somewhere near the Silverstone race track in Northamptonshire.
The British Grand Prix had just ended and the marquee where the party was being held was filling up with the who’s who of the racing and celebrity worlds.
It was painfully glamorous. The champagne was expensive, the girls Amazonian and the men lean and unabashedly metrosexual.
At the centre of it all was Mallya, basking in the adulation of those scoffing the unpronounceable hors d’oeuvres that he had paid for.
But despite all the glitz and the glamour I couldn’t escape the feeling that Mallya was a bit bored and thought proceedings slightly staid, compared with the legendary parties that he was used to throwing back in Mumbai or Goa or Monaco.
From the multimillion dollar yachts bedecked with calendar girls and Bollywood celebrities to the fireworks and Enrique Iglesias performances, Mallya really was the ‘King of Good Times’.
It is said that he blew a cool $2 million on his 60th birthday bash in 2015 even as his fabled Kingfisher Airlines crashed and burned and creditors closed in demanding more than $1.4 billion in loans made the company.
Fast forward to Thursday, 03 October, and it is a wholly different setting – Westminster Magistrates Court in London and Mallya is appearing before a judge for a bail hearing after he is arrested on money laundering charges.
He was in fact, re-arrested as the money laundering charge is in addition to the fraud charges for which he was arrested back in April. India wants the billionaire 61-year-old extradited over those loans made to Kingfisher by a variety of banks in India.
The lawyer representing the Indian government, Mark Summers, told the court on Thursday that the original allegations related to fraudulently obtaining and misusing funds. According to the new allegations, Mallya channelled some of those allegedly ill-gotten funds into his Formula One team.
The full extradition hearing will begin on 4 December.
It’s an extraordinary turn around for Mallya, the man who not only epitomized New India’s ability to party but also its thrusting entrepreneurial spirit.
His multi-billion dollar empire once included everything from whiskey and airlines to real estate, nightclubs, a T20 cricket club and horse breeding facilities.
He’s not quite a pauper just yet. Mallya divides his time in the UK between his luxury apartment near Madame Tussaud’s museum in Central London and a sprawling country estate in Hertfordshire, appropriately named ‘Ladywalk’.
And he’s thought to be intimately involved in running the myriad different parts of his existing empire.
It’s still a deeply sobering experience to witness him in court.
Firstly, it is inconceivable that the man in the beautifully tailored blue blazer, crisp open-necked white shirt and black trousers is one who is so deeply loathed in India and who is the target of so much hate and vitriol on Social Media and the Indian news media, not to mention the booing at a cricket match at The Oval this summer.
He is unfailingly polite and courteous – even with the handful of journalists who have gathered at the court.
He exudes serenity, which is astonishing considering the grievous nature of the charges that he faces and the prospects in store for him if he is extradited to India.
Many legal experts are of the opinion that he will eventually be sent home.
He is utterly sanguine as he is asked to confirm his date of birth and address.
His movements are deliberate as he stands up, smoothes down his jacket, crosses his hands in front of him, takes a pause that a Radio 4 announcer would be proud of, before going through the details in a deliberate tone.
Either side of that interaction with the judge he sits to one side of the court, without a movement or murmur, in the full glare of the press gallery, hands on knees, eyes cast downwards, expression neutral listening intently to the lawyers as they bargain with the magistrate.
After each hearing he is forced to walk a hundred meters or so to his car. Each time he steps out, he’s greeted by a swirling swarm of journalists for whom personal space is an alien concept.
Each time, he takes his own languid time, never rushing, answering whatever questions he can in a calm, measured tone before driving off with a wave.
There is an undoubted class to him – notwithstanding that ludicrous Mohawk he sports nowadays – that testifies to the fact that here is a man who took his father’s liquor business and grew it into a massive conglomerate, a man of vision and ambition, albeit a vision executed – it is alleged – at the expense of lives and livelihoods.
The investors, savers, creditors and employees whose lives have been impacted and destroyed by Mallya’s alleged mismanagement – he denies any wrongdoing and, asked by the magistrate as a matter of course whether he wants to be extradited, exclaims unequivocally “NO!” – won’t care two paisas about his sanguine nature.
For them, his appearance at the court is a start, a step in the right direction in obtaining what they hope will be justice.
For the rest of us, it is evidence that life has a strange circuitous nature to it.
One day you’re being dropped off at the British Curry Awards – where the parking is horrendous – in your highly personalized, pearl white £250,000 Maybach, the next day you’re being driven to court in a 2014 Range Rover Sport you’ll be lucky to sell for £5000.
One day you’re the toast of the town, surrounded by dozens of lackeys, the next day all you have is that one faithful companion – in Mallya’s case, a beautiful and stylish woman identified by some Indian media outlets as Pinky Lalwani, a former air stewardess who reportedly accompanied Mallya when he fled India in March 2016.
She’s been a constant presence at court during his hearings, even once coming to court in his stead.
One day you’re celebrated and adored, the next day you can’t watch a cricket match without being humiliated and your days are doubtless taken up by strategizing on how to avoid ending up in a cockroach-infested cell in India, although given Mallya’s wealth, at least the cell will have air conditioning.
What goes up invariably comes down and the speed of one’s descent is directly proportional to the speed of the ascent; nothing is everlasting and one can only live for so long on borrowed money or time.