I remember meeting Ashwin Deo for the first time at a wine dinner organised by Sanjay Menon. They were good friends and Ashwin had been invited, not just as a connoisseur of the finer things in life, but also because he had the power to transform any dull snooty affair into a fun and memorable evening with song and banter.
I was most keen to be introduced, not just because he headed the India operations (and for a few other regions) for Moet Hennessy’s (MHI) extensive luxury portfolio, but because he was by the most dapper dressed at that gathering, which comprised the seriously well-heeled of SoBo.
By the end of that evening, I felt I had known Ashwin and he had told me all I needed to know about what to covet in the men’s accoutrements department. The little I know on Indian art is also a lot thanks to Ashwin.
A few months down, I met him at an MHI event and the first thing he did was to ask me if I had acquired my R.M. Williams yet. Not just a man with fine tastes but one also blessed with a sharp memory!
In fact, when my then-partner had gifted me my first luxury watch, it was Ashwin who had chosen the make and model and also helped source it.
As the years went by, I had the opportunity to work closely with Ashwin, and I did many an assignment with/for his brands. We often found ourselves at events together and it was always an enchanted charm to listen to him address the crowd, welcoming them, making them feel at ease, no matter how formal the event may have been.
A great orator (and a superb singer!) he managed to convey the essence of the evening in a manner that disarmed even the staunchest of wine snobs, a trademark quality he carried over to his own venture too, many years later.
He had a deep sense of empathy, a human connect. It was this virtue that allowed him to be associated with the world’s largest luxury brand and yet relatable and approachable to industry novices.
And it wasn’t just with wines that he did all the ground-breaking work: from beers to luxury vodka and even single malts, the beverage portfolio of India stands enriched thanks to Ashwin’s many initiatives.
The news of his passing – even in a year punctuated with loss – still shook me, shook us all, to our core. He had so much ahead of him to look forward to; he was still discovering himself; still finding new courses to charter!
That bug-eyed curiosity, an almost child-like innocence – traits which I had seen in him during our early meetings – had never faded. During my last conversation with him Ashwin was thinking of some new ways to disrupt the archaic norms of the beverage world!
Adios Ashwin! Uncork something fabulous as you sit back to admire some work of art, soft music in the background that you are obviously humming to perfection.