Think of Bengaluru and names like ‘Silicon Valley’ & ‘Garden City’ would pop up in your mind in no time. But very few know that there is a darker shade to the city.
While a lot has been written about the underworld of Mumbai – Bengaluru’s underworld is still a secret. Mumbai-based journalist, Jyoti Shelar unravels the mysterious world of Bengaluru’s dons-turned-tycoons in her book, ‘The Bhais Of Bengaluru’, that released on November 1 with a foreword by S. Hussain Zaidi.
Zaidi begins the foreword by stating, “While the Mumbai dons have blown their chances at redemption, their counterparts in Bengaluru have attained salvation.” Furthermore, he goes on talk about the author saying, “When I met Jyoti Shelar at Mumbai Mirror, where I was helming a bunch of reporters in 2016, I was impressed by her perseverance. I tasked her with chronicling the Bengaluru mafia. She made umpteen trips to the city and met all kinds of dubious characters but never gave up.”
“She got an earful whenever she missed the mandatory I-am-safe-and-have-returned-calls. I feel immense delight and pride in presenting this book to crime aficionados,” Zaidi writes in the foreword of Shelar’s book.
A blurb at the back of her book reads, ‘For years, Bengaluru’s underworld has been ruled by shrewd and notorious dons, who grew from small-time extortionists to dreaded names in real estate circles. Bengaluru’s underworld dates back to the 1960s, when Kodigehalli’s Mune Gowda was crowned the city’s first don. In the 1980s and 1990s, Boot House Kumar, aka Oil Kumar, Muthappa Rai and Sreedhar emerged along with other bhais. In The Bhais Of Bengaluru Jyoti Shelar explores this mysterious and fascinating world of crime and gives you a sneak peek into the dark, dangerous and daring lives of the men who dominated it.’
Shelar has worked in various publications, covering crime as a beat in her journalism career. In an interview with Cocktail Zindagi, she offers an insight into her book, introducing us to the perplexing underworld of Bengaluru.
Cocktail Zindagi : Since how many years are you covering crime as a reporter? At what age did you begin?
Jyoti Shelar: I have been a journalist for 12 years now. I started my career at the age of 21. I covered crime in the initial years of my career but I later moved on to write on various other subjects like public health, gender issues, communities etc.
Cocktail Zindagi : In what cities and publications have you worked as a journalist?
Jyoti Shelar : I have always worked in Mumbai. I started my career with Hindustan Times. I moved on to work for Daily News and Analysis (DNA) and then Mumbai Mirror. At present, I work for the Mumbai edition of The Hindu.
Cocktail Zindagi : Is it difficult to be a woman crime reporter? Why did you choose this beat?
Jyoti Shelar: I wouldn’t say that it is difficult for a woman to cover crime. Fortunately, I did not face any hurdles ever. We have many women journalists covering crime and they do some outstanding work.
I chose the beat because it was kind of exciting for me be known as a ‘crime reporter’.
Cocktail Zindagi : If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would the words be?
Jyoti Shelar: Ambitious, Diligent and Thoughtful.
Cocktail Zindagi : Tell us something about your book, ‘The Bhais Of Bengaluru’.
Jyoti Shelar : The Bhais of Bengaluru covers the lesser known mafia of the city that is mostly associated with gardens, good weather and IT. Very few know that the Bengaluru has had notorious rowdies who kept the police on their toes. The book explores how the kushti culture, Kannada language movement and the massive fandom of actor Rajkumar played a vital role in giving rise to rowdyism in the city in the 60’s and 70’s. It goes on to narrate stories of dons who rose, committed heinous crimes and are now living a white-collar life.
Cocktail Zindagi : Why did you think of writing a book on the underworld of Bengaluru as opposed to Mumbai?
Jyoti Shelar : A lot has been written about Mumbai’s underworld already. Well-known crime author, S. Hussain Zaidi, who gave me the idea of writing this book, has covered the Mumbai underworld extensively in his books like Dongri to Dubai, Mafia Queens, Byculla to Bangkok etc. Therefore, when he discussed the idea of exploring the underworld of Bengaluru, it sounded new to me. There are a few Kannada books about the Bengaluru mafia and there is a memoir of a reformed underworld don that has been translated from Kannada to English. But I did not come across any English book that chronicles the overall history on Bengaluru’s dark side.
Cocktail Zindagi : How did you get the idea for the book?
Jyoti Shelar : Hussain sir had this idea for a long time. He wanted to work on the subject but other projects kept him busy. While working together in Mumbai Mirror, he happened to discuss the idea with me and I immediately agreed to explore it.
Cocktail Zindagi : How do you think the two underworlds of Mumbai and Bengaluru are different?
Jyoti Shelar : While Mumbai dons were well versed with guns, rowdies in Bengaluru used swords and machetes for a very long time. It was only in the late 80’s that the gun culture seeped in to Bengaluru.
The Bengaluru mafia is probably the only Indian mafia to have recanted from their criminal past and decided to turn over a new leaf – literally becoming real estate tycoons and media barons. It feels that they always had a plan. In Mumbai however, the big dons are either on the run or behind bars.
Cocktail Zindagi : How difficult was it to research for the book? Did you visit the ‘dens’ of the dons or interacted with their sources?
Jyoti Shelar : It was challenging at first. People don’t easily agree to share their stories, especially with a stranger from different city. It took time for me to establish rapport with some of the most important gangsters. Gradually, they warmed up.
I met family members of dons who are dead now and their gang members. I also met the dons who are now living reformed lives. A lot of information was gathered through small time rowdies who were well connected but chose to remain anonymous. Also, former and current police officials from Bengaluru helped me out with lot of vital information and contacts.
Cocktail Zindagi: Tell us some anecdotes from the book.
Jyoti Shelar : I have attempted to explore the character of the dons as closely as possible. The three dons who ruled in 70’s and 80’s- MP Jayaraj, Kotwal Ramachandra and Oil Kumar were the most notorious rowdies that the city has ever seen. MP Jayaraj, a kushti pehelwan turned goon gained immense power with support from the Congress party. His rival, Kotwal Ramachandra emerged as a powerhouse when Jayaraj landed in jail for attempting a murder. On the sidelines was the scheming Oil Kumar who sought help from both the dons to run his multi crore oil business.
There is a bit about how a don named Tanveer was deeply inspired by his favorite actor Amitabh Bachchan and how he would flaunt the knife in Amitabh style. Tanveer’s mentor Koli Faiyaz had risen from being a poultry worker to a notorious don who monopolized the poultry business in Shivaji Nagar, a Muslim dominated neighborhood in Bengaluru.
Her book can be brought at various bookstores and online platforms.