Agni Sreedhar tells us his memoir My Days in the Underworld also works as the story of the city

It is difficult to have an insider’s view of the underworld, as usually men with the ability to write are outsiders who base their narratives on research or interviews with the denizens of the underworld. It is in this context that Agni Sreedhar’s memoir, Dadagiriya Dinagalu, stands apart. Sreedhar, the former don of Bangalore serialised Dadagiriya Dinagalu in his tabloid Agni for five-and-half years, before coming out as a book. The book incidentally won the Karnataka State Sahitya Academy Award. It has now been translated into English as My Days in the Underworld-Rise of Bangalore Mafia (Westland, Rs. 395).

Sreedhar translated the book into English with help from writer-poet Prathiba Nandakumar and V.G. Jaideep and dedicated the work to all those travelled with him on his two-decade journey in the underworld.

The book throws light on notorious gangsters. In fact this is the first book that presents the history of Bangalore’s underworld, detailing the lives of dreaded dons, who ruled Bangalore underworld including, Muttappa Rai, K. Jayaraj and Kotwal Ramachandra.

The 55-year-old says the book is also the story of a city, as seen through the personal histories of politicians such as Devaraj Urs, R. Gundu Rao, Ramakrishna Hegde and S. Bangarappa as well as those on the other side of the law — gangsters including Dawood Ibrahim and Sharad Shetty.

Sreedhar, who studied law, had dreamt of joining the Indian Civil Service. However circumstances (his brother was attacked by an infamous don) forced him to turn to crime. He found himself in the thick of the bitter gang wars of the Eighties, which shaped modern Bangalore.

The book, Sreedhar observes, “Is a first-person account of the two decades I spent in the world of crime.” In the preface Sreedhar says his intention was to demystify the underworld. “When I started compiling my recollections, I called it a search,” Sreedhar says in his fortified bungalow in ISRO Layout.

Sreedhar now has six works to his credit, all of which have run in to multiple editions. A voracious reader, Sreedhar, who is inspired works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vergas Llosa, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, among others, writes extensively on quantum philosophy.

The writer-director has tasted success in the Kannada film industry as well. Aa Dinagalu, based on Dadagirya Dinagalu, which he wrote with Girish Karnad received critical acclaim. Tamassu — about communal intolerance, which he wrote and directed, received the Karnataka State Award as Best film.

Kannada works are rarely translated into English. Talking about how Dadagiriya Dinagalu came to be translated, Sreedhar says: “On learning about Dadagiriya, Westland approached me for a translation, as enough was written on the Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad underworld but not on Bangalore.

“I took nearly six months to translate and Prathibha helped to a great extent. Editing took a lot of time, as I decided to edit out the less dramatic elements. Thirty per cent has been edited out of the original.”

About doing criminal acts, Sreedhar says: “To be honest, even in the thick of violence, I was away from it all internally. Violence never gave me pleasure. Instead of weapons, I used to carry books in my bag during assignments. At the same time I don’t pretend that I was not involved. Being in action actively, I maintained a distance with the crime. This helped me in maintain a healthy distance while writing.”

Sreedhar says that he used to maintain a dairy, after Muttappa Rai deserted Bangalore. “However, my notes landed in police hands. If found, they would result in more literary works of the kind,” he says with a smile, caressing his salt-and-pepper beard.

Did he have any expectations while writing? “No. There was world of difference between what lay within me and that which existed without. It is circumstances that pushed me into the dark world. I realized that this was not the world that I wanted to live in. I needed to transform and I found the way myself. The fear, and deceit challenged my conscience. I had to get out. Writing showed the way. In the beginning, people were sceptical. They wondered if I could really write. Many thought I had a ghost writer.”

The writer-director observes that the Bangalore underworld was never communalised. Elaborating, Sreedhar goes on to say, “While the underworld in Mumbai means business and controls the economy, human relations and emotions are a part of the Bangalore underworld. Also unlike Mumbai, the Bangalore underworld has no links with films.”

Sreedhar admits that there is a sea change in the world of crime. “In those days politicians turned to gangsters to do their dirty work. Now the underworld has occupied a seat of power. The old underworld is almost extinct.”