Book Review: My Days In The Underworld


Agni Sreedhar’s bio on wikipedia reads as former gangster, writer, critic and artist. His book Daadagiriya Dinagalu (Kannada), winner of Karnataka State Sahitya Akademi Award, has been translated into My Days In The Underworld – Rise of the Bangalore Mafia. The translation, by Sreedhar himself, stays colloquial and the tone of the book is naturally street side.

What an exciting read!

Written in first person, a quasi-autobiographical account of the Bangalore Mafia over a little more than two decades, Agni Sreedhar‘s book is a well-paced and extremely insightful read. Not only about the who’s who of the Bangalore mafia between mid 70-s and 90s, , but also the circumstances, character and people who defined these people that made the underworld. Or, rowdies, as they are more frequently referred to as in the book

Sreedhar starts from his early college life (1974) to his induction in Bangalore Mafia, the critical turning point where he is at the center of Kotwal’s murder, the subsequent role as the Don, and the eventual step-away-fade as a tabloid publisher. What emerges is a strange cacophony of shifting power centers, the nexus and love-hate relationship between police-mafia-politics, and how most major crimes and criminals have nothing to do with the average city-goers. Across the decades, some of the power struggles evolve, with Police exercising more power, sometimes irrationally so.

“The politicians pamper the underworld because they are of use during elections. The police play up to politicians because they can be used during transfers. The underworld controls the police through the politicians and the politicians control the underworld through the police.”

“Kotwal’s coterie included some of the most reviled killers the city has known: Kitty, Kariya, Satti, Muni, Hajaama Venkatesh and Daniel. One of Bangalore’s most successful trial lawyers, C.H.Hanumatharaya, handled his cases. He had the blessings of politicians like R.L.Jalappa and Jeevaraj Alva. Getting Kotwal was an impossibility.” [Note: Kotwal and Jairaj were the rival dons in the early 80s]

The book is extremely philosophical in places as it talks about the people and their background –

“Khalandar was a former state boxing champion and was once ranked fourth in the country. Seeing no future in pugilism, he had opened a butcher’s shop in Yarabnagar…”

– the false assumptions about how easily crimes are committed

“People who are not a part of a life of crime believe that killing is a routine occurrence in the underworld, and the smallest reasons are enough to warrant murder.”

“The truth is, right until the instant a crime is committed, the criminal is sunre about what he is about to do, or what the outcome of his actions will be. There’s always the niggling doubt that perhaps he can put off the act or altogether abandon the plan.”

– and, the un-obvious hardships of a criminal life, especially behind prison walls

“the fearsome stone walls, the barracks, the faces and names that count the hours behind he iron bars – all these things kill a convict’s sensitivity. A man who spends six months in jail will come away a hardened criminal even if he was innocent when he entered. “

“No one apart from jailers and the prisoners themselves understand the state of mind of people who serve out long sentences. There is no future for these people… These things can drive a man insane if he doesn’t have something to take his mind off it, or at least distract him temporarily from the overwhelming emptiness of prison life.”

The book is not without the interesting knick-knacks and quirky names that cinema over the years has drawn inspirations from.

“Pushpa was in a gang people by ruffians like Market Raja, Layout Manja and Loki. Prabhakhar, or Vijayanagar Prabha, was the leader of this gang.”

The settings, the narration of incidents as they are about to happen, the elaborate set-ups, the constant two-timing nature of police, politicians and some rowdies, the shifting allegiance in the face of overwhelming odds, the role that Dawood/Salem and co. have played in a remote city’s underworld, the connected-ness of it all make up for a great read. It might seem a little too little and a little too late in 2015. But it makes up for that with the dollops of history about Bangalore and its surrounding areas.

There is a need to discount the creative license that Agni might have taken, since it’s his story and he is the hero here, the disenchanted warrior, the reluctant don, the Shiva/Satya of Bollywood. While it is true that police can round up the known Goondas without any rhyme or reason, and work on them, the holier than thou image of Sreedhar across the narrative seems a little self-serving, even if true. What is equally amazing is his naivete in the first several years of his underworld life, be it his handling of certain tricky situations, or the entire fake note business. For someone who was commanding so much respect from the existing dons for his sagacity and advice, Agni’s good nature  and reluctance to commit a crime seems out of place for someone who became the eventual don of the city, out of nothing but a “the city will go the dogs if I don’t take this up” sense of greatness.

Be as it may, what really worked for me was the honest and earthy narrative style, the pace of narration, and for most part the ability to keep the vantage points stable. What didn’t work for me was Sreedhar’s reluctance to cover his dark side, the one that made him become a ruffian in the first place.

Insightful, well paced, and in the category of real life stories that work well as fiction.

I was about to say that it is ripe material for a movie, only to realize that a Kannada movie Aa Dinagalu has already been made.

Title: My Days In The Underworld- Rise Of The Bangalore Mafia
Agni Sreedhar
Tranquebar Press
Non-Fiction/ Crime
4.00 of 5.00
Reviewed for: 
The Tales Pensieve Pick of the month – February 2016

Read the reviews of other books rated 4 stars by Team TP HERE