S.R. RAMAKRISHNA writes: MiD-DaY has been reporting on Bangalore’s gangland murders these past couple of weeks. The murder of Narasimha Murthy, alleged don of what is known as the ‘coolie mafia’, was the most brazen, and took place in busy Chamarajpet.
A dozen men, led by a stocky film financier called Kapali Ananda, flashed their choppers and finished Nararasimha Murthy off in full view of the neighbourhood’s strollers.
It was a bad gangster movie coming alive.
Looking at photos of Narasimha Murthy, you could well imagine how he must have terrorised the poor labourers at K.R. Market. He was tall, beefy, and wore a load of gold to proclaim to the world his riches (and ability to pay his way out of any police trouble).
He and Kapali had been old rivals, vying for money generated from K.R. Market, Bangalore’s oldest, busiest and filthiest wholesale market.
The death of Narasimha Murthy, whom the Tamil labourers called Poone (‘cat’, because he had cat’s eyes), came soon after the murder of another K.R. Market gangster, Gate Ganesha. Over seven years, Ganesha had earned notoriety in the same squalid setting, and made enough money to be able to contest elections in his native Tamil Nadu. A rival lured his men, and they did him in.
What exactly is the coolie mafia?
Hundreds of lorries arrive at K.R. Market through the day, bringing fruits and vegetables from all over Karnataka and adjoining States. Poor labourers do all the unloading. A coolie gets Rs 5 for every gunny bag he moves into a shop. The mafia allows him to keep Rs 4, and pockets Re 1. At least 30,000 bags are unloaded in a day, and the gang ruling the market collects Rs 30,000 from these labourers alone.
The don pays off his cronies, officiously called ‘supervisors’, and takes home a cool Rs 25,000 at the end of the day.
That amounts to at least Rs 7 lakh a month, and Rs 8 million a year.
The don also collects Rs 10 from each wayside vendor as protection money.
With so much ready cash rolling in, the gangsters are tempted to get into what they call the ‘meter baddi’ business. ‘Baddi’ is Kannada for interest, and ‘meter baddi’ refers to interest that mounts fast, perhaps like the fare on a rigged autorickshaw meter.
Some venture into financing films as well.
All this can’t thrive without the tacit support of the police, and whoever happens to be the politician reigning in the constituency. Narasimha Murthy reportedly owed allegiance to a Congress leader, who had risen to eminence by exploiting, and then selling hope, to the miserable lot labouring away at the market.
Behind these murky stories are the human stories.
The women in Narasimha Murthy’s family told him it was inauspicious on that particular day for him to have a haircut, but he hadn’t heeded their words. They are distraught, and certain he died because he defied their religious beliefs.
Kapali, who killed him, got his name from working at Kapali Bar, and selling tickets in black at Kapali cinema. And the boys caught in the gang wars have their own tales of despair and bravado to tell.
The Kannada film industry keeps cribbing it has no good scripts, and pays a ransom each time it buys remake rights from a Tamil or Telugu producer. Any film-maker with any interest in human drama would find in K.R. Market enough material for a whole Godfather-style series.
Or a Slumdog Millionaire series, if you please.
(S.R. Ramakrishna is the resident editor of MiD-DaY, Bangalore, where this piece was first published.)