Agni Sreedhar’s The Gangster’s Gita Evokes a Whirlwind of Emotions

The first time I heard the name Agni Sreedhar I was sitting in one of the conference rooms of the Hotel Lalit Ashok, Bengaluru, editing a blog for the Bangalore Literature Festival. Mr. Sreedhar was one of the guest speakers for the festival and was in conversation with renowned Kannada writer Prathibha Nandakumar about his new book The Gangster’s Gita (published by Eka). Like many others before me, I too was intrigued reading about his life and one of our team members filled me in with more details about this so-called gangster turned writer, which only piqued me further. His story has been so unlike the usual that it wasn’t too difficult for me to register his name in the memory amidst the long list of speakers who came to the festival. From then till today, there had been many occasions when I had serendipitously crossed paths with Gangster’s Gita. As lame as it may sound, I have always believed that a good book will always find you when the time is just right.


Last night I was window shopping on Kindle and once again found The Gangster’s Gita sitting there asking to be read. I instinctively downloaded it but it was almost midnight. I told myself I will have a look at the ‘Translator’s Note’ and read the rest of the book the next morning. The translation is done by Prathibha Nandakumar and the original title in Kannada is Edegarike. In her note, she talks about the author and his love of literature. She also talks about how translating his book hasn’t been an easier task given Sreedhar’s distinct style of writing along with the need to retain the nuances of the original narration in Kannada. However, all the hard work and the multiple drafts of translation seems to have paid off, because I couldn’t just stop with the translator’s note. Before I knew it, I was already reading the last lines of the book and I must credit the translator as much as the author for the scintillating read. Personally for me, one of the best things that happened to the book is Prathibha’s translation along with her note.


The publisher’s note claims that this is a work of fiction and the usual that follows. However, the book begins with words of Erik Erikson – ‘A novel is not necessarily a work of fiction’. The narrator is our very Sreedhar Anna who entered the criminal world under the strangest of circumstances. However, the real protagonist of this stirring story seems to be Sona. Sona belonged with the mafia of the Mumbai underworld and was sent to Bangalore on an assignment that involved Sreedhar Anna and his boss. The sudden turn of events leads to Sreedhar Anna meeting Sona. The duo is then compelled by circumstances to leave Bangalore to Sakleshpur along with Sreedhar Anna’s boss and some of their boys. During their adventurous trip and their stay in Sakleshpur, Sreedhar Anna and Sona get acquainted with each other.


The book follows the life of Sona through conversations with Sreedhar Anna. Sona, who is barely thirty years old, intrigues Sreedhar Anna with his calm and poise. Their conversations and Sona’s demeanour unleash a storm within Sreedhar Anna and stirs up the readers too without fail. In her note earlier, Prathibha talked about how they arrived at the title of the book and it can’t be any more apt than this. The book stands on the shoulders of two men who have killed and questions the concepts of strength and weakness, heroism and cowardice. It wretches open the seemingly cold-hearts of these men and drench you in the blood of warmth that flows inside them. The choices that they made, the choices that are made for them, their regrets, their gracefulness demolishes all pre-established ideas of good- bad and right-wrong.


Orwell says “Good prose should be transparent, like a windowpane.”, and that is exactly how our author writes. He forgoes the decorative language and sticks with straight yet evocative narration. It is a thin book with only 103 pages yet with its powerful, thought-provoking narration it invoked a whirlwind of emotions within me that I could barely fall asleep. It has been one of the very fulfilling reads for this year and I am grateful for all the happenstances that led me to the discovery of this book.


#Blrlitfest 2017 is here

The Bangalore Literature Festival has arrived early this year. As we gear up for some scintillating conversations and intellectual gossips, I am all nostalgic about #Blrlitfest2016. The festival last year covered a diverse range of topics including history, politics, geography, biography, popular fiction, erotica, food, travel, evangelism, human rights and a lot more. You might want to read our report on the Festival here. I also remember how thrilled we were when the kind Mr Piyush Mishra agreed to our request for an interview.The experience of interviewing him was a reminder on how to stay grounded even when you achieve greater heights of stardom. Continue reading “#Blrlitfest 2017 is here”

A Trip to the Central Prison

I delighted myself with the joy of spending an entire day in front of the gates of the Central Jail in Bengaluru along with a friend. On retrospection, it sounds like a stupid idea to wait in front of the gates of a prison for whatever reason. However even the stupidest of ideas leave you with an experience worthy of writing. So here is my recollection of how the day unfolded. Continue reading “A Trip to the Central Prison”

Bhakta, Bhagwan, and MahaShivaratri

I had been meaning to attend the Mangal Arati (the morning prayers in Indian temples) at the Ramakrishna Math, Ulsoor (Bengaluru). The Arati starts at 5 am sharp. So I had to start around 4 am to reach well in time. This was on 25th of February. Though it was difficult to break the inertia of sleep, once broken, it was all energy and exuberance in the arctic breeze striking against the face. The night was not over yet. The morning was yet to arrive.

I reached the temple just in time to witness the Mahashivaratri (the night of Shiva) celebrations. Though the original plan was to participate in the Mangal Arati at 5 am, the Shivaratri celebrations from the previous night were just drawing to a close when I reached. It was a sight to behold. Shiva’s image was placed on a throne, ameliorated with flowers and sandalwood paste. The uplifting florid whiff in the air kept all the devotees who had assembled there from the previous night absorbed in Shiva. Many sang, a few meditated, and others just kept an incessant gaze at Shiva, perhaps in contemplation.

While the world outside of me was absorbed in the songs and mantra chanting, my mind was busy weaving a web of questions, answers, analogies, and conclusions. Does God exist? Does Shiva exist? Who are these people worshipping? I observed both sides of the world – The God side and the Devotee side. I saw no difference. There never existed two worlds. It was one. The only answer that could tranquilize me was that God exists when the devotee exists. God ceases to exist when devotees cease to. That we have created impenetrable firewalls between these two worlds, is our own undoing. Inside the temple, at that moment, I couldn’t tell if the devotees were worshipping Shiva or Shiva was worshipping the devotees.


While we all celebrate our deities according to our preferences, we tend to forget the names who exemplified devotion and became the Bhaktas who brought the God to us in a humane and relatable form. I find that our history is replete with such stories where Bhagwan (God) and Bhakta (Devotee) have been put on the same pedestal. One is no less than the other for if there is no Devotee, there is no God. Ram and Hanuman, Ram and Tulasidas, Krishna and Radha, Krishna and Meera, Krishna and Sur, Vishnu and Prahlad – the count just keeps growing. There has perhaps never been a story where the God has existed without the Devotee. It would be safe to say that the Devotee creates the God. A spiritual novice is helped on his journey to enlightenment by relating to a humane God that one enlightened devotee from amongst us has created in the past. If we extrapolate this point, we see clearly that for us God is what these devotees tell us about him/her. Krishna is what devotees like Sur, Meera have told us about him. Ram is what devotees like Tulasidas, Kaka Bhusundi tell us about him. Similarly, in a different religion like Christianity, God is seen through the eyes of Jesus.

The night belonged to Shiva, naturally one thinks of Shiva, and one realizes that one sees him only through the stories and poems written and composed by his devotees. Since I belong to the Mithila region of our country, the most prominent name that occurred to me was that of Kavi Kokil Vidyapati. Kavi meaning poet, Kokil meaning Cuckoo, and Vidyapati meaning the Master of Knowledge. True to his name, Vidyapati was a great scholar in Sanskrit and chiefly wrote in Maithili, Abahatta, and Sanskrit. There are two major classifications of his poems – one – love poems concerning Radha and Krishna and then the devotional poems and songs for Shiva. Such is his influence in the Mithila region that no celebration is complete without the rendition of his songs. Interestingly, since he lived in the times when the chief language of eastern India was Abahatta – the primitive form of Maithili, Bengali, Nepali, and Oriya; his influence on these languages is seen as analogous to that of Dante in Italy and Chaucer in England. Vidyapati lived from AD 1352 to 1448.


Kavi Kokil Vidyapati
Kavi Kokil Vidyapati


The life story of Vidyapati stands as the most glittering testimony to the way Bhakta-Bhagwan relationship has been treated in Indian tradition of culture and its accompanying literature. It is said that Shiva was so impressed by the bhakti of Vidyapati that he took the form of an illiterate herdsman and offered to serve Vidyapati and live with him. Once when the poet was traveling on the invitation of King of Mithila Shiva Singh, he was dehydrated and needed water to drink. Since the area was barren and there was no water source in the vicinity, Shiva who was disguised as Ugna poured out some gangajal (water from Ganges) from his jataa (matted hair). Vidyapati at once recognized gangajal and insisted that Ugna reveal his true form. Ugna admitted to being Shiva himself and promised to stay with him till his identity is not revealed. Later in time, once wife of Vidyapati, Sushila angry at Ugna for not completing his assigned task charged towards him with a broom to punish. Vidyapati couldn’t stand this quietly and gave away Shiva’s cover. Shiva disappeared instantly leaving Vidyapati sad and depressed. Vidyapati left his house in search for Ugna and after much roaming and wanderings, found him at Nandanvana. Ugna didn’t come back with Vidyapati but promised to help Vidyapati as and when needed. The celebrated place where they met again is now known as Ugnasthan (the place of Ugna).

Vidyapati composed several poems for Shiva. The most important aspect of his songs is that they are emotionally very personal and the deity appears to be extremely close to the devotee, sometimes as friend, at times as disciple, other times the Bhakta suffering in separation from Shiva.  This is one great thing that in his poems, Shiva is not an alien super-human figure who is just meant to be worshipped from a distance. In his songs and poems, Shiva becomes your best friend who knows you the best and you are allowed to protest, whine, and love. Shiva becomes that ally in whom you confide all your secrets, share all the joys and sorrows of the world. Vidyapati’s God is not merely to be respected and worshipped; he is to be loved, adored, pampered and kept close all the time.

The Shiva that Mithila knows today is perhaps the personification of all the poems of Vidyapati on Shiva. In a way, Mithila worships the Shiva of Vidyapati. In other words, the regions of Mithila, Bengal, Odisha, and Nepal adopted the Shiva that was created by the great devotee-poet Vidyapati. I am sure this would be true for most of the regions of our country. We have since time immemorial known Gods through their devotees. Be it the Advaita Brahman of Adi Shankaracharya or the beloved Krishna of the romantique Radha, the Mother Kali of Sri Ramakrishna or the Shiva of Sundarar. Gods have needed ardent devotees to bring them closer to this world. As such, knowing the Bhakta is not different from knowing the Bhagwan. The devotees who sat inside the temple premises to observe the Mahashivaratri celebrations projected their own individual selves and together created the whole i.e. Shiva who they worshipped. It won’t be a hyperbole then to say that if one believes that this world was created by an almighty force, it was created only to complete that force’s own existence. Without the manifestation of force, one can’t see the force. What does it matter then that the force still exists?


Note – If you are interested, read through the poems of Kavi Vidyapati.  A couple of sources are provided below. Various song-renditions are available on youtube.

Note on 21st February, 2020 (Mahashivaratri) – This rendition is by my mother Smt. Kavita Jha (1973-2019), who absolutely loved singing Vidyapati.

Kaveri Speaks Kannada


It has been only a couple of months since I arrived in the city. I was returning home from office and the bus was plying down NICE road. My heart was thumping in anticipation of something. Others in the bus too would have felt their hearts thump hard against their anxiety-filled faces. The anxiety soon turned into distress when a mob of young men stopped the bus. They were shouting aloud a lot of things. The only word I could hear clearly was Kaveri. The driver tried turning around the bus to head back to office but the young men threatened to pelt stones. The driver got down, spoke to the men in Kannada and tried pacifying them. His pleas fell on deaf ears and a feisty commotion followed outside the bus. But inside there was a dreadful silence. Cars, buses and a lot of other vehicles stood there in silence while the commotion continued. A few minutes later we were all asked to step out of our vehicles. The young men said that they cannot allow our vehicles to go any further. We got down and stood there, lost! The sun was already down and there was a thick dark patch across sky. I thought it must be another one of those mystic cloud painting across the canvas of sky.


It did not take us too long to understand that we were on our own. The emergency helplines were busy and there was no sight of police. No one was coming to rescue us out of the dire situation. We wanted to get away from there before the situation turned any worse. So we decided to walk. As we walked down the long road, I figured out that the dark patch was not the rain cloud but smoke from the fire that was eating up the city. Few meters ahead in the middle of the road there was a truck completely wrecked down by fire. Beside the burning truck I saw a bigger and louder group of young men making merry around the burning truck. We were stopped again. The young men shouted out slogans and demanded that we repeat. We had no choice but to repeat the slogans after them. They asked “Kaveri yarathu?” .We replied “Kaveri namathu”. They cried “Beku Beku”. We replied with a “Kaveri Beku”. I did not know then that this was just the beginning of a long and arduous evening in one of my favourite cities.

As the highway ended and the city came into sight, I saw things that I had never experienced in person in life. Every few meters there was a vehicle on fire. Some were being lit, some still burning, some just burnt out and some in ashes. Every junction of the road was blocked with blazing flames on all sides. The flyovers were breathing fire too. We were redirected through smaller lanes as the main roads were completely engulfed in the flames. In one of those secluded lanes I saw people getting ready with wires, tyres and barrels of fuel for the next round of protests. They were loading fuel in vehicles to transport them across the city. We were stopped every now and then, rattled and bullied for not knowing the vernacular. Strangely enough, more than a good 30% of the protesters were teenagers and more than a 50% in their early twenties. Their eyes seemed to light up with joy at the sight of people who were scared and wanted nothing more than a safe passage to home. At times a few kind hearted men and women suggested that we keep our heads down and mouths shut to get past the fire.

We kept walking because that was the only option available. Metro was shut, city bus services crippled, and every other mode of transport including auto rickshaws and taxis were stalled. Private vehicles were stopped at every few meters and their registration was checked before they were allowed to drive through a fence of fire. People were seen hurrying home without wanting to attract any trouble. There were elderly citizens trying hard to breathe through the smoke, heavily pregnant women catching their breath every now and then, young mothers with their petrified kids cuddled to them, newly-weds with their hands clasped tightly, the differently abled finding their way through the commotion, tired laborers returning home after a long day, the sick hoping for some relief and a lot more. The air that night smelled more of hatred than of smoke.

I had already walked for more than 2 hours without a break along with a friend. Our backs started to break and legs starting to scream out loud in pain. We had sipped the last drop of water from the bottle. I stopped for a minute and looked around. All shops including eateries and pharmacies were shut. There was no food, no water, no emergency medicines and still no police. Home seemed like a long way away. Few minutes later, we stopped by in front of a wedding hall and asked for some water to drink. They were kind enough to give us some juice and a bottle of water. They let us rest there for a while before we started dragging ourselves home. At around 9.30 PM we were at Rajaji nagar. Google Map said 9 more kilometers to go and the night was getting chilly despite all the fire. I was hoping for a miracle. My miracle arrived in the form of a phone call. A friend was coming to pick us up. It was a risky proposition but we had no other go. Cramped in a bike, I looked around and I was instantly reminded of a beautiful picture that used to adorn the walls of my parent’s home.

This picture had been in the house for more than 30 years now. It was a wedding gift to my parents with a personalized note. My father had it framed and let it hang on the wall along with portraits of the family. The colors are now gone and the impressions of the ink are barely visible. That notwithstanding, I have always loved the picture for two reasons. One because that probably is the only wedding gift which survived the times and stayed in the family. Another because that was my first image of the beautiful Bangalore. It was a picture of Vidhan Soudha. I am not sure why their friend chose Vidhan Soudha for a wedding gift but the image was so enticing that I was in love with Bangalore even without visiting it. The stories from uncles, aunts and cousins who visited Bangalore only made it more endearing to me. I had the exact opposite feeling towards Chennai. Now when I think of it, the lack of empathy towards Chennai probably stemmed from the blind love for Bangalore. The first time I visited Bangalore, I could hear my heart thumping hard and racing fast in excitement. It was as if I was finally allowed to have that warm embrace that I had long yearned for. Unlike a lot of other things in life, Bangalore lived up to the tales I had heard about it. It was exactly as I thought it would be. I did learn to love Chennai over the years, but my love for Bangalore never diminished a bit. Every time I visited the city even if I was only passing through it, the city still filled me with some child-like glee and my heart thumped in joy.

The day was the 12th of September 2016. My heart thumped that evening too, only this time it wasn’t in joy but in pain and horror.




A blunder of Poetry – Po’try

Bangalore got its own Poetry Festival this year. Considering the fact that the city has a strong and vibrant poetry community that thrives in the bookstores, cafes, and parks; a poetry festival was in fact due and perhaps should have even come earlier than now. The festival was liked by most of the attendants. I must most sincerely thank the organizers for such a Herculean effort.

There is one more thing that must be spoken about. A book was specially commissioned to be unveiled at the festival. Po’try was released as an anthology of poems that were shortlisted from the entries that were received in response to the poetry contest conducted as part of the festival. The entries were supposed to be in English, Hindi, or Kannada and required the number of lines to be more than 25. Continue reading “A blunder of Poetry – Po’try”

The Master Story Tellers

A few days ago during the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, I was almost done for the day when the Master of Ceremony announced that the next event was going to be a performance by Padma Bhushan Teejan Bai. Only the mention of Padma Bhushan made me stay back. When Teejan Bai began with her Pandavani, I was happy that I stayed back. Although I barely understood the language, she was so fascinating and inspiring with her songs. It was one of those moments when you realize that certain arts are so powerful that they appeal to you breaking through the barriers of language. Continue reading “The Master Story Tellers”

In Conversation with a Neighbourhood Hero

Have you ever wondered how mysterious the game of life is? How something nice happens to you out of nowhere making you feel all charged up and excited. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As I walked through the Church Street of Bengaluru hunting for food, my legs stopped involuntarily in front of this beautiful place. It had a long inviting rack of books put up on display, a sight too tempting to not yield to especially if you are a BookStalkist. The name on the board  read “Bookworm”.

Continue reading “In Conversation with a Neighbourhood Hero”

Love & Romance, Non-Fiction!

If dogs were to control this world, this world would be controlled by dogs. – Charles Dogwin

In his zeal to pack breakfast defying all odds, he had left his debit card at home. By the time he realized, it was too late to return and fetch it and since he didn’t know me then, I couldn’t come to help either. Not that I can help him now but don’t words of solidarity help? Though he had a sumptuous breakfast, he found himself cashless at lunch. He had made up his mind to go without eating and document the results of his experiment. He tried his luck one last time and checked his bag for some cash and what did he find – a 50 rupees note! Quietly he quashed the experimenter inside him and wisely had his lunch. He seemed ready to appear on a TV debate against the mighty-righty Donald Trump to proclaim the real valuation of a 50 rupees note.

Continue reading “Love & Romance, Non-Fiction!”