Once dreaded Mafia don Sadhu Shetty told me ' look, we the Bunts are the only caste, who are into everything. We are really great. Nobody can match the Shettys and Rai s, Hegdes and Choutas '. The Police killed Sadhu Shetty a few days later. But he was right. When it comes to taking up challenges and doing impossible things, only a few can match the Bunts.
Cinema to Mafia, writing to acting, medicine, engineering to law, hotel to banking.... Bunts are everywhere.
Two Bunts are making news all over the country these days. Shilpa Shetty's journey from tears to triumph in the Celebrity Big Brother show and Aishwarya Rai's engagement with Bachchan's beta have created a sensation in the country. Perhaps Sadhu Shetty knew that one day Shilpa Shetty would become the don of a reality TV show in England, when he told me that they are invincible!
With the victory of Shilpa Shetty, the Bunts of Udupi and Mangalore in my state Karnataka, have achieved one more impossible thing.
The beautiful coastal Karnataka has produced three vibrant communities Udupi Brahmins of famous Udupi hotels, Bunts of the Earth (Shettys, Rai s, Hegdes and Choutas) and Bankers of the coast (Konkani Saraswat Brahmins - Kamats, Pai s, Shenoy s).
Success, money, name, beauty and fame are not new to Bunts. As they proudly say ' East or West, Bunts are the Best '... They literally rule many fields in Mumbai. Adlabs Manmohan Shetty, BCCI s Ratnakar Shetty, Sandeep Chouta of music, poet, writer Manohar Shetty, Sharad Shetty (gunned down by Dawood's men in Dubai) of a Rs. 3000 crore worth Cricket betting racket and many more.
Who will forget fighter Shetty, the bald headed Hindi cinema villain of 70's and 80s !?
Not many know that Shilpa's father Bailooru Surendra Shetty was a model in Kolkata during the good old black and white advertisement days! He even managed a role for himself in a Hindi movie! His tryst with cinema ended there. His daughter is now making up for the loss!
But, the name this community made in the Bollywood is really a miracle. Not a single movie worth naming, both Aishwarya and Shilpa have made name. They are now more popular than the most of the popular and successful stars. Being strong believers in astrology, they may attribute it to their stars...!
Shilpa's parents had visited their family temples in Udupi and Mangalore to seek the divine blessings just a few days before the racist remarks made her an instant celebrity in some parts of the World. Aishwarya's parents are still touring the temples in their native place!
Most of the temples and astrologers in Karnataka are terribly busy entertaining Shilpa and Aishwarya's relatives these days. If a Bunt decides to do something in any part of the world, he or she will make a compulsory visit to temples back home to fill the donation box and pockets of the priests!
After Shilpa Shetty's millions of pound haul in England, some temple authorities in Udupi and Mangalore are excited. They are expecting a windfall, when the parents of Bunt beauty visit them next time!
Bunts - an " exotic " name that always reminds me of the Bantus of Africa, do not speak Kannada as their mother tongue; they speak Tulu, a language without script. In addition, the Bunts follow the matrilineal system - wherein the family name and land is passed down through the daughters. Now, you know why Aishwarya and Shilpa's moms do all the talking, while their dads stay indoors!
Bunts were an influential community in Karnataka. Like Aishwarya Rai and Shilpa Shetty many of them are now influential elsewhere. And, unlike the two Bunt beauties and the Bunt brawn Suniel Shetty, many are still here - and shining not in reflected glory alone.
In the early 1970s, D Devaraj Urs, the Congress chief minister of Karnataka, vigorously implemented land reforms and in the then South Canara district - now split into Dakshina Kannada and Udupi - the landowning Bunts bore the brunt of the dramatic social change.
"We no longer feel bad about what happened to the community under Devaraj Urs. Perhaps, but for the shock treatment, the community would have lagged behind in education and business. In hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise for us to come out of the village and successfully compete in today's world," say many Bunts.
As the tiller became the owner of land, the Bunts ceased to be the centre of rural power and lost their traditional hold over political and administrative level.
Mumbai, a thousand miles away, was where the Bunts quietly went almost in an exodus to educate themselves and pursue careers in business - glamour and other kinds.
Three decades after the Urs-administered shock, the Bunts have undergone a complete social transformation. They are now the most successful businessmen, film artists, doctors, bankers, hoteliers and other enterprises, not only in the region, but also across the country, particularly in Mumbai.
A large number are settled abroad - businessmen, doctors and engineers making a great success as professionals in the US, the UK and the Gulf.
The Bunts are now celebrating their comeback as a dominant social and economic power.
Aishwarya Rai and Shilpa Shetty are now basking in the fawning attention of the entire country, which feted them as symbols of the Bunts' (also new Indian youth!) arrival in the much bigger national and international arena.
Not a small achievement for a community, whose population is less than 30 lakhs!
Truly, Bunts of the Earth!
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