M D Riti
All the CM's men
All the CM's men

Whenever I met H D Deve Gowda when he was Karnataka's chief minister, my brother would know about it even before my editor did. That was because Deve Gowda's cardiologist son-in-law Manjunath and my paediatrician brother practised together at the same nursing home.

Now, my five-year-old daughter Amala knows just when I am to meet Chief Minister S M Krishna almost before I myself do! This, of course, is because she carpools to nursery school with Krishna's grandson Ishan Hegde, son of the CM's elder son-in-law Siddhartha Hegde.

Sons-in-law, by the way, are of great public interest in Karnataka again now, because Krishna has no sons, only two daughters. One thing that all chief ministers' sons-in-law seem to do is claim that they have nothing to do with politics. In most cases, though, this is far from true.

The earliest example of this was M D Nataraj, son-in-law of the late Devaraj Urs whose driver-cum-bodyguard Kotwal Ramachandra became the first underworld don of some stature in Karnataka. Much later, there was Ramakrishna Hegde, whose son-in-law Manoharlal Nichani was said to be the man behind the land scandals that plagued Hegde when he was in power.

Manubhai was someone we knew right from school because he was my classmate Shirali's elder brother. "Drop me off at my friend's house, will you?" he would ask casually of a visiting schoolmate.

None of us gawky adolescents were impressed when we discovered his destination was Ramakrishna Hegde's house: politicians, to the anglicised Bangalore schoolgirl, were the lowest form of terrestrial life.

Siddhartha Hegde, Krishna's eldest son-in-law, is possibly the most media-shy business tycoon in Bangalore today. I tried my best to persuade him for an interview, but had to make a sacrifice before I could manage it -- to Amala, the bane of my peaceful existence.

"You want to interview my friend's father?" the bane asked. "I'll ask my boyfriend to fix it up for you. Or you can do it over tea at his birthday party. I'll have you put on the list for that!"

And so it was that the business tycoon and I talked, over a steaming cup of coffee at his home, while his son cut his birthday cake in the next room. The trade-off? Amala gets to fulfil her ambition and wear a miniskirt at her fifth birthday party next month!

"I am 100 per cent sure that Shivu uncle is throwing a big party today," said the bane the following week, with a wink. 'Shivu uncle', to her, was Kannada movie superstar Shivaraj Kumar. "Can we drive past and see if we can spot any fans on the footpath?"

We did. And found not fans, but an ex-chief minister stepping out of his car to greet his star son-in-law on the day he turned 40. Shivaraj was, after all, married to maverick politician S Bangarappa's daughter Geetha.

But it is definitely dear old cardiologist friend Dr Manjunath who is the ultimate in low-key living. When his father-in-law Deve Gowda was busy holding forth from the prime minister's quarters in Delhi, I would visit the good doctor with various ailing family members at a rundown consulting room in one of Bangalore's more downmarket nursing homes. And he would still chat as easily as ever, provided you did not embarrass him by mentioning his political connections.

Even as Deve Gowda's sons took over the chief minister's official residence in Bangalore, set up shop in his prime ministerial office in Delhi and so on, you could still see Manjunath driving around Bangalore in his beat-up old car. No Black Cat commandos or security for him.

The first glimpse I caught of another former chief minister's son-in-law was when he was dancing in a music video! At that point in time, Anand Adkoli probably never expected to marry Veerappa Moily's daughter.

Actually, Adkoli is neither a music-maker nor a professional dancer, but the co-founder of a high-profile IT start-up in Bangalore, a sizeable chunk of which is owned, interestingly enough, by Siddhartha Hegde. Ramana Gogula, the man who is now Adkoli's partner in the start-up, made the video.

Interestingly, chief ministers of Karnataka have taken pains to ensure that they do not marry their daughters to upcoming politicians from their own parties. After all, they don't want to play N T Rama Rao to an aspiring Chandrababu Naidu!

Politicians, if you still haven't guessed, are not Riti's favourite people.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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