MANGALURU/UDUPI: Bhaskar Shetty, who rose to prosperity after migrating to Saudi Arabia 30 years ago, suddenly went missing from his home near Udupi on July 28. News soon broke that he had been murdered by his wife and son, and his body burnt in a homa kunda, a 2x2 feet furnace used to conduct fire rituals, with the help of a priest. It was a macabre end to the life of a much-liked man.
Bhaskaranna, as people called him, was devout, and performed puja regularly at his house in Indrali, a township abutting the busy Udupi-Manipal road. He had named the palatial house Eshwari, in honour of the goddess to whose grace he attributed his success. The hotel he ran in Udupi is called Durga International.
When he was in India, Shetty (52) stayed at the hotel, and made a daily visit to his house, where he took a bath and sat praying. He never slept or ate at Eshwari, where his wife Rajeshwari (45) and son Navneeth (20) lived. Friends and relatives say he had been brooding and withdrawn in the last few months. His dejection had a lot to do with what was happening within his family, they say. He had differences with his wife and son. It is said Rajeshwari and son Navneeth, both now behind bars, once assaulted Shetty in his hotel.
Close relatives, who were privy to the family’s conflicts, say Shetty had decided to bequeath his properties, said to be worth about `300 crore, to his mother and brother, leaving his wife and son out of the will. This, according to investigators, prompted Rajeshwari and Navneeth to plot his murder.
When the bonds broke
In happier times, with his business thriving in Saudi Arabia, Shetty had asked Rajeshwari to run the hotel in Udupi. At some point, it occurred to him Rajeshwari was fudging accounts. An enraged Shetty questioned Rajeshwari, and she allegedly tried to burn the documents implicating her. It is said Shetty tried to stop her, and Navneeth attacked him.
That day, he decided his relationship with his wife and son was over. Other worries too cropped up. He couldn’t find his passport and was grounded in Udupi, frustrated about his inability to attend to pressing business matters in Saudi Arabia.
Friends recall how the soft-spoken Shetty, who hailed from a poor family, toiled to build his fortunes. Vishalakshi from Adi Udupi, who knew his family, recalls, “His mother Gulabi used to rake dry leaves for layering on the dung in cow sheds. She and her husband Sheenappa Shetty raised their children against huge odds.” For a while, Sheenappa Shetty ran a small eatery at Katapadi, near Udupi, and young Bhaskar was his handy man.
A difficult climb
It was only after Bhaskar Shetty went abroad that he acquired financial stability. He married off his sisters and got overseas jobs for his nephews. Guruprasad Shetty, son of Bhaskar Shetty’s eldest sister Sushila, is all praise for his uncle. “For some time, he worked as a mechanic in Mumbai. There, he made a friend who referred him for a job in the Middle East,” he says.
Once in Saudi Arabia, Shetty opened a supermarket with a partner. The business expanded, and it is now a chain of six supermarkets. He later took his three brothers to Saudi Arabia. In fact, Shetty found jobs in that country for at least 40 people from Udupi. His son Navneeth began schooling in Saudi Arabia. His wife Rajeshwari lived with him there for 20 years before moving to Udupi five years ago. Navneeth is a body builder and roamed the streets with his friends, entertaining them lavishly. Shetty had cautioned him several times over his lifestyle.
According to relatives, Shetty suspected that his wife and a priest-astrologer, Niranjan Bhat alias Asranna, were having an affair. Bhat (26), who has been arrested, had come into the picture when Rajeshwari sought his help to end the discord with her husband. He allegedly used the homa kunda at his house in Nandalike village to burn the businessman’s body. According to sources, Bhat, during interrogation, has admitted to his role in the murder. Shetty was killed in his home and the ashes were dumped in a river, Bhat has reportedly told the investigators.
Over three years, as he gained proximity to Shetty’s family, Bhat’s lifestyle changed. He went about in a chauffeur-driven car, took up a posh apartment in Udupi, and was often splurging. After his arrest, he allegedly attempted suicide by swallowing ear studs and a ring. He was hospitalised in Manipal.
ASP Sumana, who is the investigating officer, says investigation is on the right track. “Accused Niranjan Bhat has explained how the crime took place. The crucial DNA analysis is under process. A piece of bone retrieved by police and believed to be of Bhaskar Shetty will help us,” she said.
Shetty was a self-made man, who built a business empire from scratch. But in the end, it was his wealth that proved to be his enemy.