OYE BUNTY! BUNTY OYE

Editor's Note:Bunty, the legendary thief, is back after a short stint as a reformed private detective. He cut through bullet proof glass, sophisticated alarm and remote controlled systems and broke through to steal a luxury car in Kerala- one of his favourite obsessions. We reproduce this profile of 'Bunty Chor' first carried in Hardnews September 2010.

Akash Bisht Delhi

A heavy downpour in the Katwaria Sarai market of south Delhi brought life to a standstill. Not a soul could be seen on the road around this urban village that usually has people roving like wild ants on a forest floor. After a long wait, the rain stops and the market returns to its usual bustle.

Out of one of these shops emerges a legend from the world of crime who had so romanticised theft and burglary that he turned into some kind of a superstar with his bold, superbly intelligent and enigmatic burglaries that captured the 'pulp imagination' of millions. Meet Bunty Chor (Bunty, the Thief) - indeed, he desperately hates the sticky suffix added to his name. Dipakar Banerjee's hit Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! is apparently inspired by the life and times of Bunty. 

Dressed in a bright orange tee, faded denim and a Nike cap, he exudes supreme confidence and sports a warm smile. For the first few moments he is quiet; then, he mumbles, "Where should we sit?" Pointing towards a Chinese restaurant, he says that's the only place around where "we can talk in peace".

Uncertain, he politely turns down the menu card offered by the waiter and asks for an orange juice. "They also serve alcohol, but I have left alcohol. It hampers my thought process. Whatever I do, I prefer doing it in sanity," he says. Bunty has bright, dancing eyes. He shuts his eyes and goes into a trance, "I have this special gift of premonition. If I know someone, I can meditate and find out what that particular person is doing. I am like Sanjay of Mahabharata." (Sanjay could literally see and talk about events long distance.) 

When he was a kid, Bunty aspired to work in army intelligence or as a detective. "I always had the urge to do something that involved hiding one's identity and working on secret projects... We lived in Vikaspuri in west Delhi; I was born in a god-fearing Sikh family." He feels pain as he remembers his troubled childhood - his father who used to beat him up quite badly. This led to tension between the two and it hasn't been settled till date.

Bunty's narrative is without pauses. He jumps from one flashback to another: Rajwati, the Muslim girl, his childhood love. "We lived in the same neighbourhood. I fondly remember her and sometimes miss her too." He abruptly ends the love story and vigorously stirs the straw in the glass. Islam is being ostracised, he feels. "Every religion is good, most of my friends are Muslims and I never liked the way the world talks about them. I had lots of Muslim friends in jail and they were very nice and kind to me."

I am listening. He is incoherent. His father comes back: "Till the sixth grade, things were fine. Once he came back from Iran, where he worked as a foreman, he made life hell for us. When in the seventh grade, I decided to run away from home." Suddenly, all animated and with child-like gusto, he narrates how as little "tender" kid he traveled all the way to Vaishno Devi all alone - without a ticket and with little money. Then, surprisingly, he moved on to Kashmir. "I always fantasised about playing and sleeping on heaps of snow."

Once in Srinagar, he rented a houseboat for a couple of days. It was here that he dropped the Sikh turban and cut his hair short. Soon out of money, he began worrying. With a wicked smile, he says, "Since childhood, I was called a smooth talker, a jugaadu; so I decided to use my charm on a mother and daughter from Safdarjung Enclave in Delhi who were holidaying in Kashmir." He cast his spell on the duo that helped his return to Delhi.

Back home, his father was infuriated with his new looks and asked him to leave and never come back. An outraged Bunty left in fury and took a bus to Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh - his fascination for the hills and snow is deeply embedded in his stories. In Manikaran, he stayed at a gurudwara and did kar sewa (service). A happy-go-lucky young fellow with a jovial nature, local farmers gave him a job - to look after the crops and save them from wild boars and deers. "I would stay awake the entire night to ensure that no wild animal came close to the harvest. I was given a gun that had to be filled with gunpowder before firing. I would fire in the air to scare away the animals. I would also take care of the cows - cleaning, feeding, milking them."

Bunty was enjoying  this pastoral life in the lap of the hills. He had no wish to return. Then he met a CID officer who told him to go back home. Reason: the Khalistan movement had spread its tentacles across Punjab and Bunty, being a Sikh, and living alone in a gurudwara, might raise suspicion.

With nowhere else to go, Bunty began his journey back to Delhi. "Hungry, I absolutely had no idea what to do and how to fill my stomach." Wandering through the streets of Patel Nagar in Delhi, he came across a palatial house. Nobody noticed him as he entered the house. He headed straight for the refrigerator. "A childhood lesson: mother keeps food in the fridge and money in the almirah. So once I had my fill, I went to the bedroom and saw the keys dangling from the almirah, I took away all the cash and valuables that I could lay my hands on." 

That is the historic moment when Devender Singh (his real name) died, and Bunty Chor was unleashed in this world.

Managing to steal a handful, Bunty headed to the famous restaurant, Karim's in Old Delhi, where he gorged on mutton qorma and naans. "I can still feel the taste of that perfectly cooked mutton, it was one of the best meals of my life," he says. Same evening, he stumbled upon a guy in a bar who was hell bent on buying the watch that Bunty had stolen. "He offered me Rs 2 lakh for it, but I didn't sell it," he says. For a sharp mind like Bunty's, it was not difficult to comprehend that the watch was worth much more. He was right. A shopkeeper told him that it's a Rolex, an expensive watch. He never sold the watch.

He remembers a trip to Singapore as a kid where they bought loads of goodies and clothes. "If my dad would have given me my passport, I would have gone to China to work in some factory as I know how to fix electrical circuits and computer parts." Thoughts of police catching up petrified him and that's how he stumbled upon the idea of moving to China. 

A compulsive traveller, Bunty went to the Himachal hills with the "heist" and spent the next couple of months in luxury. In Manikaran, he met the love of his life. "I was watching the shooting of Sanjay Dutt's Tehelka when I met this girl. She was studying medicine. We instantly fell in love and stayed together in a hotel for many days." 

This is the time foreign tourists became his pals. He quickly learnt to speak English. It was in Manikaran that Bunty's new found love stumbled upon the idea of getting into the lucrative diamond business. She persuaded him to join her and move to South Africa. The plan never materialised. "She was a beautiful maniac and so was I. She would put bhaang leaves in everything she ate, pluck the leaves and eat them, make pakoras and tea out of them," he speaks like a man madly in love.

In 1993, when police caught up with Bunty, she left him to his fate and broke the only relationship which he thought would last forever. He is still heartbroken, crying and longing for her, sleepless in the nights. He will not tell her name, as if it is too precious a memory, or that it will be soiled if uttered. "Once heartbroken, I only found solace in burglary." 

This could well be the reason of the strange choice of things he stole: a fancy dog, wrist watches, luxury cars, music systems, sunglasses, artefacts, antiques, carpets, family pictures, utensils, crystals, whiskey, clothes, emergency lights, fans, soft toys, paintings, et al. Bunty acknowledges that several versions of his life are floating and even he is confused about the real one. After his arrest in 1993, Bunty gave police a slip and ran away from the office of the Special Cell in Delhi. He was again arrested in Chennai where he ate glass pieces in judicial custody and forced jail authorities to admit him in a government hospital. With the help of an empty syringe, he once freed himself from the handcuffs, filmy style.

In 1994, Bunty was lodged in Chandigarh jail where he would threaten the jail warden with new, whacky, out-of-the-box ideas of escaping jail. Tired of his tirades, one day the warden said, okay, tell me one such idea. Says Bunty, "I told him, there are so many hand pumps in the prison compound and all of them have long iron rods that run deep in the ground. I would take out one of those, turn it on one end and climb the wall with its help." 

He is happy as he remembers the episode. The warden ordered the pumps to be removed immediately from the compound. "I blackmailed the warden to get my favourite audio tapes and a special screening of Khalnayak," he says. Incidentally, he is a die-hard fan of Sanjay Dutt of Bollywood.

There are other stories. Bunty had taken the cops into confidence in Chandigarh. One fateful night, he arranged for bottles of Green Label whiskey and chicken. The cops went on a drinking spree and passed out. "Early morning, I went to brush my teeth when I realised that one of the scooters had its keys intact. Two policemen guarding the gate asked me where I was headed to. I told them that I need some cigarettes and zoomed off," he bursts into a laugh. Ironically, Bunty ran away only 13 days before he was to be released from the prison. "I just didn't feel like staying there for a day more," he says.  

Nostalgic and ecstatic about his escapades, he proclaims, "Except for one police officer, everyone else who handled my case has been suspended." He narrates with some guilt how domestic guards lost their jobs after his burglaries. "A man once shot dead his German Shepard after I burgled their house," he says, with grief. 

After escaping from Chandigarh, Bunty went to Bangalore where he was again arrested. "The judge was so scared that he instructed that I must be shifted to Belgaum since I could run away from Bangalore," says Bunty. In Bangalore, Bunty met Vikram who became his accomplice. "So that my demands were met, I would tell the warden that I am missing my girlfriend and hence would run away from jail. He would arrange for whatever I needed so that I would complete my jail term. He was scared of losing his job," he says. 

Out of Belgaum prison in 2000, he headed back to Delhi where he and Vikram went on a burglary spree. He told Hardnews that he would usually target posh colonies of south Delhi due to his love for luxury cars. His modus operandi: Survey the area for several days. When convinced, enter the house as if he is a member of the household. So that the cops or security guards are not alerted, he would wear expensive tracksuits and shoes, and hold a tennis racquet every morning while surveying the area. "This didn't raise suspicion as they all thought I was one of them."

Once planning to burgle a house, he stole a car similar to that of the owner and even got it fitted with the same number plate. Outside the house, he honked and the gatekeeper quickly opened the door and let the car in. Inside, he met the maid in the living room. He told her to get him a glass of hot milk while he went to the bedroom and stole whatever he could lay his hands on. Meanwhile, the maid arrived with a glass of milk, he drank the milk and left without anyone even taking notice of the theft.

Bunty didn't own any identity proof so he asked Vikram to handle his money. Bunty says that he gave him a lot of money and he now owns a plush restaurant in Noida. Vikram abandoned Bunty after he was caught. "I will take the money back at the right time. I am not worried about that," he says.  

Such was his finesse, intelligence, stunningly original tricks and panache that even the cops began calling him super chor and would endlessly narrate stories of his "various burglaries and escapes". A certain bravado and enigma came to be attached to his name. Bunty became an urban legend. Some of his stories became part of the hit film, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! by Dibakar Banerjee. "I was an ATM thief, I would burgle from wherever and whenever. A reporter even approached me for a book that she wanted to write on my life. I declined. All those details would stir a hornet's nest and I might end up in jail forever," he says with a grin. 

Police records show that Bunty had amassed wealth in crores and was involved in more than 500 cases of theft. A police officer mentioned that Bunty was addicted to theft as he had no other skill and sometimes would just do a crime to "pass time". "He is unlike other criminals. He is very smart, but at the same time carries a certain innocence around his image. He would never use foul language and was honest in accepting what he did. That made him acceptable to many people," says the officer.  Bunty drops names of hardened criminals who have been facing sentences in prison. "I know Manu Sharma, Mukhtar Ansari, Shahabuddin, Vikas Yadav, Aftab Ansari, Ashfaq Mohammed and many others." He also knows Afzal Guru. 

"I was even contacted for bombing hotels in Mumbai because Ratan Tata didn't pay Dawood. I refused. I know the who's who of the crime industry and vice versa." 

"My sentence would have been much lesser if I had not fled on several occasions," he says. Free from all charges, Bunty is now a free man and has big plans of living life the "right, truthful and honest way". He got a job at a detective agency with the recommendation of his nemesis and mentor, Rajinder Singh, SHO, Delhi Police. Rajinder Singh was responsible for sending Bunty to prison; and yet, he helped him when he was in dire straits, helping him to set up his new life. 

'Detective Bunty' now wants a wife who would be his life-companion and family in this new journey of a good and honest life. His family too is happy that he is starting afresh. "Bunty Chor is dead and Bunty minus the suffix has come back to life. I am sure all of you will give me a chance," he says, his eyes dancing and serious at the same time, his intelligent smile lingering into the sunshine which has arrived after the rain.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2010