Hundreds of people came out on Wednesday afternoon to pay their last respects to Café Coffee Day (CCD) founder and top boss V.G. Siddhartha, whose body was kept at the CCD head office in Chikmagalur.
Siddhartha’s body was recovered on Wednesday morning around 6.30am by local fishermen from the backwaters of the Netravathi river.
The queue of people trudging up to the decorated pandal cut across all strata of the society—from coffee estate workers and littérateurs to swamis and politicians, including Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa.
The body was moved in the evening to his estate in Mudigere, about 30km away, for the last rites.
The family had requested privacy and barred the media.
Siddhartha’s wife, Malavika, and their two sons, along with his father-in-law and former CM S.M Krishna and his wife, Prerna, were present to pay their respects for the last time. People came in droves to bid a tearful farewell to the man who considered the 30,000 employees who were part of his business empire—from coffee estates and factories and hospitality, to IT and financial services—his family.
“People in and around the region always considered working for Siddhartha as a great opportunity, even better than a government job," said Manju Chetan, an HR manager in one of the resorts run by Siddhartha. Chetan, along with three other colleagues, were in Mangaluru throughout the search operation praying for his return.
The 36-hour suspense following Siddhartha’s mysterious disappearance ended around 6.30am when fishermen found his body in the backwaters near Hoige Bazaar. The dead body was sent to the Wenlock government hospital for post-mortem.
District medical officer Dr K. Rajeshwari said that the post-mortem report is expected on Thursday.
Siddhartha went missing on Monday evening—he had told his driver that he wanted to take a stroll, but did not return even after an hour.
He was suspected to have jumped off the bridge on the Netravathi river. Subsequently, search operations began early on Tuesday morning near Mangaluru.
Café Coffee Day traces its roots to the IT hub of Bengaluru, where Siddhartha started the café network in 1996 with a single store.
On Wednesday, nearly everyone from the coffee industry in Karnataka was in Chikmagalur, a reminder of the 1990s, when Siddhartha led their fight from the front to be freed of government regulation on pricing and procurement, which helped turn around the coffee trade.
“We have 50,000 members and he was the richest. All the growers are tense by this incident. All are curious to know what’s going on and why this has happened to him," said Theertha Mallesh, president of Karnataka Grower’s Federation. Some members of the coffee growers’ apex body had performed a pooja through Tuesday at the Sakaleswara temple, nearly 100km away from Mangaluru, for his return.
“He was a religious man. He believed in God’s judgement as much in his self-esteem. Maybe he did something wrong, maybe he didn’t want to bend down before anyone," said a seer who knew Siddhartha for the past 40 years, requesting anonymity.
M. Raghuram from Mangaluru contributed to this story.