Gangs of Mumbai
The Mumbai mafia has always been looked upon as an elite group in comparison with others across the country. Of course, the romanticism with which it has been portrayed on celluloid by some of the biggest names in the Hindi film industry has done much to add glamour to the underworld.
If photographs speak the truth, then the infamous men who rule the Mumbai mafia are a savvy lot (much like they’ve been portrayed in Bollywood flicks). Time and again, reams have been written on the lifestyles of these ‘bhais’ as well as their tightening grip on Mumbai—despite their misdeeds, the Mumbai mafia has found friends in high places, particularly in Bollywood.
S Hussain Zaidi’s latest book, Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, is a must-read for those fascinated by the underworld. Zaidi, the author of Black Friday (made into a movie by the same name) and Mafia Queens of Mumbai, has made a gigantic effort to chronicle the history of the Mumbai mafia (incidentally, this too is being made into a film, titled Shootout at Wadala, by Sanjay Gupta). This is probably the first attempt by a writer—in this case, an investigative crime journalist—to give readers a first-hand account of the men who made the Mumbai mafia a dreaded group.
The writer’s comprehensive knowledge of the mafia and his experiences reporting on the phenomenon vivifies the city’s sub-culture of crime, giving readers a glimpse of its changing character over the years.
As Zaidi says, Dongri to Dubai is a complex journey. The writer set out to figure out exactly why so many Muslim youngsters from Mumbai have been drawn to crime, and ends up with a narrative that encompasses several milestones in the history of crime in India. Zaidi traces the history and interlinking of smaller gangs with bigger ones, the break-ups, the creation of splinter groups, and the rise and rise of one man, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar.
What makes Dongri to Dubai a truly interesting read are the little known facts and trivia it’s peppered with. Though the subject itself is vast, the book is not a tiring puzzle where the reader loses grip of the central theme. The strength of this book lies in the simplicity of the narrative and language. It is an eye-opener to various events that shaped Mumbai and India, but it does not talk down to the reader.
The foreword by writer Vikram Chandra sums it up well: ‘What we have lacked is a narrative that provides both detail and perspective, that lays out the entire bloody saga of power mongering, money and murder.’
Though it is easy to believe that one has read everything there is to read about Dawood, going through the pages of Dongri to Dubai, one finds that there is simply so much more. For instance, Dawood’s fascination with the White House and the fact that he names all his villas (wherever they may be in the world) just that. Or, how a budding love affair between a younger Dawood and Maria, a receptionist at the American Consulate on Peddar Road, led to a bitter fight between a Christian gang and Dawood’s boys.
The Rampuri chakku (knife) may have been made famous wielded by assorted baddies in Bollywood flicks. In reality, it was the Rampuri gang who, before beating a hasty retreat from the Mumbai crime scene, left behind this relic—a long foldable knife with sharp edges on one side. This lethal knife was Dawood’s first weapon as a neophyte gangster in Mumbai, writes Zaidi.
The author has weaved in numerous stories associated with individual gangsters, thereby lending it a truly local flavour. For the uninitiated, it was Vardarajan Mudaliar who did away with cutting chai (a must-have beverage on the Mumbai crime scene) and replaced it with a cold dark beverage called kaala paani. According to this book, at many police stations across the central belt of Mumbai, the chai-wallah who brought the daily quota of tea several times a day would sometimes walk in with glasses filled with the fizzy cola instead. The black liquid, writes Zaidi, was an encoded message sent to police officials that kaala babu (Mudaliar) was on his way to the police station.
The 378 pages of this book are primarily the story of a boy—Dawood Ibrahim—from Dongri who becomes a don in Dubai. It is an attempt to capture his bravado, cunning, focus, ambition and lust for power in a single gripping narrative. The chapters on Dawood are interesting, but it is this book’s previously unknown information on other ‘greats’ in the annals of Mumbai’s crime scene that elevates it to another level.
In these times, when terrorists have done away with boundaries, does the underworld still hold relevance? Zaidi seems to think the underworld still has a strong hold on the crime scene, though through different tentacles. He is of the opinion that the underworld will never completely die, but there will never be another don like Dawood Ibrahim.