The Day of the Don’s Son

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How Sunder Shekhar can now call himself the adopted son of Haji Mastan
MUMBAI ~ Haji Mastan, one of Mumbai’s first underworld dons, married twice. He had three daughters from his first wife, and no children from his second. He also raised a boy, Sunder Shekhar, whom he treated and referred to as his son. When he formed a political party, he reportedly asked Shekhar to take it over after his demise.

For the past few years, Mastan’s youngest daughter, Shamshad Supariwala, has been unsuccessfully trying to gain control of the party, formed as Bhartiya Dalit Muslims Minorities in 1989 , later renamed the Bhartiya Minorities Suraksha Mahasangh. When she wasn’t able to dislodge Shekhar, she contested that he was adopted by Mastan. The don had not adopted Shekhar legally.

In 2012, a civil court ruled in Supariwala’s favour. Shekhar appealed the matter in the Bombay High Court. Last year, the court ruled in Shekhar’s favour, stating that he had been ‘orally adopted’.

Seated on a reclining leather seat in his office in a crumbling building in Byculla, Shekhar raises a finger adorned with a gold ring shaped like a snake’s head: “From being the son of Haji Mastan, I was suddenly, with the previous (court) ruling, a nobody.” The 55-year-old is a throwback to the underworld days in Mumbai. He is in an all-white safari suit, surrounded by burly men who titter at every joke of his. Apart from running the party, he claims he does social work and runs a real-estate business.

Shekhar’s biological father died before his birth, his mother at childbirth. He was raised by relatives in Chennai and became a petty criminal. He moved to Mumbai as a kid and came across Mastan. “Just like Mastan, I could speak Tamil. I think it was language that brought us close,” he says. Shekhar did various jobs for Mastan. “He was happy to have a son to carry on his work and renamed me Suleman Mirza. He attended my wedding as my father. When he died, I conducted all the rituals as his son,” he says. “Now I spend almost every day in this office, and not a day passes when I don’t remember him.”