Dongiri to dubai is the first ever attempt to chronicle the history of the Mumbai mafia. It is the story of notorious gangsters like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Varadarajan Mudaliar, Chhota Rajan, Abu Salem, but above all, it is the story of a young man who went astray despite having a father in the police force. Dawood Ibrahim was initiated into crime as a pawn in the hands of the Mumbai police and went on to wipe out the competition and eventually became the Mumbai police's own nemesis.
The narrative encompasses several milestones in the history of crime in India, from the rise of the Pathans, formation of the Dawood gang, the first ever supari, mafia's nefarious role in Bollywood, Dawood's mover to Karachi, and Pakistan's subsequent alleged role in sheltering one if the most wanted persons in the world.
This story is primarily about how a boy from Dongiri became a don in Dubai, and captures his bravado, cunningness, focus, ambition, and lust for power in a gripping narrative. The meticulously researched book provides an in-depth and comprehensive account of the mafia's games of supremacy and internecine warfare.
S. Hassian Zaidi is a Mumbai based journalist, a veteran of investigative, crime, and terror reporting in Mumbai media. He has worked for the Asian Age, Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day, and the Indian Express. His previous books include bestsellers like Black Friday and Mafia Queens of Mumbai. Zaidi is also associate producer for the HBO movie, Terror in Mumbai, based on the 26/11 terror strikes. He lives with his family in Mumbai.
I first met S. Hussain Zaidi in the winter of 1997, when I had just begun writing a novel about the Mumbai underworld. I desperately needed help, and was lucky enough to have a sister who knew Hussain through their shared profession of journalism. So I met up with him at the cheerfully named Bahar restaurant in the Fort area of Mumbai. I asked questions, and Hussain told me stories about greed and corruption, about shooters and their targets, and despite the chill that passed over my skin, I was aware of a rising swell of optimism-this guy was really, really good.
I didn't know that day that S. Hussain Zaidi would become a friend, an extraordinary inside informant about matters relating to crime and punishment, and my guide into the underworld. But that is exactly what happened. Over the next few years, as I wrote my novel, Hussain generously shared with me his vast knowledge, his canny experience, and his host of contacts. I can say with certainty that I would not have been able to write my book without his ever-ready help and advice.
It makes me very happy that Hussain has finished his magnum opus, Dongri to Dubai, so that the general reader can now benefit from his expertise. This book does much more than narrate the saga of one man's rise, it brings alive the entire culture of crime that has grown and formed itself over the last half century in India. And as much as we like to distance ourselves by pretending that the underworld exists quite literally under us, beneath us, the truth as Hussain shows-is that we mingle with it every day. The influence of organised crime reaches into the economy, our polity, and everyday life.
Yet, our knowledge of the intentions and operations of the players on all sides of the law is mostly a mixture of legend and conjecture. Our histories begin with a few names-Haji Mastan, Varadarajan, Karim Lala imbued with dread, and continue with still others Dawood, Chhota Rajan, Abu Salem-haloed with matinee glamour. 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. Dongri to Dubai is that necessary book, and more. It gives us an account that is vast in its scope and yet intimate in its understanding of motive and desire. Hussain moves us from the small gangs of early post-Independence India to the corporatising consolidations of the eighties and through the sanguine street wars of the nineties; we better comprehend our present, with its abiding undercurrent of terror, if we follow the tangled, stranger than-fiction history that puts an Indian gangster in a safe-house in Karachi, with a daughter married to the son of a national celebrity, and his coffers enriched by the bootleg sales of Mumbai movies to Pakistanis.
Anthropologists like to use the phrase 'thick description' to describe an explanation of a behaviour that also includes and explains context, so that the behaviour becomes intelligible to an outsider. For most readers, I think, reading Dongri to Dubai will at first feel like a journey into an alien landscape with a trustworthy, experienced guide; by the end though Hussain has made us see, helped us to comprehend, and we recognise this terrain as our own world, and we understand-but don't necessarily forgive-its inhabitants.
I am grateful for this book. The work that Hussain does is exacting and sometimes dangerous. Reporting about these deadly intrigues and the human beings caught within them is not for the faint of heart; the web stretches from your corner paan-shop to the bleak heights on which the Great Game is played, and there are many casualties. We all profit from Hussain's intrepid investigations.
Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia has been my most complex and difficult project since I took to reporting on crime way back in 1995. The biggest challenge by far has been chronicling the history of the Mumbai underworld and keeping it interesting for lay readers as well as choosing incidents that marked an epoch in the Mumbai mafia.
It was first suggested to me by a friend in 1997, when I was barely a couple of years into crime reporting, that I should try to write about the history of the Mumbai mafia; I was advised to replicate something like Joe Gould's Secret. At the time, I had not even heard of the book; to be honest, I felt it was too colossal a responsibility for someone who was still wet behind the ears.
But having put my ear to the ground for Black Friday, I felt ready for a bigger challenge. Initially, I set out to find out why so many Muslim youngsters from Mumbai were drawn to crime. Was it the aura of Dawood lbrahim or was it economic compulsion that drew them? That was the question with which I started. And somewhere along the way, I ended up doing what my friend had asked me to do initially.
When I set off on the story from Dongri, the metaphor was not lost on my friends. Am I guilty of linking members of a particular religion with Crime? Unlike in the US, where exhaustive studies have been conducted on race and crime and their correlation, if any, there has been no serious debate or study on the causes that made Muslims prone to following a life of crime in the last fifty years.
When I say Dongri, it is not just the area that starts from Mandvi near Zakaria Masjid but from Crawford Market to the end of JJ Hospital, covering Null Bazaar, Umerkhadi, Chor Bazaar, Kamathipura, and all the interweaving cloth and retail markets and masjids.
Tracing the history of Mumbai, historian and researcher Sharada Dwivedi writes that the area was once a flatland and Dongri was a hill; there used to be a Portuguese fort here that the British took over and fortified. But before the British started reclaiming the land, the fort area was a low-lying area below the rocky heights of Dongri, which provided easy access to the sea. Muslim settlers are known to have lived in the higher lands near the present day Chakala Market, and in Dongri, from as far back as the fourteenth century.
The eastern part of Bombay island was predominantly Muslim dominated for a long time, and remains so even today. After the seven islands were linked, Dongri got a life of its own. The chaos around it happened gradually; with access to the markets, commerce thrived and so did the population. Traffic is a mess, the pavements have been taken over by hawkers, pedestrians spill onto the streets, and the place is always bustling with activity. To the west of Dongri is the Chor Bazaar (literally meaning 'thieves' market') where you can get everything from old wardrobes discarded by Parsi households to antiques, gramophones, and other curios.
Long before Dawood changed the way Dongri is perceived today, others who had walked the hall of fame and notoriety in the Dongri area were Chinka Dada, Ibrahim Dada, Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, and Baashu Dada.
In those days, the easiest crime was to accost late night travellers and relieve them of their valuables. The art of pickpocketing was yet to be learnt and perfected. But the wielding of the shiny blade of a knife, sword, or chopper was enough to send shivers down the spine of the peace-loving residents of Bombay, as it was known back then. Every little crime was reported with flourish by the British journalists. One of them, Alfred W. Davis alias Gunman, who reported on crime for the Blitz, was a legend. A reporter who flowered under his tutelage was Usman Gani Muqaddam. Usman was known for his diligent news gathering and investigative skills. After extensive interviews with Usman Gani and other veteran crime reporters and my own research, I gathered that Dongri had always been the epicentre of crime in Mumbai.
In the nineties two things happened in India that changed the fortunes of the mafia in Mumbai. When I was writing about the Mumbai mafia back then, it had been a decade since Dawood had left its shores. Three years earlier Dawood had emerged as a key player in the serial blasts of Mumbai in March 1993. It was also at this time that Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao woke up to release the country from the grip of the Licence Raj and ushered in the liberalisation of the Indian economy. When the Indian perestroika happened, it released a flood of economic opportunities and the first to smell the potential profit was the mafia, by then already entangled with Bollywood.
Suddenly there were so many real estate opportunities. There was talk of mill land sales. At the time, the many mills in Bombay were closing down fast, which meant that there was a whole lot of land in the real estate business to play around with. The only surviving mafia don at the time in Mumbai, Arun Gawli, spent most of his time behind bars. Ashwin Naik was absconding and Dawood was still in remote control mode in Dubai. His brother Anees Ibrahim was more active on the ground. And then there was the breakaway Abu Salem. Chhota Rajan had broken off with Dawood and anointed himself a Hindu don. Both were baying for each other's blood and in the intermediate period were busy bumping off each other's business associates in broad daylight. If it was the now defunct East West Airlines chief Thakiyuddin Wahid one day then it was builder Om Prakash Kukreja another day. The Mumbai police were blushing at the horrific body count. One police commissioner even recommended llsing hockey sticks for the public to defend itself. It was a great time to be a crime reporter.
Although I had missed out on the earlier generation that saw Dawood actually emerge as a don, I was there for the part of the action that resulted in the meltdown of the Mumbai mafia. As I wrote their stories, taking swipes at them, describing their hidden dens and their networks, their interests, their women, their colourful lives, their hold over Bollywood and real estate deal-meddling, I met with the dons themselves to hear their stories firsthand and set them down. So there was a meeting with Arun Gawli, the don from Dagdi Chawl in south Mumbai at the Harsul Central jail in Aurangabad. I spoke to Chhota Rajan, who was spitting fire at Dawood, his one-time friend and benefactor, who was holed away in southeast Asia; then I spoke to Dawood's Man Friday Chhota Shakeel and, of course, Abu Salem and Ashwin Naik. As a crime reporter, however, my repertoire would not be complete until I had interviewed the one man who had left the shores of Mumbai but still held sway over his city from afar.
By then, of course, everybody was writing about Dawood but access to him had trickled away. Although Dawood had given interviews to journalists before 1993, he had simply vanished off the media radar after 1995. Dawood had just relocated to Karachi at this time and was virtually inaccessible on the phone.
I decided to take the second best option. I began working on Shakeel's Mumbai network: his hawala operators, gang managers, and other contacts. Within a few months, I was one of the first journalists to crack a hotline to Chhota Shakeel.
Eventually I asked Chhota Shakeel to set up an interview with Dawood. Soon after, T-Series music baron Gulshan Kumar was killed by Abu Salem, who was by then operating on his own. But Chhota Shakeel did not want any part ~f the blame to fall on Dawood, as his boss was not responsible for Kumar's death, Salem was. So finally Dawood Ibrahim did agree to an interview. The terms for the interview were set: I would publish Dawood's interview without any distortion and I would not contact the man who had led me to Dawood any more. A big price to pay.
Art & Culture (744)
Emperor & Queen (484)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend