Sunday, 10 June 2012
Book Review: Dongri to Dubai – Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, by S. Hussain Zaidi
For the first time, we have a book which provides a comprehensive account of the growth and development of the mafia in Mumbai. Starting with men like Nanhe Khan, Wahab Pehelwan and the three Johnny brothers from Byculla to Mastan Hairder Mirza, later called Haji Mastan, to Varadarajan Mudaliar, to various Pathan gangsters like Karim Lala and finally, the ultimate don, Dawood Ibrahim, veteran journalist Hussain Zaidi’s book Dongri to Dubai tells the stories of these violent men in a manner never done before by any writer. Dawood Ibrahim, the boy from Dongri who now lives in Dubai, is the undoubted star of the cast. Some of the details are of course well known – that Haji Mastan and Varadaraja Mudaliar were Tamil immigrants who came to Mumbai to do menial labour, that Dawood Ibrahim’s father was a police constable, that Haji Mastan produced a few Bollywood movies with a social message, that many Bollywood movies were funded by the mafia who coerced actors to work with them etc. Many others sub-stories – such as the tale of Mandakini (born as Yasmin Joseph) who was seen with Dawood Ibrahim at a cricket match in Sharjah, the attempt by Chhota Shakeel’s men on Chhota Rajan while he was based in Bangkok (immortalised in Ram Gopal Varma’s Company), Gulshan Kumar’s murder etc – revived old memories.
One good thing about Dongri to Dubai is that it contains a fair amount of intelligent analysis in addition to a tonne of facts and information. We are told that Dawood Ibrahim, whose roots go back to Ratnagiri in south of Maharashtra, became powerful after the police decided to use him to whittle the power of various Pathan gangsters. Zaidi’s style of writing is an interesting mix of matter-of-fact narration, flowery descriptions and dramatic dialogues, reconstructed from the writer’s imagination I assume. While describing how the Mumbai police decided to prop up Dawood Ibrahim to fight Pathan power, Zaidi recreates a conversation between Senior Police Inspector Ranbeer Likha and journalist Mohammad Iqbal Natiq. As Ranbeer Likha cribs about the troubles caused by the Pathan mafia, Iqbal Natiq replies, ‘Sahab, Sholay.’ ‘Sholay?! Have you lost your mind Iqbal?’ Likha asks. ‘You use iron to combat iron,’ Iqbal Natiq counsels Likha, using those immortal lines from Sholay.
Though Dongri to Dubai is a work of non-fiction and sounds authentic enough, at times I caught myself wondering how much of it is true. For example, a few pages after reading an elaborate and flowery account of how Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Sabir was murdered by a team of rival gangsters headed by one Manya Surve in a scene reminiscent of Sonny Corleone’s murder in the Godfather, we are told that ‘legend has it that Manya was the master strategist in the Sabir Ibrahim Kaskar killing.’ There was at least one other instance where I felt that Zaidi either contradicted himself or did not covey his views clearly. We are told that Dawood Ibrahim’s father Ibrahim Kaskar, a police constable, was always an honest man, though he was surrounded by friends who had ties to the gangster Baashu Dada. When Dawood and his brother Sabir carried out their first serious robbery, Papa Kaskar flogged them till they were half-dead and forced them to return the money. One day Ibrahim Kaskar was suspended from his job, for reasons which Zaidi tells us, are not very clear. Zaidi tells us that Ibrahim Kaskar then started working for Baashu Dada, doing minor errands etc., but still remained honest. Maybe Zaidi feels it is possible to be honest even when working for the mafia!
If Zaidi is unlikely to win the Bad Sex in Fiction award, it is mainly because Dongri to Dubai is a work of non-fiction. There are statements like, ‘now, a prostitute will give pleasure to over twenty-five men in a span of twenty-four hours but she will always cherish sex with one particular man. Sex with the chosen one is never be (sic) treated as a chore, for she chooses her beau, as the man’s interest in her is not confined to her body or face.’ And there are scenes such as this: ‘Her clothes had been ripped apart with no glory in admiring her in her nudity. Pouncing on her naked body like a ferocious beast, Samad began biting her all over. Then Shilpa spat on him as they both stood there consumed by unabated passion by the act. She slowly licked her own saliva off his body, sending him into a delirium of ecstasy, as he did the same to her – spitting and devouring his own spit off her naked body, as if that would bring her to the pinnacle of her orgasm.’
The best bit about Dongri to Dubai is Zaidi’s analysis of Dawood Ibrahim’s character. According to Zaidi, Dawood is not an Islamic fundamentalist and that his alliance with the ISI is one born of necessity rather than fanaticism. Dawood fled from Mumbai to Dubai in 1986, escaping in the nick of time before he could be arrested. It was a senior politician’s phone call from Mantralaya which tipped him off about the plan to arrest him and allowed him to flee. When the ISI sought assistance from various Indian Muslim underworld dons based in Dubai and Europe for carrying out the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, Dawood volunteered Tiger Memon, who, Zaidi tells us, is a genuine Islamic fundamentalist. By getting Tiger Memon involved in the blasts, Dawood managed to get his rival to flee India. This doesn’t make Dawood a saint, but does act as a pointer to the man’s character. Dawood most probably had no idea that the blasts would be of such magnitude and when he realised that he was in serious shit, he actually called up noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani and offered to surrender. His surrender offer had a few conditions attached – that he should be tried only in respect of the 1993 bomb blasts and that he should be kept under house arrest rather than in jail. Dawood could afford to make such an offer since he had little to do with the 1993 bomb blasts. A number of politicians in India did not want Dawood to return to India and managed to scuttle any acceptance of the surrender offer.
Dawood left Dubai and moved to Pakistan towards the end of 1994 after Dawood’s former right hand man Chhota Rajan left Dubai and escaped Dawood’s clutches with assistance from Indian intelligence. Dawood has been in Dubai ever since, except for a brief stint in Malaysia just after 9/11 and a few months in Jeddah after bin Laden’s execution by US commandos. Dawood has now enmeshed himself in the ISI’s network and made himself indispensable to Pakistan’s military-ISI bosses by donating generously to various Islamic jihads and other causes. Pirating Bollywood movies and selling them in Pakistan is the biggest source of revenue for Dawood. Dawood’s daughter Mahrukh is married to Javed Miandad’s son Junaid. However Dawood is a pawn in the hands of the ISI and has to sell his services for the cause of Islamic fundamentalism – something he does not believe in. If India offers an amnesty to Dawood and the opportunity to spend the rest of his life in his beloved Mumbai, would Dawood accept it?
India has a record of condoning offences by gangsters such as Chhota Rajan for the greater good. However, when Dawood’s brother Iqbal Kaskar, who Zaidi tells us has never been involved in any of Dawood’s crimes, voluntarily returned from Dubai to India to face trial, he was hounded by the police and faced a witch-hunt. It took four years for Iqbal to walk away a free man. Iqbal’s experience is unlikely to persuade his brother Dawood to return to India, even if India offers him an amnesty in return for spilling the beans on ISI’s activities in India. Let me add that Zaidi does not suggest that India ought to make such an offer to Dawood, though I believe he comes close to saying so. I do think that such an offer from India would be a brilliant move, since it would shut down a big part of the ISI’s network in India, though I don’t expect it to happen. There are too many politicians in India who would not want Dawood to spill all his beans.
Can Indian’s authorities tame Mumbai’s underworld which continues to thrive? Zaidi tells us that during the emergency years the underworld was virtually under arrest, its activities totally curtailed. In other words, Indian authorities are capable of shutting down the gangsters when they want to. If the mafia thrives, it is because they are patronised by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Do remember, it was a phone call from a top politician in Mantralaya which allowed Dawood Ibrahim to escape from Mumbai and flee to Dubai in 1986. Inefficiency and lack of coordination goes hand-in-hand with corruption. When the Intelligence Bureau hatched a plan to use Chhota Rajan’s men to kill Dawood Ibrahim during the post-wedding walimah of Dawood’s daughter at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai, the Mumbai police was kept in the dark, resulting in two sharp shooters being arrested, while enroute to Dubai! I fear that Mumbai’s underworld is likely to stay in business for a long time to come.
Dongri to Dubai is an excellent read I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Mumbai’s mafia in general or Dawood Ibrahim in particular.