Dawn of the don

S Hussain Zaidi’s Dongri to Dubai traces the journey of Dawood Ibrahim
S Hussain Zaidi, Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia

Every country has its reallife version of the fictional mafioso Vito Corleone. Dawood Hasan Ibrahim Kaskar is not as charismatic as Mario Puzo’s enduring creation, but he does display a Corleone-esque tendency to vapourise all his enemies. Ibrahim has featured in so many movies that it is safe to attribute a sub-genre to him. S Hussain Zaidi’s new book Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia already has a cinematic connection: ten of its 63 chapters will be used in the screenplay of the forthcoming Sanjay Gupta movie Shootout at Wadala, about the murder in 1982 of Manya Surve, who reportedly killed Ibrahim’s brother Subir Kaskar.

“Dawood was always known to be unforgiving,” Zaidi writes about the mobster, who ordered the hit. “He decided to avenge his brother’s killing and eliminate each and every person involved in the murder. He had no personal enmity with Manya… But Manya will have to pay for this, Dawood swore.” Replace Manya’s name with any other and Ibrahim’s story stays the same. The fugitive from justice (believed to be hiding in Pakistan after spending several years in Dubai) fought and shot his way to the top of the underworld. The hoodlum’s journey as charted by Dongri to Dubai is signposted by acts of personal vendetta which later crystallise into a take-noprisoners attitude towards his rivals, especially Chhota Rajan.

Dongri to Dubai is an intermittently fascinating account of Ibrahim’s transformation from neighbourhood thug to global gangster. Zaidi is nicely placed to record Ibrahim’s rise. The crime reporter has built up a reputation for scoops and access to elusive criminals. He is one of the few journalists to have scored an interview with Ibrahim. Zaidi worked his phone book to the maximum for Dongri to Dubai, but even he drew a blank for the concluding chapters, which track Ibrahim to Pakistan. “The toughest part for me was getting information about his Pakistan days,” said Zaidi, who wrote Dongri to Dubai over seven years between several job changes. “The book was like Draupadi’s sari – it was unending,” he said.

The book, Zaidi’s third after Black Friday and Mafia Queens of Mumbai (co-authored with Jane Borges), is at its strongest when it’s talking about Dongri rather than Dubai. Zaidi reaches back into Ibrahim’s growing-up years in the central Mumbai neighbourhood that folds in several evocatively named mohallas (Irani, Sidi, Israeli) and the city’s only hamam. Zaidi paints Mumbai as a city bubbling over with crooks of all hues. “Mumbai has always been a magnet for people with a criminal bent of mind,” the 44-year-old reporter declared. “Even in 1947, when the tricolour was being unfurled, there were three stabbing incidents on that day.” It was in the 1960s that gangs identified with their leaders began to be established, Zaidi said. When Ibrahim dropped out of school and began his life in crime a decade later by peddling fake watches and holding up Marwari traders, more established criminals like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Pathan don Ahmed Khan aka Baashu Dada called the shots. His constable father Ibrahim Kaskar maintained links with several hoods, but Zaidi claims that it was the police who created the man who would later be instrumental in the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai. In the chapter “A Seed is Sown”, Zaidi reveals how police officers, on the advice of a reporter, used Ibrahim to checkmate the Pathan mafia.

Dongri to Dubai is written in a dramatic style that will be familiar from Zaidi’s newspaper reports and Mafia Queens. He has used some creative licence in describing certain incidents. Sample this fantastic-sounding account of Ibrahim being shifted to Jeddah following the death of Osama Bin Laden by US Marines in Abbotabad: “As Dawood stood in front of the mirror, he saw a man with a dark complexion, fast receding hairline, a hint of gray on his eyebrow, and a hardened, ruthless face staring back… As he walked towards his car, he was assailed by a feeling of déjà vu. Memories kept coming back to him, flashbacks, and he tried to ignore them.”

Zaidi, the son of a tailor, grew up in the northeastern Mumbai suburb of Vikhroli and studied commerce at Chetna College. He is a self-described “failed businessman” who later joined a small magazine, Exhibition World. Zaidi then met crime reporter Velly Thevar, whom he would later marry. On her advice, he joined Asian Age in 1995, and gradually started covering the crime beat. Those were early days for cell phones in India, so Zaidi would get postcards from his sources, some of whom were in jail. One gangster’s coded message was, “I love you, Rachna.” If he wanted to meet Zaidi urgently, he would say, “I want to love you today itself.”

The flamboyance of even small-time hoodlums has not left Zaidi unaffected. But while his writings may be spiced up, there’s nothing artificial about the flavour, he insisted. “None of my details were challenged in Mafia Queens,” he said. “Not a single scrap of information has a ring of falsehood or fiction. And I never reveal my sources, which is why the gangsters trust me.”

S Hussain Zaidi Roli Books, 350

By Nandini Ramnath on May 05 2012

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