Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Book Review: Dongri To Dubai – Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia


Book Review: Dongri To Dubai – Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia  by S. Hussain Zaidi

This is a niche book. It is only for those interested in the underworld, and the stories that lie within their murky world.
The book is like an encyclopedia of crime in Mumbai, right from India’s independence to the current times.  

As expected, Dawood Ibrahim is the “star” and gets maximum coverage. But there are a lot of other criminals that are listed here. Some of the characters are well known - Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar, Chhota Rajan, Arun Gawali, Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem, etc. have been mentioned in various media at one point of time or the other.
But some were totally unknown to me before I read this book.  Sometimes the book resembles the Mahabharata in the sheer number of people mentioned. This can get quite boggling. But once you get past that you start appreciating the research that forms the backbone of the book.

There are many facts that are already known to the reader – through papers, and especially films. But Zaidi reveals some unknown ones that shed an interesting light on some of the subjects.  E.g. that the mastermind behind the killing of Dawood’s brother Sabir was apparently an avid James Hadley Chase reader and that the actual murder plan was inspired by Chase’s novels.

The book is fast paced, and does not slow down even a little bit. Nor does it feel boring anywhere.

Bollywood has had an unending romance with the underworld and has tended mostly to glorify its inhabitants. This book does no such thing. Pretty much everything is written in a matter-of-fact manner, without any embellishments. Zaidi does not believe in extra adjectives J.

Many of the incidents have been depicted in Hindi films or are well known. Haji Mastan’s dalliance with Bollywood, Varadarajan Mudaliar’s rise from a menial laborer, the attack on Chhota Rajan in Bangkok by Chhota Shakeel’s men. Gulshan Kumar’s murder on Abu Salem’s orders.  Mandakini’s association with Dawood, and Monica Bedi’s with Abu Salem.  The shootout at Lokhandwala (which is described very drily in the book unlike the film). Chhota Rajan’s parting ways with Dawood.

There are a few gruesome descriptions of murders that took place. But these constitute a fraction of the book, and overall does not make the book unpalatable.


The chapters on Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar end abruptly. Also there is no mention of Chhota Rajan after the Bangkok attempt on his life. The book’s focus is clearly on one person.

Back to Dawood. The central character of this tome’s “rise” makes for fascinating reading. How the son of an upright police constable (whose name was highly respected not just in the police force but in society as well) landed up where he did is quite remarkable.  

The Mumbai police decided to cut the reigning Pathan gang by propping him up.
This was done (apparently) in filmi style. Senior police inspector Ranbeer Likha is shown complaining about all the problems caused by the Pathan mafia to the journalist Iqbal Natiq.
Natiq replies, ‘Sahab, Sholay.
Sholay?! Have you lost your mind Iqbal?’ Likha asks.
You use iron to combat iron,’ Iqbal Natiq tells Likha.

In the bargain, they created a monster that continues to haunt this country even today.

The lack of coordination between government agencies has proven costly in India many times. Apparently the IB (Intelligence Bureau) decided to send 2 of Chhota Rajan’s sharpshooters to Dubai to eliminate Dawood on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding. But they failed to inform the Mumbai Crime Branch. An enthusiastic police officer arrested the sharpshooters on their way from India!

Dawood’s main strengths are shown to be his planning and adaptability. Even when he is forced to shift base (from Mumbai to Dubai and then to Pakistan) he manages to flourish in the new environment and rule over it.

Occasionally Zaidi does deviate from pure facts and strays into conjecture/hearsay. E.g. the assumption that Dawood did not know about the full extent of what was planned for  the 1993 Mumbai blasts. Zaidi’s analysis is that fundamentalism is not an inherent part of Dawood’s character, and that Dawood merely went with the flow for his own survival.

Overall, this book is an excellent compilation. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of Mumbai’s underworld in general and Dawood Ibrahim in particular.

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