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Mumbai dons

books Updated: Jun 15, 2012 18:38 IST

Zara Murao, Hindustan Times
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Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia

S Hussain Zaidi

Roli Books

Rs 350 pp 378

Parts of Dongri to Dubai read like the script of The Godfather, that iconic tale of murder, betrayal, jealousy, violence and death.

There is the father who wanted more for his son, Dawood or David. The brother massacred at a petrol pump, his blood flowing into a gutter. The young man who seeks revenge and must then flee the city and family he loves.

And then there are parts that call to mind master crime journalist S Hussain Zaidi’s earlier works — and make one wonder why he chose to leave out those touching, evocative details that are his trademark. Details such as the ironic name of lonely, fading gangster Haji Mastan’s bungalow — Baitul Suroor or House of Happiness.

Or the background of that underworld fixer Jenabai Daaruwali, freedom fighter-turned-smuggler-turned bootlegger, a story that made for such fascinating reading in Zaidi’s last work, Mafia Queens of Mumbai.

Dongri to Dubai is, nonetheless, an intriguing account — and a remarkably exhaustive map — of the twists and turns of the Mumbai underworld, with its overlapping edges, shifting loyalties and quirky characters. Like Manya Surve, who never left the house without his bag of hand grenades, carried everywhere “the way people carry chickoos in their plastic bags”.

Or Samad Khan, who tortured and killed a businessman named Jain at Hotel Sea Rock, only to find that it was another businessman Jain he had been paid to murder. He returned the following day and got it right.

Perhaps the eeriest section of Dongri to Dubai is the eight pages of sepia-toned photographs. Staring lifelessly out are faces much like the faces that you see around you every day. And it makes you wonder, how many of them have a secret life that involves aliases, ruthless killing and, eventually, a connection to the don?

In a dramatic conclusion that races through the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and the rescue and return of Dawood, Zaidi offers his closing arguments, as it were — detailed accounts of the corruption and cross-border intrigue that underlie terrorism on the subcontinent.