Book Review: Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of Mumbai Mafia

Once Upon a time in Mumbai…

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I recently read this interesting book, whose title itself gives the reader an overview that this book is based on the mafia or as we call ‘The Underworld’ of Mumbai. This book is written by an Indian investigative journalist S.Hussain Zaidi. Previously, I had seen the Netflix series ‘The Bard of Blood’ and the recently released movie ‘The class of 83’, which is based on his book about some of the encounter specialists in Mumbai police force who eventually end up killing some of the most notorious gangsters in the Underworld.Though Bard of Blood (which is spy thriller showing the espionage war between RA&W and ISI agent in Balochistan) is written by Bilal Siddiqui, but he has been mentored by Mr.Zaidi himself.

So, after seeing class of 83, I became curious to read about this mafia story of Mumbai. And while I had visited a book store, I suddenly pounced upon this book written by Mr.Zaidi, and immediately purchased it. I initially wanted to finish this book in one sitting, but due to my job responsibility and some other emergencies, I couldnt finish it for sometime. Finally, I completed reading this book and it has been a wonderful read. The book thoroughly covers the life of the most notorious gangster/terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, his D-company, and how they changed the face of Mumbai at the height of gang wars and terrorist acts. No doubt, still today, Dawood is the most wanted and most loathed person in India. And in a remarkable contrast, the Pakistani ISI and even their government likes and supports him. Indians hate Dawood not only because he killed innocent people in the 1993 Bombay blasts, but also committed the most heinous of the crimes by fleeing to Karachi via Dubai, and becoming a vassal of our arch enemy, Pakistan. That’s why, Dawood’s betrayal of his own motherland, and being close to Pakistan is something Indians will never forget ever for generations to come….

The story of Dawood’s journey from a street ruffian born in one of the lower middle class neighbourhoods of Dongri to becoming the world’s most famous and richest gangster aka mastermind in Dubai ( later Karachi) is almost like a rags to riches story. The author very eloquently has penned down this incredible journey of this man, and his gang. But at the same time, the book also highlights the role played by various famous gangs, or dons in Mumbai from 1960’s till 1990’s. The book is a must read for those who want to know about the Mumbai mafia, and how it all began and ended as well. Many stories and incidents from gang wars, shootouts, kidnappings, murders, terrorist attacks and encounters are covered in this book, which gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the underworld. The book however focuses on the main villain, Dawood and his company, and has covered all the important facets of his life in Mumbai until 1986 when he left this city of dreams for the last time.

I like reading about investigative stories and books, and so I enjoyed reading this book. As I complete reading the book, I often like to pen down my own observations and comparisons with history and the world. That period in Bombay, which later became Mumbai was indeed a dark one. Many conditions existed in those days which led to a huge influx of young boys to become street ruffian and get involved in bad company. After all, poverty was rampant, job opportunities were scarce and favored the elites only, education was costly, and due to which, it was almost impossible for a person without education or being a school dropout to secure a respectable job and gain some respect from society. Coupled with all this, was the consistent uncertainity and large family to support due to high birth rates. Moreever, the then permit Raj/licensing policies was a perfect system for corruption to breed. The common people saw how few politicians, government babus(employees), merchants and businessman formed a close nexus and completely ruled the country without any scope for the common man to get out of poverty. And that’s why, in 1982, there was a great Bombay Mill strike which badly went wrong with millions losing job or thrown at the brink of poverty. That incident led to more influx of young, high school dropouts or sometimes even college educated youths who couldn’t find a job to take the paths of crime and join gangs like D company. All this led to the birth of Mumbai mafia in 1970’s and 80’s which terrorized Mumbai for the next 2 decades or so.

This can even be compared to the America’s crime and mafia terror in 1930’s and which lasted until late 1970’s, mainly because of Great Depression and influx of Sicilian and Jewish people from Europe, which formed their own mafia groups. New York city and Mumbai has often been compared on a similar note for being cosmopolitan cities. Both are financial hubs, and crown as the most populous city in the USA and India respectively. The former has the Statue of Liberty which welcomes everyone to the American Dream, while the latter has the Gateway of India which also welcomes everyone to this City of Dreams. The resemblance is striking!

But unfortunately, for both the cities, it even became darker when both the cities became the capitals of Mafia. If New York had its Five Families, then Mumbai had its own set of five crime families/gangs like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and its Pathan Gang, Varadrajan Mudaliar, Dawood and his D company, and Chota Rajan, Arun Gawli and the so called ‘Aamchi Muley/Hindu dons’ as per Shivsena supremo. Later, just like NYPD, the Mumbai police force also took strict actions under its various chiefs like Julio Ribeiro, D S Soman and Ronald Hycinth Mendonca. The special task team inspired from SWAT team, was created with elite cops who later became known as encounter specialists. Julio Ribeiro is credited to have started tackling with the brutal mafia with the policy of ‘Bullet for Bullet’ and was continued by all the later police chiefs, and finally ended with police chief Mendonca, until then all the major gangsters were killed and eliminated. Those elite cops included some famous top cops like Vijay Salaskar ( who died in the 2008 terrorist attacks by Ajmal Kasab and his pakistani cowards), Daya Nayak, Pradeep Sharma, Isaque Bagwan, Prafull Bhosle, Ravindra Angre, Aftab Ahmed Khan and Sachin Vaze. Indeed, it is because of these brave heroes that Mumbai is a safe place again.

Finally, I find some sad moments in this book as well. One of the most intriguing character in this book is about the father of Dawood, who was the former police cop, Ibrahim Kaskar. I find it as the biggest irony that the son of a former cop became the most wanted criminal in India. The book shows how honest and upright cop Ibrahim Kaskar was, and with his impeccable honesty and integrity, he was not only respected in the police force, but also equally revered by other gangsters like Haji Mastan and Karim Lala. Ibrahim knew all the gangsters, yet never crossed the lines to join them. Rather, he remained loyal to his salt. But his son bite the hands that fed him. Dawood betrayed his father and his country. No real life example can rival this irony.

Also, I felt immensely angry when a team led by Ajit Doval was planning to arrest or kill Dawood, but the plan was botched by some officials of Mumbai police. They had acted by the instructions of some politician. So the fact that Dawood successfully escaped Mumbai after receiving tipoff from a politician and the plan to arrest or kill him was also interrupted by some political affiliations. This shows why India has been unable to arrest or assassinate him since 1986. Its a shame that India has such few politicians who have sold their soul for money. Else, our police force and intelligence is more than competent to catch and kill Dawood much much before the 1993 blasts itself. Due to some selfish politicians having lack of love for the motherland, India and its innocent people had to pay the price.

Thus, this book has been an interesting and knowledgeable read. I would like to refer this book as a must read to know what happened …Once Upon a Time in Mumbai……

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Author: Abhi

Hello, this is Abhishek. I am an Electrical Engineer by education, and worked for an Energy Management company in Atlanta, USA. After staying for 5 years in United States, I have moved back to my country, India. Besides work, I am a bibliophile and enjoys reading about history, current affairs, and biographies. I practice ‘Sudarshan Kriya Yoga‘ meditation and volunteer for a NGO, Art of Living. I am a vegetarian, and also a fitness enthusiast. I intend to work for spreading awareness about Cancer. Finally, I enjoy writing and I hope to integrate this interest into my career with more experience. Please like, share and subscribe to my blog. Thank you for visiting!

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