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……

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Book review: The Accidental Prime Minister

This book review briefly explains why Dr.Manmohan Singh became the known as the Accidental Prime Minister.

I recently read the book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh‘ written by Mr.Sanjaya Baru, who was Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Manmohan Singh’s media advisor from May 2004 to Aug 2008. This blog post is only about my personal opinion after reading this book, and to make it clear, I have not seen the movie being released based on this book. It’s been more than 6 years since this book was published back in 2014, and this book had been on my ‘To Read’ list for a while. Finally, I got the time to read this recently and I completed it in a few days.

Due to my interest in history and world politics, I found this book very interesting. It covers the political happenings during UPA 1 from 2004 to 2008, when the author, Mr.Sanjaya Baru worked for Dr.Manmohan Singh ( and not for UPA government or certainly not for Sonia Gandhi as he clarifies in the book) as his media advisor. Well, the book highlights how Dr.Singh was chosen accidentally to be India’s PM during UPA 1 ( United Progressive Alliance) tenure, when Sonia Gandhi could not find anyone else deserving enough to serve as PM in her cabinet. Dr.Singh himself never thought of becoming PM, but destiny showered on him the blessings for his past hard work, his patriotism and dedication for serving the nation.

During UPA 1, even though Dr.Singh was the head of the government, everything was not however in total control of the PM. The portfolio allocations for ministers were done by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but finance and foreign ministry remained in the hands of Dr.Singh, and hence, the UPA 1 became a success due to the exceptional performance of Indian economy with a 9% GDP growth for continuous 5 years, and achieving India’s victory in foreign affairs by signing the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement. Thanks to Dr.Singh, India could achieve this feat.

But during the UPA 2 tenure, the government was maligned due to its involvement in a number of corruption scandals especially the 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scandal, Coal scam etc. But the author clarifies that Dr.Singh was not involved in any of this, because of the fact that Dr.Singh was not at all in control of the UPA 2 government. Not only were all the cabinet portfolios including finance and foreign ministries decided by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but also Dr.Singh was not consulted for any decisions taken during that tenure. As per Dr.Singh words as quoted by Mr.Baru in the book, “You see, you must understand one thing. I have come to terms with this. There cannot be two centres of power. That creates confusion. I have to accept that the party president is the centre of power. The government is answerable to the party,” This complacency became the main problem for Dr.Singh during UPA 2.

As the author explains in the book, Dr.Singh yielded his space during his second term against his own advice given to the author before. Dr.Singh always considered himself being a teacher, or economist first, and hardly saw himself as a politician. That’s why he was the accidental prime minister. His shy, introverted nature, his humble background, his studious and excellent academic accomplishments all made him an ideal reformer or expert in economics. And this was proved right in 1991 when the world saw how this gentleman along with the then PM Narsimha Rao bravely ushered in new reforms to liberalize the economy and pull India out of bankruptcy!

But when it came to politics, it was quite a challenge. His naiveness towards playing politics within the party, his lack of oratorical skills and his lack of intention to command power over his ministers all turned out to be detrimental to the position of Prime Minister. But his qualities turned out to be useful for the Congress high command who came to dominate and consolidate power behind the curtains, especially during UPA 2 tenure. Similar to the author, I too feel that Dr.Singh should have taken a strong stand against any ministers who did not respect him, or who rather just followed the orders of Congress high command over him. He should have contested Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and should have avoided running for the Rajya Sabha seat similar to the one he did back in 2004. Dr.Singh should have taken the credit for UPA’s victory in 2009 as he truly deserved it because after all, it was due to his economic and foreign affairs policies that had led to rise in India’s stature on the world platform.

Unfortunately, as the author has illustrated in the book, the opposition and the common public misunderstood his silence, or his shyness as submission to the Congress high command. His cardinal mistake of accepting Congress party high command as the leader of the country against his own position of PM, led to a series of events including corruption scandals, India Against Corruption rallies, and finally, set the stage for Narendra Modi, who was seen to be strong, decisive, articulate orator, all of these qualities being exact opposite of Dr.Singh’s personality.

I quite agree with the author’s views that Dr.Singh should have avoided becoming PM during UPA 2. It would have been terribly strenuous for the Congress high command to find someone like Dr.Singh, who is equally competent and compliant. As legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar rightly quoted “You must retire when people ask ‘why’ and not ‘why not”. I think Dr.Singh should have followed Gavaskar’s advice in 2009. But looking at the past 6 years of Modi government, it can be said that destiny wanted to lay the groundwork for the emergence of a new leader on stage, in the form of Narendra Modi, and hence, the chaos, and corruption became the face of UPA 2 government which resulted in the collapse of Congress dynasty in 2014.

But the book does shed light on the fact that it was not entirely the mistake of Dr.Singh. He did an excellent job in UPA 1 when he was given the freedom to work. But in UPA 2 he simply did not have any freedom nor support of his own party. The Congress mistook the victory after UPA 1 as eternal, and foolishly assumed to continue the ‘business as usual’ policy. They even handed over the credit of Dr.Singh to Rahul Gandhi in 2009. But as we know, karma hits back, and this abrasive and denigrating behavior of Congress party ( especially Sonia & Rahul Gandhi) towards Dr.Singh led to their reversal of their fortune in 2014, and it even plummeted further in 2019 elections. After all, Nature is never unfair!

After seeing all this, in spite of serving 10 years diligently, Dr.Singh had to express his legacy as “history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media, or for that matter, the Opposition parties in Parliament.” This is indeed true. India will always be indebted to Dr.Singh for making India liberal and globalized because of his 1991 economic reform, and later during UPA 1 tenure in making India a strong nation by signing the historic nuclear deal with USA. Dr.Singh will always be known as one of the finest prime minister India had after PM Nehru, who like Pandit Nehru was educated in England, close to Lutyens media, liberal in nature, and being respected globally. However, the only difference between both of them is that the former was the PM by destiny, while latter was by an accident!

Life is what we make it..

I recently read Peter Buffett’s book “Life is what you make it” . After reading the book, I found it to be a very interesting and insightful book. First of all, I was not aware who Peter Buffett was. This is because he introduces himself as being a musician, composer and author. Later did I find out that he is also the youngest son of the legendary investor Warren Buffett. This not only raised my eyebrows but also surprised me of the humble attitude and unconventional career selected by Peter, considering his father’s legacy. Ofcourse, this is perfectly fine as everyone has his/her freedom to choose and to practice any profession. But we live in a world where nepotism has become the abiding law( especially in India) and only few people like Peter dare to venture out of their own inspite of the riches laid before them.

I found the book to be somewhat a mixture of Peter’s experiences in life and based on this, he has expressed his philosophy of life. He certainly credits a large share of this wisdom to his parents, and his cultured, mid-western upbringing. He has shared how his mother and father instilled in him a sense of self-respect, work ethic and independence since childhood. The kids were given a fair share of money after they turned 18, and were told not to expect anymore! Peter mentions how he foolishly spent the entire money and shares ( which today might have been worth of millions). But he does not regret about this, and has learned about value of money and life from these experiences.

Peter further adds his understanding of life, and how one should be committed in life to achieve anything. He has illustrated multiple examples of his father’s achievements and the way he achieved them. Even though he comes from a distinguished family, but his life does not reflect any thing even close to a spoiled rich kid. Rather, his simple living coupled with hardships he had to endure to gain recognition as a musician and composer is very exemplary.

He mentions commitment in life as a vital ingredient for tasting the food of success. In his book, Peter writes “Commitment moves the world. It both powers and heals us; its a fuel and medicine together. It’s the antidote to regret to apathy, to lack of self-belief. Commitment batters down closed doors and levels bumpy roads. Commitment begets confidence and also justifies confidence. Commitment enlarges our efforts by drawing on those deep down resources that lie fallow until we determine to discover them and use them.”

I really liked his emphasis on commitment, because it is indeed one of the most lacking aspect in life. Today, we see excess of goals and desires, but lack of commitment and consistency to achieve them. Surely, Peter has seen his father’s commitment in life, and this must have inspired him to accept the importance of commitment.

Adding further, Peter writes “Until one is committed there is tendency, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now”

The gist of the book can be summarized in Peter’s words “Life is what we make it, and part of succeeding lies in breaking through to a clear understanding of what our own success should look like. No one else can tell us how to measure or describe it. No one else can judge whether we’ve reached our goals or fallen short. The world can throw rewards at us, or can withhold them. That’s the world’s business. But the world can’t judge the fundamental value and legitimacy of what we are trying to achieve. That’s our business. The success we define for ourselves is the measure that cannot be tarnished or taken away”

We are stronger than we think we are, We have courage that we do not recognize until we need it. We are equal to challenges that we haven’t even imagined yet.

Peter Buffett

Thus, I would recommend reading this book as it not only conveys the philosophy of life, but also makes an educative read. Peter’s life stands as an inspiration for us to stay committed in life, and inspite of being privileged to live a fairly secure life without any dearth of money, he chose to carve out his own path in life, and has been living a dignified and satisfied life. He did not chose to simply follow his father’s footsteps, but with his courage, and self-realization, he has stood aside from all the glory and fame, and found his true passion in life, which is music. Men like Peter Buffett are rare, and even rare are such books of wisdom!

Peter ends his book by the following words “So, in closing, I will say to you the same thing that I have said to myself a thousand times. Your life is yours to create. Be grateful for the opportunity, seize it with passion and boldness. Whatever you decide to do, commit to it with all your strength…..and begin it now. What are you waiting for?”