'Bollywood idolised Dawood as India's Don Corleone'

S Hussain Zaidi, no greenhorn to the seedy, grime-lined, action-packed cauldrons of Mumbai’s investigative journalism (read: Black Friday, Mafia Queens of Mumbai) took seven years to complete Dongri to Dubai. 

We’ll believe.

Dawood with a gang of Pathans. According to author S Hussain Zaidi, the Mumbai Police took advantage of Dawood’s leadership qualities and used him against the Pathan gang. Pic courtesy/Retired Assistant Commissioner of Mumbai Police (ACP) Ishaq Bagwan

Over the telephone, as he recalls his experiences (including his meeting with the don) while completing this third book, one can sense the relief and joy over the lines. Ask any self-respecting journalist who must juggle between the vagaries of daily reportage and publisher deadlines.
Spoiler alert: Those looking for a biopic on the enigmatic don won’t find it here. Instead, you are party to an enthralling smorgasbord of the seamy underbelly. Take aim.

Excerpts from an interview with S Hussain Zaidi.

A couple of years ago, in an interview with this journalist, Aabid Surti, artist, author and one-time Bhendi Bazaar resident, had mentioned that Dawood was
‘just another tapori in the mohalla’; could you throw more light on his early years?

It’s true. Dawood was a street urchin in the 1970s. He was one among the several Muslim school dropouts who roamed the gullies of Bhendi Bazaar. What separated him from the rest were his leadership qualities. The Mumbai Police took advantage of this and used him against the Pathan gang. Late journalist Iqbal Natiq who ran the newspaper Raazdaar had suggested to a police officer that Dawood was a spunky gangster, full of daring and he would make for a perfect tool to use against the Pathans. Interestingly, that wily boy from Bhendi Bazaar ended up using the Mumbai Police, instead of the other way round!

Dawood’s life remains documented by countless journalists and authors; what is it that this book offers, which separates it from the rest? How will Gen Y, who weren’t born in the 1970s and ’80s, approach this book?
I have ensured that it wouldn’t come across as boring, academic, dull or prosaic. It had to be a reliable and authentic book; it can be compared to a thriller. Also, this isn’t a biography of Dawood Ibrahim. 

Today’s generation have been fed on countless films based on the underworld. My book traces its early days, from 1947 when Dawood wasn’t even born. Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Varadarajan were the big daddies of the Mumbai mafia scene. It charts their rise and fall, as players, and the eventual domination of Dawood. This book will be a ready reckoner into their worlds.

Did the media help Dawood build a larger-than-life image, especially in his early years?
It was Bollywood that glorified Dawood more than the media. They built up a glamourous image of the underworld, and an aura around the man. Haji Mastan was portrayed as a modern-day Robin Hood, a generous personality, which was the opposite of his true self. Likewise with Dawood — he was a ruffian but then went on to be idolised as the Don Corleone of India. 

However, the media was not entirely innocent. A few ignorant journalists had succeeded in creating a larger-than-life image.

Why did Dawood choose Dubai as his business pad?
Dubai was a tax haven in those days. It was easy to establish it as his hub. He didn’t want to project Pakistan, as it would bring them international embarrassment since ties between India and Pakistan were not cordial. He established several businesses in Dubai that served him well, and didn’t cause him any headaches.

What, based on your research, was the turning point to have converted him into such a feared man, internationally?
It was late 1980s — after Dawood reached Delhi, his business flourished. It reached Turkey, London, Singapore and other parts. He managed to grow by leaps and bounds and came to be regarded as a great don. It was a natural progression considering the clout he developed with high-ranked ministers and MLAs in Delhi. Of course, his influence among Maharashtra’s politicians is well-known.

Besides, Bollywood would pay obeisance to him. Whenever a film shooting was scheduled in Dubai, actors would ensure they wined and dined with him. It found space on their itineraries.

Can you safely say that this book sums up a large chunk of your investigative work?
I have invested a lot of time and effort towards this book…seven years to be precise. The first notes were penned in 2004, when I was with MiD DAY. Since then, I’ve been working on it.

What were the biggest roadblocks that you encountered in the course of your writing this book?
The section that documents his relocation to Pakistan was the toughest. Details and information about his clout, dealings and connections were difficult to acquire. It took me about three to five years to complete those chapters. I had to rely heavily on intelligence agencies and my sources. It was most time consuming and was arguably, my biggest challenge.

Is Dawood aware that you’ve written this book? Has he tried to contact you in any way?
He knew I was writing this book for a while now; I’ve spoken to numerous people who are connected to him and his life in some or the other way. He hasn’t contacted me, directly or otherwise.

Finally, all those years ago, what is it that surprised you the most about Dawood, when you interviewed him?
I found him civil and polite. He wasn’t abusive in his language and didn’t try to intimidate me. It was difficult to believe that there I was, speaking to one of the most dreaded gangsters, the cause of bloodshed and fear. He came across as suave and classy. If you read the book closely, you will realise that Dawood is a study in paradox.

Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia,
S Hussain Zaidi,
Lotus-Roli Books,
Rs 595

Excerpt from an interview which appeared on the front page of the Indian Express in September 1997. This was Dawood’s last published interview:

In which part of the globe  are you now?
I don’t have any problem visiting any part of the world, except India, where false and politically-motivated cases await me.

But there are reports that you are holed up in Karachi and that your movements are watched by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI]...
Hmmmm. How do I know who is watching me? They never tell you, do they?

There are reports that you have invested heavily in real estate in Karachi, that you are at present involved in constructing a few shopping plazas there?
What? This is absolute nonsense.

What do you think of that country?
Pakistan is an Islamic country and the next-door neighbour of India. But, I don’t have much knowledge about it.

Have you retired from your gang activities? Who controls your gang now?
Except for my short stint with the underworld in Mumbai, I was never engaged in any gang activity. So where is the question of my being involved with them now?

Any comments on your flourishing extortion rackets and your expanding drug empire?
I have never extorted money from anybody. These are baseless charges.

And your drug business?
Zaidi Saheb, because I respect you, I pardon such an irreverent line of questioning. I was never into the drug business. In fact, I don’t even associate myself with those who are in this business. I hate this stuff and also hate those who deal in it.

Is it not true that among your men, Ejaz Pathan is executing drug deals for you?
Rubbish! Ejaz Pathan is not my man. He does not do any business for me.

Then how come there are so many charges against you?
As you know, I am not in India at the moment. Which civilised nation would ever allow an expatriate to engage in drugs business in their land? Despite the Indian law enforcement agencies’ perpetual hatred for me and my family, they have not been able to frame even a false drug case against me. The recent offensive has been launched against me with political motives. But the people behind this malicious propaganda cannot deceive the international anti-narcotic agencies.

Do you still consider yourself to be a patriotic Indian?
How do you think one feels about the country of his birth, where his family and mother still live? Not only was I born and raised in India, innumerable people in that country know that I am their ‘bhai’.

Then why did you engineer bomb blasts killing more than 300 people?
The bomb blasts were a conspiracy to distance me from the people who loved me. As I have stated earlier, I had nothing to do with the Bombay
blasts. Every day I see the blasts being mentioned in one newspaper or the other, but I have rarely seen newspapers condemning the people
who orchestrated the demolition of the Babri Masjid and forced 140 million Indian Muslims to reassess their future in this country.

OK. But tell me, why are you threatening and killing the film industry people?
This is absurd. I would like to tell the film world that there is no need to be afraid of me. Also, those who terrorise them in my name are not
my people.

Who are your friends in the film industry?
I have shared an excellent relationship, based on mutual respect, with a number of film personalities, though in the present climate of suspicion,
I would not like to name them.

Were you aware of Gulshan Kumar’s killing?
Only after Reuters filed the story from Mumbai.

Is it true that Abu Salem carried out the killing without informing you?
I don’t know what you are talking about. The Press and the Mumbai Police should talk to the people who have publicly claimed to have full knowledge about the killers. These important people are ready to unravel the whole mystery. The police must now stop blaming me for every death in Mumbai. Thank God, I was not around in 1947; otherwise I would have been blamed for the Partition.

Are you financing films?

What do you think about Nadeem? Is he innocent or guilty?
I don’t know Nadeem. To the best of my memory, I have never met him. Somebody should ask the police to stop chasing shadows.

What do you think of Mumbai Police? Do you approve of encounter killings?
Mumbai Police is degenerating. Once the most respected police set-ups in the country, it is now framing false cases and getting innocent people
killed in fake encounters. It is fast losing the respect of Mumbaiites.

Which political party you are close to?
To tell you very frankly, before the Babri Masjid demolition I used to have pretty liberal political views and had held twodifferent national political parties in very high esteem. After the Babri mosque demolition, I have developed this rigid political opinion that the Muslims of India must only associate with the
Muslim league.

What do you think of Gawli and Rajan?

Arun Gawli and Chhota Rajan, your rivals, who are after your life.
My views about them are similar to that of an average Mumbaiite. For me they are street hoodlums. As regards their challenge, elephants
don’t react to barking dogs.

Are you supporting Ashwin Naik?

Do you like being addressed as a don… Do you miss a common man’s life with your wife and children?
I am a businessman not a don. As regards to my family life, I am quite happy and don’t miss anything.

Have you ever thought of coming back to India?
Several times. Once the government of India withdraws false cases against me, my friends and family members, I will catch the first flight to Mumbai. I will then go and offer my prayers of thanks at the Jama Masjid.

Excerpted with permission from Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, published by Lotus-Roli Books. 

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