Heavy bandobast at Karim Lala funeral
Dreaded smuggler Karim Lala, 90, passed away on Monday at Prince Aly Khan Hospital, Mazagon, after suffering a cardiac arrest. He was buried yesterday at Narialwadi crematorium, Mazagon, amidst heavy police security.
The funeral of Karim Lala of Narialwadi crematorium, Mazagon
Lala is survived by his wife and two daughters. A native of Afghanistan, he had migrated to Mumbai after Partition and took to smuggling. He became the city's most notorious don in the early 1970s.
After retirement, he led a solitary life, having handed over his smuggling network to nephew Samad Khan, who was later murdered by men of Dawood Ibrahim's gang.
Upon hearing news of his death, a police team from D B Marg Police Station was dispatched to Lala's residence. Downstairs, there was a crowd of mourners dressed in white.
The funeral was put off until his daughter and other close relatives, who live out of town, arrived.
Lala's grandson, Salim Khan, was with him when he passed away. "He had come home to pray. At around 8:30 pm, during namaz, he suddenly went stiff and did not move," said Salim.
He added, "I immediately took him to the hospital, where I was told to admit him to the intensive care unit (ICU). He battled death for nearly an hour but was declared dead by 11 pm."
Lala owned Al-Karim and Rahim hotels at Dongri, which he used to visit every week to settle employee grievances. He also owned an air ticket booking office opposite his Tahir Manzil residence at Grant Road.
Khalid, a receptionist at Al-Karim hotel, said, "He was a hospitable man and was very fond of entertaining guests. He last visited the hotel on Friday."
Inspector Shamsher Khan recalls Lala in his heyday
Though Karim Lala kept a very low profile in his final years, people who knew him in his heyday have few, if any, words of praise for the smuggler.
Senior Inspector Shamsher Khan Vazir Khan Pathan, 48, was posted at Dongri in the '80s and this gave him an up-close view of Lala's criminal ways.
Then a sub-inspector with Dongri Police Station, Pathan says, "During my six years at Dongri, not once did I hear of a good deed he had done. All I heard in connection with him were tales of terror."
Pathan raided Lala s stronghold on several occasions but never found anything that conclusively indicted the smuggler. Though he was very active during that period, he never got directly involved. He always had his work done through other people, he says.
And though their paths crossed many times, the two never spoke to each other.
Pathan says, He was acquainted with some of my colleagues but never made an effort to befriend me. He used to say, Isko salaam kiya to gale padega.
The closest encounter between the two took place when Pathan arrested Lala s bodyguard with a loaded revolver. Lala secured the release of his bodyguard the very next day.
Pathan was also part of a team that arrested Lala s key man, Munesh Bhorilal Gupta, alias Munna, who was involved the killing of arch-rivals Hameed and Majid.
In 1984, Nagpada police suspected Lala to be involved in the burning of some houses at Dawood Baug. He had allegedly set fires to vacate tenants from the disputed plot of land. Reminisces Pathan, We arrested him that night and handed him over to the Nagpada police. But once again, we were unable to prove anything and he went scot-free.
Julio Ribeiro, then police commissioner, has little to say about the departed don. In those days, the commissioner was not directly involved in controlling such criminal elements. We just gave instructions to junior officers, who did the needful, he says.
End of the Pathan era?
Today, the so-called Pathan branch of the Mumbai police, formed in the 1930s to curb the growing notoriety of the city s Pathans, is a mere shadow of its former self. The special cell has not had a single case in the past two years, in stark contrast to the time when Lala was at the peak of his career. Like most Pathans in the city, Lala migrated during Partition. The Pathans hailed from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Baluchistan. They mostly started as money-lenders, offering low interest rates, and soon achieved notoriety through their use of force to recover debts.