Book Review – Dongri to Dubai by S. Hussain Zaidi

Never has a non-fiction book been so gripping!! S. Hussain Zaidi is a master storyteller, who in the past has given us classics like ‘Black Friday’, now weaves his tale of six decades of Mumbai Mafia with a refreshing frankness and effortless literary poise.

Over the last decade, a number of Bollywood films have tried to depict the Mumbai Underworld, from the candid ‘Satya’ to the brooding ‘Company’ to the brazen ‘Once upon a time in Mumbai’. All these films have triggered our curiosity about the dark and mysterious underbelly of Mumbai; many of us want to know what actually happened, how it happened, how nondescript boys from the bylanes of Mumbai started a crime syndicate that became bigger than even the Italian Mafia. For all those who share this curiosity, your search ends here. Zaidi presents the most detailed and documented record of the Mumbai Underworld, with real characters, real situations and real incidents, it’s about as real as it gets.

The book begins by covering the rise of Haji Mastan , the first “bhai” who rose from the docks of Mumbai and became a notorious international smuggler, it then covers the next generation rivalry between the Unruly Pathan Gang and their nemesis, a young and feisty Dawood Ibrahim, a Frankenstein monster created by the Mumbai police itself. The section where the Pathan Gang takes help of ‘Manya Surve’ ( essayed by John Abraham in ‘Shootout at Wadala’) to plan the murder of Dawood’s close aide, is an amazingly graphic and engaging account.

The next section covers the Don shifting his base to Dubai and establishing an international empire of crime unparalleled in the annals of history. Zaidi also supplies the shocking politics and manipulations behind the oft heard tale of friends turned foes Dawood Ibrahim and Chota Rajan . The last leg of the Book moves to Karachi, the rise of Abu Salem and Chhota Shakeel and the Mafia’s control over the glitzy world of Bollywood. Zaidi presents some astonishing evidence on incidents that we as outsiders can recall, including the man behind the infamous killing of music magnate Gulshan Kumar.

The book also gives you a rare peek into the personal lives of these dreaded gangsters. From heartbreaks in their adolescence, to clandestine dates with “nautch” girls to passionate affairs with starlets that became legends, it covers all of them. By showing that they have also loved and lost like the rest of us, Zaidi imparts an almost humane gullibility to the characters. He takes special interest in Dawood Ibrahim, where he links every incident in the boy’s life, to the change in his behavior that ultimately made him the man he became.

Another important parallel thread that runs throughout the book is the role of the Underwold’s arch enemy, the ‘Gun for a good cause’ Mumbai Police. It tackles sensitive issues such as ‘Encounter Killings’ with admirable honesty and presents the ‘other’ side of the story. The chapter on Shootout at Lokhandwala which till date remains Mumbai Police’s most daring ‘encounter’, covers the entire operation in a minute by minute detail that sets your pulse racing.

It’s a book that will become a single stop for anything and everything on the Mumbai Mafia. Moroever, it pays homage to the most “popular” gangster of our times, Dawood Ibrahim is portrayed in all his myriad colours of suavity, eccentricity and ruthlessness, conjuring a negative but awe inspiring portrait, much like that of Lord Voldemort created by JK Rowling. ; Overall, Veteran Crime Journalist Zaidi successfully manages to toe the delicate line between documentary evidence based accounts, and a gritty dramatization of incidents justified by creative liberty. Go for it!

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