Alok Tholiya adds:
And all these mafias shared the booty with home ministers and their top officials and all of them kept thriving.
Book: Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia
Author: S. Hussain Zaidi
Price: Rs 350
One of the most infuriating tendencies of Indian journalists and reviewers is to read a book, and then use material found therein as if they knew it all along. Having been subjected to this kind of nonsense for a long while, let me say that I do not know much about the criminals of Mumbai and so I would read a book like this to find out about them. Fair warning.
If you have always been fascinated by the underworld, this is the book for you. It has the kind of informal detail that will keep you in cocktail conversation for years to come. For instance, there’s a story about the don of the dockyards, Karim Lala, and his walking stick. It was given to him on his 50th birthday and at first, Hussain Zaidi tells us, the don was not particularly enthused by it. However, his aides said that it might add to the strength of his personality. He began to carry it around and soon it became a symbol of the man and his power. Lala had a sideline in evictions; landlords went to him when tenants refused to vacate. Naturally, Lala charged for evictions and so the stick gave two landlords an idea. Chaman Singh Mewawala and Abdul Qureishi thought up a plan — they would ask Lala to loan them his stick. They would plant it in front of the premises they wished to vacate and in this way, they would get the desired effect without having to pay Lala. The synecdoche seemed to work.
Now, two things occur to me.
Did Lala not see that loaning his stick to these two was tantamount to losing income? And if a reader is to understand the way in which landlords and tenants are related in Mumbai, it is necessary to explain the provisions of the Bombay Rent Act of 1947. This was emergency legislation, pushed through because the end of the World War had caused a shortage of rentable space, because landlords were raking in big bucks, because ordinary Janardhans were being pushed out on to the street by those who wanted to rent their flats at higher rates. The act proved so popular with the lower middle class that it was never repealed, never touched, even though old fixed rents became unfair to landlords and detrimental to the upkeep of older buildings.
Now, when did Karim Lala start using his stick? After his fiftieth birthday? When did that happen? Zaidi has no dates so I checked the Net and was told that Lala was born in 1911. (Is this true? I don’t know. I am telling you my sources and I am telling you that my sources are suspect.) That makes it around 1961, enough time for the Bombay Rent Act’s provisions to have become unfair to the landlords. But did this happen before or after the devaluation of the rupee in 1966, which would have really hammered the landlords? A history like this cannot only be about persons; it must take into account the city and its history. Dongri to Dubai doesn’t.
My second problem with the book is that Zaidi invents conversations. He did this in Mafia Queens of Mumbai and here, he has Karim Lala talking to Haji Mastan, the man whose life inspired Yash Chopra’s Deewaar, although he is reported to have said after seeing it that it was too violent. Mastan asks whether Lala would be interested in supplying him with some labour for his smuggling operation on the docks. “You intrigue me, Mastan bhai,” says Lala. Hmm.
But this should have been the work of the editor and editorial intervention is marked by its absence. Clichés abound. “Even in the fifties, people from all over India were drawn to Bombay like a moth to the flame,” we are told. Clumsiness is common: a gent called Chinka Dada had “two country-made revolvers at the either side”. At another place, we are told, “With nothing but a sheer force of aspiration Varadarajan moved to the city of dreams…”
But these are quibbles. So editors are dead or deadened. But this book is alive with insider information. “Keep people’s bellies full and balls empty,” says Vardabhai, a gang leader who has had both Vinod Khanna and Kamal Haasan play him on screen. With details like that, who needs good writing?