The Mumbai underworld has fascinated many Bollywood filmmakers. But while masters of crime such as Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Rajan, Chota Shakeel might have hogged the limelight, the real masterminds remain in the shadows. Hussain Zaidi brings them to light in his book Mafia Queens
Reading Hussain Zaidi’s and Jane Borges’s Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories from the ganglands is like watching a movie. Filled with juicy, gritty details of the underworld, this book profiles the women who hid in the shadows and yet had a powerful impact on the Mumbai crime world.
The authors have not glorified them; they merely tell us stories of 13 women who were pushed into the murky world of crime by poverty, or injustice. These women are strong and independent. They are clever and cunning. It’s usually the men who go down in annals of criminal history as kings, but a closer look reveals a feminine presence behind every incident of consequence.
Take for instance Jenabai Daaruwaali, infamous as daaruwaali because she made it big by selling liquor illegally. Like a philharmonic orchestra conductor, she was the brain and strength of the most dreaded dons in Mumbai — Karim Lala, Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim. Dawood had great respect for her: he called her massi.
Then comes Gangubai — the godmother of Kamathipura. Her descent and rise in the flesh trade is a very intriguing story.
Then we also have women like Ashraf Khan. It was a burning desire for revenge that got Ashraf alias Sapna Didi into the world of crime. A femme fatale, as the authors rightly call her, she made it her life’s sole aim to kill Dawood Ibrahim, and avenge her husband’s death.
She foxed the don’s men to an extent, but her naivety got her killed in the most brutal of ways.Zaidi, a crime reporter, monitored the Mumbai mafia for almost two decades before penning his latest book. His first book based on the investigation of the 1993 Mumbai blasts was aptly titled Black Friday. Anurag Kashyap has also made a film with the same name.
Mumbai is definitely Zaidi’s field of expertise. Some 285 pages of hardcore reporting and engaging commentary is what works for this book. The stories are not set in any backdrop but the bylanes and shanties of Nagpada, Dongri, Peddar Road, Byculla and Kamathipura. Like celebrities who try to dodge the prying photographers these queens of infamy also have their mechanisms of keeping the police at bay.
One will realise the police often appears incompetent and is the laughing stock of the crime world. From eunuch shields, to secret passages in the slums and sources in the higher echelons of the administration, you have it all. The duo must be praised for this thrilling tour of Mumbai’s underworld.At the end of this roller-coaster ride you realise what Vishal Bharadwaj rightly says in the foreword, “Crime is juicier than spirituality.”
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Am a dreamer, writer and traveller. Still trying to find my niche but what counts is being able to give wings to my imagination.