Monday, July 09, 2012

Dawood’s meteoric rise, told in true Bollywood style

S. Hussain Zaidi’s book is rich in details and unveils the story of India’s biggest don. Yet, in certain places it is a bit too speculative for a work of non-fiction, says Mahima Kaul

About 200 pages into Dongri to Dubai, I suddenly remembered the Hindi movie Rajneeti. It too began with the crafting of political alliances among power brokers, but soon dissolved into an incredible spate of killing sprees and shootouts that defy conventional logic. So goes the story of the Mumbai mafia, but its journey is far more insidious. From the making of dons to the supremacy of gangs, the mafia morphs into the personal fiefdom of Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, and finally plunges into a story about international terrorism. S. Hussain Zaidi paints a colourful — albeit made for Bollywood — picture, often with some sympathy and awe for his main characters. In the middle, your head might start spinning with the detailed accounts of brazen murders carried out in the heart of Mumbai. And when the colour of the mafia turns blood red communal following the unfortunate 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, it immediately stops being a story about an outlandish turf war between the D-Company and its discontents.

There are many central characters in Zaidi's account of the six decades of the mafia, spanning dons like Haji Mastan, the dangerous Pathans, Amirzada and Alamzeb, the BRA gang, Chotta Rajan, Chotta Shakeel and of course, Dawood himself. But the story, in true Bollywood style, is of India's biggest don, who was actually the son of a poor police officer. In a twist of fate, because of his closeness to crime journalist Natiq and being the son of a police officer, the budding hoodlum was propped up by the Bombay police as a tool to break the power of rival gangs. Dawood's meteoric rise is worth reading about, and Zaidi adds romance, spice, and enough gore to keep you riveted to the action.

A sidenote — at times you can't take this book as a work of non-fiction as certain scenes are clearly based purely on speculation. Feelings of apprehension or foreboding gangsters had before their deaths, sex scenes which most certainly get raunchier as the book progresses, and very 'filmy' descriptions of conversations between dons behind closed doors has the reader wondering how this could be fact. Taken with a pinch of salt, they add to what can otherwise be a very grim story about death and destruction.

There is feeling of helplessness as you read about Bombay's bloodbath — shootings of businessmen right in front of the Mumbai police station, grenade attacks on jails, attacks on gangsters by gangsters at JJ hospital, the massive shootout of Lokhandwala. Later, when it is revealed that it was a call from the Mantralaya that allowed Dawood to escape to Dubai, you felt cheated of the names of politicians clearly in his pocket. From Dubai, Dawood retains control of his empire and even builds it up, but his involvement in the 1993 Bombay terror attacks is painted with a light brush by Zaidi. Apparently Dawood did not know the size of the attacks that were to be carried out, and only really financed them to get rid of rival Tiger Memon from Bombay. Shocked, that at first the Muslim community had looked to him for retaliation for Babri, but then furious with him for his involvement with the attacks that followed, Zaidi says Dawood was "flummoxed". He offers to come back to India, with certain preconditions, to clarify his position. It is vested authorities in India that don't let him back in. Now, unable to clear his sullied name, he is forever to be associated with the ISI, "leaving him with almost no control over his destiny anymore". It's hard to feel sorry for a cold-blooded killer and the (assumed) orchestrator of terror attacks that killed hundreds of innocent people, but you could come close to it at this point.

On the other side of the coin are the Indian authorities. Time and time again it seems they are simply unable or unwilling to take action at the appropriate times. Despite Mumbai police's strategy of encounter killings and phone tapping, you get the sense that the police has remained helpless against taking firm action against the mob while the upper echelons of Indian society have, in the past, been wining and dining them. Also, that the Pakistani government is in cahoots with Dawood, and that he started financing terror groups in that country to retain political influence, has been painted as a survival strategy and not ideological. The same can be said for his links with Osama Bin Laden.

The story is certainly not new — it's the telling that is. Despite it being a work of non-fiction, it can read sometime like the script of an exciting movie. There is great detailing, even with minor characters. It is the weakest, in my opinion, right in the end when the book attempts to fit larger geopolitical politicking into the narrative. Things change after 9/11, and L.K Advani presents a dossier on Dawood's D Company to the US, which finally declares him a global terrorist (a victory that took India over a decade to achieve), but it is still unwilling to hold Pakistan to task for harboring the criminal. But these themes need much more analysis than is afforded in a book that is essentially the inside-story of the ups and downs of dons and their kingdoms.