Dongri to Dubai: Review

Hussain Zaidi’s movie-style narrative is perfect for the dramatic and violent events that have defined Mumbai’s mafia rise and fall.

Those of you planning on picking up this book for some harmless, vicarious thrills won’t be disappointed. In the lawless Mumbai of lore that Zaidi has painstakingly recreated for his readers, execution-style murders are a plenty, drive-by shootings are commonplace and the occasional courtroom killing will shock even the most jaded enthusiasts of crime stories. The author morphs effortlessly from crime journalist to storyteller and this seriously ups the ante on the entertainment value of the book. Conscious of the fact that he might lose his readers (particularly, the non-Mumbaikaars) to the horde of names, dates and locales, Zaidi has given himself some creative licence (with the conversations, for example) and even added some frills (one hilariously bizarre sex scene comes to mind). It is to his credit that despite this, the book never loses its gravity. Every detailed rendering of a shootout or an encounter carries with it the weight of research, in addition to being worthy of a Bollywood action-drama.

The author, though unbiased for most part, seems to offer sympathy and understanding ever so often. And sometimes, you find yourself doing the same, for in the murky world of organised crime, right and wrong are measured by different parameters. Like when Haji Mastan, starting out as a humble coolie at the port, decided that bypassing the British-imposed duty taxes (a.k.a smuggling) was justified.

Karim Lala, Varadaraja Mudaliar, Dawood Ibrahim, Chotta Rajan, Abu Salem…the books delves into the loves, lives and driving force behind these men, who at the height of their power, ran a quasi government in the port city. Star billing is given however, to Dawood Ibrahim whose journey from Dongri to Dubai is dotted with betrayal, intrigue, heartbreak and loss, leaving behind a long trail of blood. And through the scores of personal and business interactions detailed here, we are able to piece together a fuzzy picture of the elusive Dawood. Easy to taken slight yet the first to agree to a truce, often you feel sorry for the dreaded don seeing how he himself was a pawn of the Mumbai police (something that came back to bite them in the ass) and later, the ISI. He is portrayed as a man unapologetic about his way of life yet racked with the guilt of having aided the Mumbai bombings in 1993. He even offers to surrender but politicians and policemen squirm at the thought of Dawood ‘spilling the beans’ and reject his terms. By the end of the book, Dawood is still at large and we come to recognise that in real life, unfortunately, not all loose ends are tied up.

Through its pages, we also get to witness the ‘moral’ degeneration of the mafia in the later years. Earlier, dons still considered themselves to be good men albeit with unconventional businesses. But the new crop of street thugs who extorted and murdered their way to the top might as well been recruited from Bloodthirsty Psychopaths Anonymous. An eye for an eye was the norm of the day and the mafia settled its scores in brutal ways and very often, in public. It had to and it could – Lives were cheap. Loyalty was not. And in the squalid slums of Mumbai, disillusioned and impoverished young men from across India helped keep alive the mafia and it’s thousand bestial eyes.

Dongri to Dubai presents a feature expose of Dawood Hasan Ibrahim Kaskar, the charismatic and suave boss of the dreaded D Company. In this masterpiece, with Dawood as protagonist, the author has re-created sixty years of Indian underworld right from it’s inception. And that too in gripping detail.

The book starts with stories of genuinly good people turning into small time crooks in turn metamorphising into some of the most feared and powerful mafia lords in Mumbai. From small central Mumbai neighbourhoods to far flung suburban satellite areas like Bhandup, Ghatkopar, Virar, Thane, etc the mafia loops in everyone and everything that reeks of money or power. The meticulously researched book provides a comprehensive account of the mafia’s dark games of supremacy and fratricidal warfare. It successfully exposes the underbelly of the Indian and South Asian politico criminal conglomerate. These sixty years seem like the dark ages from Lord of the Rings when the world is engulfed by the evil’s darkness. The details on misuse of the system and government machinary along with the intermingling of the black economy with the white in developing countries is nauseating.

But most importantly, the book gives a first rate description of Dawood’s rise from a minion to a global power icon (he was ranked 57th in Forbes list of powerful people in November 2011). It is intriguing to read how a smalltime fake watch peddler turned into the fearsome Bhai due to his sheer daring and a scheming brain. He survives in the gruesome landscape pockmarked by gangs led by stalwarts such as Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Varadarajan Mudaliar, and Pathan don Ahmed Khan aka Baashu Dada. He outsmarts all of them with his wit and guts, deccimates and amalgamates their empires, and they fade away into the far recesses of popular memory while he assumes mythic proportions.

Zaidi portrays that it was the police who created this David to boot out the Goliath (pathan mafia) from mumbai. Little would they have known, not even in their wildest dreams, that their protege would later become their worst nemesis.

In this book, Dawood is shown to be as unforgiving as Michael Corleone, as ruthless as the Solntsevskaya Bratva and as sly as Vito Corleone.

The book also showcases the might of the Indian Intelligence agencies which force Dawood to flee to Dubai. His linkages with the ISI, subsequent role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, fallout with Chota Rajan, final shift of base to Pakistan and globalization of operations have been described in sordid details.

The research seems exhaustive and thorough, the narration is dramatic and the pace is fast which makes the book unputdownable. Just make sure that when you read it, be open for surprises.

I would rate this book a 4/5. A good read

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