Mafia queens of mumbai, p.1
MAFIA QUEENS OF MUMBAI
S. Hussain Zaidi is a veteran journalist, currently working as the Resident Editor of the Deccan Chroncle / Asian Age, Mumbai. His earlier bestselling book Black Friday, based on the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993, was made into an acclaimed film of the same name by Anurag Kashyap. Alex Perry, while reviewing the book for Time magazine, said: ‘The undeniable strength of Black Friday is the depth and intelligence with which Zaidi portrays the bombers themselves. In penetrating this closed world, Zaidi ridicules the shorthand caricature of terrorists so popular nowadays: that they are “evil”, “fanatic” or “mad”.’
Zaidi is also associate producer of the HBO production of Terror in Mumbai, a documentary based on the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
Zaidi started his career in The Asian Age and has worked in several newspapers including Indian Express, Mid-Day and Mumbai Mirror. His in-depth research on the Mumbai mafia has been used by international authors like Misha Glenny in McMafia and Vikram Chandra in his monumental book Sacred Games.
Jane Borges is a Senior Sub-Editor on the news desk of The Asian Age, Mumbai bureau. Jane started her journalistic career with Times of Oman at the age of eleven while she was schooling in Muscat. During her five-year stint as a columnist Jane won several awards before she finally returned home to Mumbai at the age of sixteen. Now twenty-four, she lives in Mumbai with her family.
Praise for Mafia Queens of Mumbai
‘Thirteen true stories ofblack marketeers, prostitution ringleaders, and trained assassins hit these pages with a convincing splatter. They may call it trade paper, but this is pulp at its gritty, graphic best, steeped in juicy detail and relishing every suspenseful twist .... The rare book that, like Mafia Queens, peels back Mumbai s thin veneer of civilization isn’t merely sensational; it’s essential to completing the portrait of a corrupt city’
‘Zaidi has managed to be both a reporter and a raconteur in his stories about the underworld. Mafia Queens has dollops of drama in its accounts of singular, fearless women.’
– TimeOut Mumbai
‘Without seeming to romanticise their exploits or turn them into poster girls of crime, Zaidi and Borges offer perceptive glimpses of the women’s complex minds to show how they pushed the boundaries of dominant moral codes of their times.’
– Deccan Herald
‘... a valuable piece of reportage, for it offers new insights into a world for which people have endless fascination, and it does so through a unique perspective.’
– Sunday Guardian
‘... vibrates with drama, intrigue and unexpected pathos.’
– Hindustan Times
‘As gripping as its protagonists.’
– Times of India
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First published in India in TRANQUEBAR by westland ltd 2011
Copyright © S. Hussain Zaidi, Jane Borges 2011
Photographs © Mid-day, The Indian Express, Mumbai and unless otherwise cited rest with the respective copyright holders.
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This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, circulated, and no reproduction in any form, in whole or in part (except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews) may be made without written permission of the publishers.
For our beloved parents, Khatoon and Ashfaq Husain,
Sandra and Johnny Borges; the light of our lives
FOREWORD by Vishal Bhardwaj
ONE : THE WILY OLD WOMAN OF DONGRI
TWO : THE MATRIARCH OF KAMATHIPURA
THREE : FEMME FATALE
FOUR : THE NARCO EMPRESS
FIVE : MOBSTER’S MOLL
SIX : WIVES OF HINDU DONS
SEVEN : THE GANGLORD’S GIRLS
EIGHT : BEWITCHING BEAUTIES
rime is juicier than spirituality. Guns are more attractive than roses. And thus—at least to me—the stories about the lives of gangsters are much more fascinating to share than that of saints.
I felt that crime reporting in India is limited only to the columns of daily newspapers and the stories die shortly after they are published. It is truly rare that a book seeks to preserve such stories for posterity and specifically, for fans like me.
As a filmmaker, my need for such stories is even more so. I always felt handicapped and a tad frustrated, because there was no way I could dig into the lives or events in the glorious criminal past of the great city of dreams, once called Bombay and now known as Mumbai. But the time came when I had to change my opinion. It was when I saw the film Black Friday (made by my dear friend and a fantastic filmmaker, Anurag Kashyap), which is based on the book of the same title, authored by S. Hussain Zaidi. The book was a thoroughly researched account of the reasons and the conspiracy that led to the horrible 1993 Mumbai serial blasts and the repercussions that followed.
Hussain’s was a name stuck forever in my mind after that. I found a ray of hope in his work. I decided to follow his crime stories and therefore, had to change my newspaper every time he switched jobs.
Finally I met him during the research work of my film Kaminey. He was of great help, of course, taking me to people and places in order for me to have a glance into the drug-trafficking business of the city, an inseparable part of the Mumbai mafia. It was then that I made him promise to give me the first right of refusal of his next work for a film adaptation.
Precisely two years later I got a call from him, asking me to write the foreword of the book that you have in your hand right now—The Mafia Queens of Mumbai. Stories that I and I’m sure most of you, have never heard.
Personally, I enjoy the female protagonist or antagonist much more than the male one. Lady Macbeth is more complex and fascinating a character than Macbeth or King Duncan. Madam Bovary, Anna Karenina, Phoolan Devi, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are, to me, much more interesting than their male counterparts.
As expected, this read was a delightful journey; or rather should I say, a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes full of sorrow, sometimes horrifying but always dramatic. The shrewd Jenabai Daaruwali who made notorious ganglords like Karim Lala, Haji Mastan and ‘our own’ Dawood Ibrahim dance to the movement of her fingers just like a conductor of a big philharmonic orchestra.
The ironic tale of the queen of Kamathipura, Gangubai, fighting to get recognition for the existence and importance of sex workers in society. Or the melancholic tale of a wife looking for revenge for her slain husband from none other than Dawood Ibrahim ...
The writing is so visual that it makes you feel as if you are watching a movie, inter-cutting between various tracks. The stories are almost cinematically structured, flashing back or forward and taking one through numerous time passages. Honesdy, it left me struggling to decide which one to choose to adapt to celluloid!
So I proudly welcome you into the world of these beautiful, kind and cunning warring queens who broke through the glass ceiling in the absolute stronghold of brutal masculinity called the Un
Mumbai ki queen kaun? Turn the pages and make your choice.
afia Queens of Mumbai is the translation of a decade-and-a-half-long dream. During the late Nineties, when crime reporting was still my bailiwick, I became fascinated with women criminals. I realised they were gutsier, far more scheming and lethal when it came to pursuing their goals.
One episode that left an indelible imprint on my mind was the story of Lallan Bhabhi. In the world of Bhais (criminals) she was the Bhabhi, one of the cogs in the petrol adulteration cartel. On a rainy evening, she was arrested and taken to the Sewree Police Station in south Mumbai. As per the norm, she was allowed to make one phone call. Generally, the accused uses the opportunity to inform their relatives about their arrest or hire a lawyer for bail proceedings.
This woman, sitting in the police station right under the cops’ noses, called her house and instructed her younger brother, ‘I am not coming home tonight, please shift the kitchen.’
The cop who narrated the story to me later said they were mystified by the whole conversation. ‘Why would a woman who has just been arrested by the cops, be more concerned about her kitchen than her children, husband or her own release?’
The police knew it was futile to question her; she was hardly expected to be honest with the law. They could not use unconventional methods to make a woman talk, so they dispatched a police party to her house and asked her brother about the whole conversation. The boy immediately cracked and revealed that she meant the fresh stock of adulterated petrol which was not seized by the cops should be immediately shifted to some other hideout before the police learned of its existence,
Lallan Bhabhi showed her mettle to the cops; she was unfazed by the law. For her, being in police custody was just an interlude before resuming her criminal activities and she didn’t want any financial loss despite her being incarcerated. She wanted to keep her petrol adulteration business thriving and running.
As a writer and journalist, it was a seminal moment for me. I was intrigued. I began compiling data and began taking a special interest in crimes where women figured prominently. It might come handy if I wrote a book, I told myself.
And after having written about all kinds of criminals over the years, I can say with firm conviction that when it comes to gender dynamics, it is much easier to be a Dawood Ibrahim than a Jenabai Daaruwali. If you sift through the gangs of Chhotas (Rajan and Shakeel), you will find clones galore, but you will rarely come across a Sapna Didi, a woman who dared to stand up against Dawood and was given a dastardly death by the don’s acolytes. Of the twenty-two stab wounds inflicted on her, four were specifically targeted at her private parts, a grisly message of warning to other women not to dally with the mafia.
This book is an attempt to understand the complex minds and the psyche of women criminals. It is in no way meant to glorify them. On the other hand, these women were not blank slates written upon by dangerous male mafia members. There is no simplistic cause-effect way of looking at their lives. There is no doubt that for these women, crime was not only a way of transcending their poverty and limitations but also a life-saving concept. By focusing on these women, I am not trying to essentialise the nature of female criminals. They are fascinating women because they pushed the boundaries of our dominant moral codes.
Compiling the extraordinary and powerful tales of thirteen women from the world of crime and the underworld was overwhelmingly challenging and arduous, especially because a number of them flourished at a time when crimes by women were barely documented or acknowledged. These include the stories of bootlegger Jenabai Daaruwali and brothel madam Gangubai Kathiawadi.
As journalists the first lesson we learnt was not to sit on judgment but raise questions. In the stories that you will read, we have desisted from being judgmental and have stuck to facts. We have relied heavily on court documents, police records, cop historians, reliable journalists and published news stories in major national dailies.
In the absence of these, we have interviewed relatives, neighbours, retired policemen, veteran journalists and other independent witnesses. We ensured that any account which seemed controversial was corroborated by two separate parties. Those accounts which seemed contradictory to each other were ignored.
This book is an attempt at accurate and true storytelling. It is not a piece of fiction. We have taken literary license only in those places where we feel it is absolutely necessary to add graphic drama to the story, but without any sort of dilution to the authenticity of the incidents.
AT THE GRAVEYARD
he Arabian Sea, murky and grey, flails and lashes against the giant tetra-pods on the Queen’s Necklace near Marine Lines. The skies have opened up to let loose a welcome spell of rain after playing hide-and-seek with the city for day.
Not long ago, until the mid-Eighties, you could stand on the footboard of a Western local train and watch the shimmering sea as your train whizzed past Charni Road to Marine Lines. The name Marine Lines is a British legacy, a throwback to a time when the British put Mumbai on the trade route in the mid-nineteenth century by linking the city with an amazing network of railheads. Marine Lines comes from Marine Battalion Lines, a British military establishment. The battalion was later converted to an air force residence quarters, and you can still visit it just south of Metro Adlabs. If you get off at Marine Lines station, only a road—known as V. Thackersey Marg—separates the sea from the famous Marine Drive promenade.
Abutting the station is Bada Qabrastan, a sprawling 7.5 acres that is a reminder and a testimony to man’s mortality. In fact, the cemetery—a hundred-and-fifty-years-old—is so close to the station that commuters cut across it before taking the stairs leading to the over-bridge at the north end of the station.
As I enter Bada Qabarstan, sheets of rain pelt the tombstones, adding to the gloom. It is for a story on Haji Mastan that I am here. It is his barsi, or death anniversary, and I was told that the yesteryear’s don, who was Mumbai’s most notorious gold smuggler, is remembered every year by his three daughters with a profusion of flowers and rose petals.
This is not an unheard of phenomenon in Mumbai; the rich like to remember their dead in various ways. There’s an apocryphal story about Dawood Ibrahim’s police constable father. Apparently when Ibrahim Kaskar passed away, his son Dawood arranged for truckloads of rose petals to be showered on his father’s grave. For three days, they say, the fragrance of roses wafted across the graveyard.
Futilely trying to sidestep puddles, I walk along a neat, well-maintained line of graves. Haji Mastan’s final resting place is easy to locate—the inscriptions are both in Urdu and English. Fresh rose petals have been laid out on the grave but the rumoured huge mounds of flowers are missing. I see a few people gathered around the grave, reciting from the Koran supplications. Perhaps I’d better confirm that this is, in fact, the don’s grave. I gather courage and ask an attendant, ‘Kya yeh Haji Mastan ki qabar hai? (Is this Haji Mastan’s grave?)
Some of the mourners give me disapproving looks but one of them nods. I look back at the grave and wonder why Mastan’s daughters did not construct a more elaborate tombstone, a shrine-like edifice like several I can see around, instead of the simple, flat one they have chosen. How the mighty fall, I think, and decide to wander around.
This is my first visit to Bada Qabrastan. I am told that several of the men who ruled Mumbai’s underbelly with an iron fist were laid to rest here—Karim Lala, Ibrahim Dada, Rahim Khan, Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Sabir Kaskar, to name a few. Now that the Haji Mastan flower story doesn’t seem to be working out, perhaps I could check the epitaphs on the graves of these dons.
I ask—perhaps a bit naively—‘Kya yahan underworld walon ke liye alag section ham?’ (Are the members of the underworld buried in a different corner of the graveyard?)
One man in a chequered lungi, tied up so that i
‘Underworld ki rani?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Do you mean the wives of the underworld dons?’
He looks around and then looks at me pointedly. I slip him a fifty-rupee note, which disappears into his baggy kurta.
‘Mastan had a sister ... some woman called ... I can’t remember her full name, she was some Gandhi. She tied a rakhi to our former prime minister Morarji Desai. Yashwantrao Chavan—who was chief minister of Maharashtra—used to respect her a lot also. She was the queen of the Mumbai underworld; no one like her will ever be seen again.’
Has the old man gone senile, I wonder. As a crime reporter for a decade and a half, I’d never heard of a woman who had connections with powerful politicians and the mafiosi. A woman who was like a sister to Mastan, someone with the surname Gandhi, who tied a rakhi to a former Prime minister and who had hobnobbed with a powerful Maratha chief minister.
Senile or not, here was Shakoor bhai, the man in the lungi, leading me to this woman’s grave. We walk past labyrinthine rows of graves, traversing one end of the graveyard to the other, on the way passing an enclosure—tiflane jannat (the children of heaven)—where young children are buried.
After walking for several minutes, he leads me to the southernmost corner of the graveyard and, stopping near the wall, points towards one particular L-shaped grave, unkempt, decrepit and hidden by thick overgrown bushes.
‘Yehi hain unki qabar.’ (This is her grave.)
I look at it, but can discern no details. The headstone comprises a plain stone with an inscription which reads: Form No. 2544, Otta No. 601. But it gives no name. I hand Shakoor bhai another fifty-rupee note and am about to tell him he can go, when he resumes talking.