Headley and i, p.9
HEADLEY AND I,
One day, one of my Lashkar masters took me aside and told me that there was one more Daura that I needed to do, that everyone like me, of my calibre, had to do.
Hobnobbing with the Lashkar had awakened me to my spiritual side. But the Daura-e-Tadrib ul Muslimeen in July 2004 gave my spirituality a new momentum. This was at a seminar in Abbottabad. I am sure all of us in this room know about Abbottabad, which houses a large military base.
There were many speakers at the seminar. However, to me, the star speaker was Maulana Masood Azhar. Yes, I’m sure the name strikes a chord. It is the same Maulana Masood Azhar that the Indian government had to release in exchange for the passengers of IC-814 in Kandahar. Hearing him speak was a celestial, deeply spiritual experience. Throughout his discourse, I was riveted.
As Azhar was wrapping up his speech, he said to us that our lives had no real meaning, no real purpose, and they should be spent in the cause of jehad. From then on, I was ready to die for my Muslim brothers.
After the seminar, I approached Azhar and told him that I wanted to go to Kashmir to fight alongside my brethren. I told him that I had become leaner, fitter, was much better trained than before, and that I was totally inspired and motivated, and wanted to lay down my life for the cause of jehad and for Islam.
However, the answer was once again the same. Kashmir was a very difficult terrain, Azhar told me, for a man of my age who had already crossed forty. He tried to cheer me up by telling me that I could go anywhere else and that I should be more patient. He hinted that I might soon be given a mission to carry out in India.
In 2005, I was sent to the FATA region in Pakistan, where I met Ayub Afridi, one of the biggest and most powerful drug lords there. I once mentioned his name to Rahul Bhatt, but it was mostly to impress him. I am sure you must have heard from him, Mr Behera, so there’s no need to look so surprised.
By 2005, I had finished my training and had become a full-fledged member of the LeT, a jehadi dedicated to the cause of true Islam. I was itching to start work, and was looking forward to the mission in India that I had been told might be given to me. Within a few days, I was introduced to a retired brigadier of the ISI. They never revealed his full name to me, I only knew him as Retired Brigadier Riyaz.
Riyaz lived in a palatial house in Muzaffarabad, reminiscent of all those palaces that people see in movies and photographs. There were times when I was summoned to the house along with Zaki, one of my LeT masters. It was then that I realized the equation between Pakistan’s ISI and the Lashkar—they were like master and subordinate. Zaki, who was a top figure in the LeT, the man in charge of all operations, was just a subservient servant in front of Brigadier Riyaz. He never disagreed with or questioned what Riyaz said, he always nodded and agreed, even if he did not like what he was hearing. I had by that time lived for years with Zaki and I knew that he did not approve of everything that Riyaz said. But the lines of power were extremely well defined. Because it was Riyaz giving the orders, Zaki would do whatever he was asked to do, without any questions.
I figured out that Riyaz was not the only man in the ISI who was dealing with our LeT handlers. Like him, Major Iqbal too was a very powerful and influential figure. His man in the LeT was Hafiz Saeed. Similarly, Major Samir handled biggies like Abu Kahafa, Sajid Mir and others.
It was a strange marriage, and I knew that the LeT despised it. To them, jehad was most important. But the ISI were really not interested in jehad. They were only interested in developing and executing strategies to destabilize India. And I knew that Zaki and the others felt their ISI superiors did not know or understand Islam as well as they did, nor did they believe as strongly in the true Islam and the Salafi ideology. But their hands were tied. The LeT could not survive without the ISI’s protection, and for that, they had to comply with the ISI’s directives. All my Lashkar masters listened to their ISI masters.
Finally, the ISI masters decided that I was ready for jehad, and my first mission. But they told me that there was one crucial thing I had to do first. I had to go back to the US and change my name. I was still Daood Gilani, and a Daood Gilani flying to and fro between Pakistan and other countries would get noticed, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. I was instructed to choose a name that would not raise any suspicion.
Sometime in September 2005, I called my attorney, Donald Drumpf, and told him that I wanted to change my name. He was surprised, but I told him that I had grown tired of Daood Gilani and the consequent persecution, and wanted to change my name to one that would sound as if it belonged to a white American. He believed what I said.
Finally, though my social security number remained the same, I changed my name to David Coleman Headley, using my mother’s middle and last names.
At last, I was ready. This was the first time I was leaving the country on a mission, and I was leaving it a new man, as David Coleman Headley. After all those years of nursing my hatred, it was only fitting that my first mission was going to be in and against India.
Given what I now know of David Headley, it may sound surprising if I say that at times I am still unable to figure out who is more evil of the two—David Headley or my own father.
The two men treated and cheated me in a similar manner. David evoked love and affection in me, and behaved as a father would with his grown-up son. Yet, he ditched me. He had been using me all along to get information and to perform reconnaissance missions for the LeT. At the end of the day, he cheated me. Just like Mr Bhatt had done. Mr Bhatt too had ignored me, his own son, and cut me out of his life. He didn’t help me when I needed him the most, and he wasn’t around when I required his support and strength to lean on.
Even after all that has happened, when I know the kind of man David is and the sort of person Mr Bhatt is, I keep oscillating between these conflicting emotions for the two father figures in my life. I don’t know which of them is better and I suspect that this is one puzzle I will never be able to solve.
This may seem somewhat unfair to Mr Bhatt. Even though he was non-existent throughout my childhood, I cannot get over some of the fond memories associated with him from the time when I was just coming out of my teens. Those memories make me very happy, but at times they also fill me with bitterness.
The first time I felt I really bonded with my father came about quite accidentally. I had just turned twenty, and was finally feeling more of a man.
When I turned sixteen, I had decided that I had to do something about my obesity. Yes, I was a chubby, lovable boy, everyone’s teddy bear, but there were so many things I was missing out on. I saw the other kids around me, hanging out and going to movies and dates. I remember envying them, but till I was sixteen, I never really thought of changing myself.
After my sixteenth birthday, something changed within me. It wasn’t any particular event that influenced me or an epiphany that I had. I got up one day and decided that I was done with the way I was living, the way I was spending my days, the way I looked, my habits, my eating disorders, everything—I decided to take charge of my life.
I started working out, trying to put my life in order by first getting my body in shape. Gradually, I started shedding all the fat that I had accumulated over the years of depression and the periods of sadness and melancholy caused by my dysfunctional family and by Mr Mahesh Bhatt.
By the time I was seventeen, I was slowly working towards building a fitter body. Finally, by nineteen, I was absolutely fit and trim, and there was not an ounce of extra fat on my body. All it had taken was long hours of walking. I spent almost all my spare time, after school and college, walking. It helped enormously, and I lost four kilograms in the first month itself.
I now decided to take my fitness to the next level. I started with weight training, building up muscle after having toned my body. I enrolled for K11 training under fitness trainer Kaizzad Capadia and by the time I was twenty, I had completed the training. Then I started working as a fitness instructor at a gym for a salary of Rs 10,000 a month
Life was looking up for me when, out of the blue, Pooja asked me if I wanted to take a couple of weeks off from my busy schedule and travel to Himachal Pradesh.
Pooja was making her first film, Paap, which she was both directing and producing, and the location was Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh. On Pooja’s invitation, I took leave from my job and joined the crew. Initially, I decided that I would tag along with Pooja and not spend too much time with Mr Bhatt, who was also present as he had written the core theme of the movie and was helping Pooja with her directorial debut.
By a twist of fate, it so happened that when we arrived at the hotel, I found that I would have to share a room with Mr Bhatt. My plan of avoiding any kind of confrontation with my father came undone, and I steeled myself for an unpleasant time ahead.
I was wrong.
In that room, where I spent around two months with my biological father, I had the chance of observing him very closely. I realized that beneath the cold exterior, he was actually a very nice person. I feel sheepish admitting this now, but it was during that time that I found out that he had many good qualities in him, some latent, most invisible to a growing child yearning for a father. I realized that he was a very intelligent man, and wise.
Many a time during those two months, I found myself wondering where this man had been all my life. And I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know why I’d had to wait so long to discover that there was a side to Mr Mahesh Bhatt which made him, or would have made him, a fantastic and exemplary father. I was privy to a part of him that had been hitherto concealed from me—he was so much more caring, and so much more affectionate than I had known him to be. I even remember wishing that he would hug me or ruffle my hair or something, although he never did so. Maybe he just wasn’t that sort of a person. But when he called my name, I detected a certain pride in his voice, and whenever he looked at me, I saw his eyes betray a love that I hadn’t seen earlier.
There were many other things, little things, almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of this world, that my father did for me during our stay in Spiti. He made it a point that we should have breakfast together. There were a few times when I had a late night and, consequently, a late morning, and I was surprised to see him waiting at the breakfast table for me to join him. There were even a couple of times when he did not eat his lunch until he had made sure that I had eaten something. I remember, once, being out quite late at night and returning to our room to find that he was still awake, having decided to stay up for me.
Those two months were like a dream, and I didn’t even realize how swiftly they passed me by.
Pooja was mostly busy with the production work of Paap. The movie had big stars like John Abraham and Udita Goswami. The plot revolved around the relationship of a young girl, who is waiting to be initiated into nunhood in a Buddhist monastery, with a police officer. The girl, Goswami’s character, had run away from the law with the help of the officer, played by Abraham, and had taken refuge in the mountains.
As I watched the movie unfold in front of my eyes, I saw that my father was very good at portraying a woman’s sexuality. He had captured perfectly the sort of relationship a man was likely to have with a woman who is very open about her own sexuality. As he was working on the film and helping Pooja with the direction, I noticed, for the first time, this new side to my father—Mr Mahesh Bhatt the director—and I appreciated it. I was proud of the fact that there were very few directors who could have thought up and executed an idea like my father’s. Earlier, I had seen only the work of Raj Kapoor and Feroz Khan and thought they were among the precious few who were good with such themes. Now I felt that my father had trumped them. I don’t know if Mr Bhatt will like being compared to these legends, but all directors don’t have the eye and imagination to look at a woman and be able to portray her the way my father did. Udita Goswami was portrayed in the movie like a houri from heaven!
My father and I never sat and had long talks for hours on end. I don’t think he can ever be that kind of a man with me. But we did talk, and during some of these conversations, I received some genuinely good advice from him.
One day, we were getting ready to turn in for the night after dinner when we got talking. After a while, the conversation veered towards my career and how I had turned my life around from an obese child to a fitness trainer.
My father looked at me and said, ‘Rahul, if you want to look at your past, you have only two choices. You can be a victim or a survivor. Either you can be affected by everything you remember and you can curse me and blame me for abandoning you. You can keep wallowing in that kind of self-pity throughout your life. You can share the grief and the depression you went through with your girlfriend, who might lend you a sympathetic shoulder and may even offer to sleep with you. This will probably help you to get by life for a few years. But you cannot live and thrive as a victim forever. There will come a time when people will become tired of you. They will look at you and think of you as a complaining man whom they have to tolerate, but not for long. You cannot wear the tag of a victim throughout your life; you cannot remain a martyr. Sympathy is not permanent, my son.’
I watched him speak, and I knew that he meant what he was saying. I realized that he was trying to show me a better way to live my life. At that moment, he was trying to be a better father than he had been before.
‘The other choice that you have in life is to look at it and treat the past as the past and not let it affect your present and future. What’s done is done, Rahul. Everything that has happened is now a thing of the past, and since you can’t change it, all you can do is to improve your present and make your future even better. You need to take charge of your life, and you will see the difference almost immediately. People will then look at you as a confident man, someone who is willing to change his life, not shying away from taking on anything despite all the challenges and problems,’ he told me.
My father then gave me his own example—his own life while he was growing up. He said, ‘Rahul, you may not appreciate this or even know, but we are very similar people. I was an illegitimate child, something I am not ashamed of admitting to the world. My father abandoned me, and I didn’t have a good start in life either. You know that pit, that abyss you were in? Well, I was there too, but I realized that I could not remain in it for long and suffer, I could not be like that forever. I knew that I would have to change my life and the only way I could ensure that was by changing myself, by taking the situation and my life into my own hands.’
I understood that my father wanted me to learn from him and become aware that my life was not how it appeared to me, it was and could be a lot better. I grasped a lot of what he was saying, and I was happy that we were talking at such a personal level. I nodded, indicating that I understood what he was telling me, and I told myself that I would try to put into practice what he was trying to teach me.
We didn’t speak about it afterwards, but I knew that my father and I had made a connection. Though it had come nearly two decades too late, I guess it was better late than never.
Our trip came to an end soon, and we were all packing up to leave. That was when my father came up to me and said that he would launch me in a movie.
I expressed my eagerness at his idea.
‘What movie is this?’ I asked him.
‘Well, I am thinking of calling it The Blue Film,’ he said.
I was stunned. The fact that it sounded like a pornographic flick, the very idea of being part of a movie called The Blue Film was abhorrent. I just couldn’t see how I could make my debut in such a movie.
I expressed my reservations to my father. ‘How can you think that I would want to act in such a movie?’ I asked him in dismay.
He then narrated the movie’s plot to me. It would be a take on the porn industry and how the passionate, innocent lovemaking of a young man a
But I couldn’t do it and I told my father. That was when my father said something else that I will never forget.
He said, ‘Rahul, people in Bollywood have lost entire fortunes because of son-stroke.’
Seeing my blank expression, he went on, ‘Look at big shots like Rajendra Kumar and Dev Anand. Both these men are stalwarts in their field, both tried to promote their sons, and both suffered heavily. Even Feroz Khan suffered quite a lot while trying to promote his son Fardeen. Rahul, I am a businessman, and I know how the system works and what sells in the movie industry. I am telling you, as a father to his son, man to man. I know that The Blue Film will work for you. Why are you assuming that it won’t? Why are you so against the idea of working in this movie?’
As I still couldn’t come to terms with the idea, my father gave up trying to convince me.
Mr Bhatt went on to make the movie. It was renamed Kalyug and starred Kunal Khemu in the role that was offered to me. The movie was a success. It was with a lot of disappointment and hurt that I realized that my father, the perfect businessman, had gone ahead with the movie without me. What hurt the most was that when I had expressed my reservations about it, he had not mentioned anything about changing the title of the movie. But much later, while he was shooting for it, he changed the title to Kalyug, which he thought would be more suitable. He could have changed the name when he had proposed the idea to me and put my fears to rest. But he didn’t. Too bad. Even though I did what he had asked me to do and put it behind me, it still hurts.
My father likes to show off. For instance, in Bigg Boss Season Five, he had absolutely no inhibitions about offering a role to porn star Sunny Leone, even going to the extent of placing his hand on her head affectionately, like a father might do. He had always had issues with treating me like a son and ensuring that I got a foothold in the movie industry. I know he will say that Sunny did not cash in on a personal tragedy to become a porn star, that she’s not doing it because she’s been forced into it, or because someone had held a gun to her head. She is doing it of her own volition and she’s proud of what she is doing.