Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Dongri to Dubai, is a fast-paced, riveting read, narrating the rise and fall of Gangs of Mumbai since Indian independence and charting the rise of Dawood Ibrahim - the son of an honest, well respected police constable - as he destroys his competitors left, right and center to emerge as the superstar of the Mumbai mafia. The stories have a journalistic edge to them, the narrative pace never slackens and there is no dull moment at all in the tales of revenge, domination and territorial pissings of the mafia kingpins. In the meantime, the writer S Hussain Zaidi (a veteran crime reporter and the writer of Black Friday - the book on which Anurag Kashyap's fabulous film is based) also finds time to write about the old gangsters Haji Mastan (whose legendary fight with the goons on Bombay docks would go on to inspire moments of pure cinematic magic in Amitabh Bachchan's fight sequence in Deewar) and Varadarajan Mudaliar (on whose life the great Mani Ratnam directed Nayagan) and how their reign was supplanted by the cunning and muscle of Dawood.  The latter part about Dawood and Chhota Rajan and how their rift led to another intense underworld rivalry and especially the part about how the Indian intelligence agencies are allegedly propping up Rajan to take on Dawood's gang make for a delightful, exciting reading. It is easy to see how Vikram Chandra in his brilliant book Sacred Games, imbibes these stories generously and weaves them into a very satisfying coherent plot. (Chandra has written the foreword for the book and has, on numerous occasions spoken about Zaidi's invaluable help in writing Sacred Games.)

Now on to the irritating part. The standard of writing is pretty low and sentence construction is clumsy and lazy. The style is too hurried and there are many fact checking problems (RSS is claimed to be "Rashtriya Seva Sangh" ...(really?)) The chapters are not very well organized and there is often a propensity to just mention events without really documenting them. The current state of Mumbai mafia post Dawood's departure to Dubai and from there to Karachi, is not well explored either. In particular, we really don't seem to understand why from the casual shootouts during the '90s, Mumbai has suddenly become so tranquil, so much so, that it has earned the "safest city of India" moniker. The ending seems abrupt as well. A pity Zaidi doesn't seem to care for or display the literary skills of his close friend Vikram Chandra.

For those who, however, value information about the underworld and want to have a little historical peep into the mafia's workings (of a more voyeuristic nature albeit) this book is perfect. It's a wonderful afternoon time killer or as in the case of NF, the instrument that slayed the eternity that airports are. 


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