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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mafia Queens of Mumbai by S. Hussain Zaidi

The complete name of the title is Mafia Queens of Mumbai – Stories of women from the ganglands by S. Hussain and Jane Borges. It was published by Tranquebar Press, Westland Ltd., in 2011. It was released before the two titles by the same author which were Dongri to Dubai, and Byculla to Bangkok and reviewed on this blog. It was published long after the earlier book by the same author titled The Black Friday. The Black Friday was published in 2002 and produced into a Bollywood Movie.

The different titles by the same author were published by different publishers. He had probably started with Penguin and later shifted to different publishers.

The book contains a forward by Vishal Bhardwaj, a highly acclaimed music director, a great fan of R. D. Burman (whom the blogger also admires), Indian film director, screenwriter, producer and playback singer. The blogger, being an ardent fan of Pancham Music got attracted towards Vishal's music in Maachis (1996). After that, the blogger followed the news items related to Vishal Bhardwaj.

However, when I, the writer of the blog, read the forward penned by Vishal Bhardwaj, I was highly disappointed and aghast to learn the mind structure of the celebrity whom I admired. He wrote that crime was juicier than spirituality. The startling comparison is beyond imagination. Probably, he intently framed the sentence to attract the attention of the reader but betrayed his mental makeup. As for his opinion about crime reporting is concerned, I am unable to imagine that in 2011 when he penned this forward, he did not correlate it to his work in the film industry which had already started portraying the crime world on celluloid. Maybe, there is a different world around me, about which I have no inkling, and it is beyond my perception and imagination. A music director with highly admirable sensibility and sensitivity that I compared him with Pancham, wrote such a distorted perception of the surrounding. I have abstained from using some more damaging superlatives and adjectives and believed that the term distortion conveys them all. Vishal Bhardwaj, if you happen to read here, then, kindly review and ponder about your thinking process. Writing a script to define a character is entirely different from writing a forward to a book which is being published.

Somewhere Zaidi had mentioned that he was always interested in writing a novel and some publisher suggested him to write in the non-fiction genre. It seems that the Novel writer in Zaidi remains unborn in him and continue to struggle to come out in his writings. It was quite evident in his other titles also, and some reviewers had even criticised his style of writing when he tried to give dialogues to his characters who were real people and not a result of the work of fiction. However, in the introduction of this book, he had tried to neutralise his critics by declaring in the introduction to the book that he would use 'Literary Licence' to present his material. He has used it in abundance, but his work is non-fictional. This book is an account of real people and shreds of evidence are provided in illustrations in the form of photographs and contents of the established documents which are referred in writing the book.

Geraldine Forbes, an established scholar on Women studies, while writing the history of the Women in Modern India, made an academic observation that those who undertake to study of women or gender relations, they encounter the problem of finding the factual material for the women and primarily by the women themselves. However, Zaidi has provided here a document which contains the material to work on the women studies even if they belonged to the categories of criminals. I can not claim to be a scholar, but it is my experience that one does not find any documented material on women. Geraldine Forbes in the Bibliography essay to her book had given a long list but commented on the shortcomings of each of the view. While describing the stories of different women in their role in different categories during the modern period of India, the narration always remained incomplete as there was a shortage of materials on women. Zaidi has used different sources to collect the material on women who were and are mainly concentrated in one region of India. He had recorded a quantity of oral history. Many of the profile which he had tried to delineate, remained incomplete but here is an attempt to develop an archive of a selected group of women and their social milieu.

The book contains the profile of 13 women who took to crime. The profile of each of them is of a varied length and variety. Some of the characters are clubbed in one chapter. In chapter six, seven and eight, he has packed a couple of profiles in each chapter. Being an established reporter and journalist, he might have collected material on the activities of different people. One can understand that he could not have used it in the regular newspapers and magazines due to the constraints of the rules of journalism and news reporting agencies. Some of them are incomplete and confined to the quantity of the information which the writer has collected till the time of writing the book. On the whole, there are eight chapters in which 13 characters are delineated and described.

The journalists and reporters talk about the things as they happen. However, while narrating the events, they interject their opinions in such a manner that it becomes a biased presentation. Here, the historians are needed to undertake the job of telling. There is the need to emphasis on the cause and effect relation by finding more antecedents. However, one can not overlook the work of reporters. They are also the eyewitness. They follow the lead, and they record extensive oral history from such people who happened to be participants but did not get mentioned in the overall documents. Zaidi has another urge in him. He always desires to write a novel. The films are produced on books written by S. H. Zaidi. Vishal Bhardwaj openly declares in the forward that he has an understanding with  Zaidi that Zaidi would share his new book with him to check if he can use the storyline to produce a fresh film. Now Zaidi also writes his book as if he is going to present his work to a film producer before bringing it before his readers. That is why there are some objections by other reviewers that Zaidi is not writing non-fiction. He tries to construct the settings with his imagination while narrating the facts. It gives a jarring jolt to the reader while perceiving the contents.

The issue suggested above can be well demonstrated. In the introduction itself, Zaidi writes, " Crime was not only a way of transcending their poverty and limitations but also a life-saving concept." Now, this is a Zaidi aphorism. A question arises, then why do the rich people also commit a crime? They are not constraint by any paucity of money. They have recourse to legal protection. The main argument is that it is a type of journalistic elaboration and generalisations which make their writing 'juicier'. It cannot be rated as an intellectual activity. It may be a literary device to make the book exciting and develop an interest in the essays. However, it is not excellent service. Similarly, while writing about Gangubai, he has emphasised on her speech which she gave for the sex workers. Zaidi has done a great job in bringing attention to a pertinent issue. However, he has not activated his journalist skill to add in some supporting pieces of evidence and testimonies. He has instead gone to make it more sensationalised to report that Gangubai even met Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. Zaidi wrote a scandalous interview between the two and then covered it up by adding that there was no proof of the nature of the discussion which took place between the two people.

Similarly, while developing the profile of Ashraf Khan who became famous as Sapna Didi, Zaidi had written details in a manner as if he was writing a script for a movie. Zaidi presented it as a reminiscence of Hussain Ustra, a notorious person, who was killed long back. Zaidi has great admiration for Vikram Chandra, an established novelist, and Zaidi makes him a testimony in this case as it was Zaidi who had helped Vikram Chandra to meet Hussian Ustra. The whole profile of Ashraf Khan alias Sapna Didi is built with dialogue bazi and this feature is the one that the reviewers have objected to in the writing style of Zaidi in case of non-fiction. Gradually Zaidi has written many such comments in between that are the basis of another type of criticism on his style of writing. However, he has also made such observations which demands attention by the security agencies. It is not the issue of actual work of police, security forces, intelligence agencies and military intelligence. Zaidi has pointed out that how the mind of people who are marked as criminals works. While writing about Sapna Didi, he narrated that how she managed to cross India Nepal border easily. Zaidi has identified the areas and loopholes which were used and still being used.

Similarly, Zaidi brings out the shortcomings of the law enforcement agencies. Zaidi attributes a comment to Jyoti Adiramalingam of Reay Road Railway Station in Mumbai. Jyoti spoke, "Small fry like us always get convicted, but big sharks manage to dodge the law and remain elusive. They outsmart the whole judiciary machinery." Now, such type of statements is highly erudite statements which could come out from some expert on crime. However, such statements and similar more are attributed to people who are shown as illiterate and poor. It questions the actual definition of Crime.

In the same manner, in case of Asha Gawli, it is projected not only in this work but also in other works of Zaidi, that those who started their life in Middle Classes turned to crime and then take protection by joining politics. I have, being a history student, learned that one of the vital force of happenings is the interface of Wealth, Knowledge and Power. On the other hand, the books by Zaidi on criminals and especially his work on women try to demonstrate that the Crime, Money and Power through Politics are more active in comparison to what the university scholars try to prove. The only difference is that Wealth, Knowledge and Power paradigm is discussed by academics and the model of the Crime, Money and Power through Politics is the theme of news reporters and political science. They steer towards debating the issue of ethics without bringing in a clear picture and thus further obfuscate the problem which in turns further strengthen the life force of such activities. It is similarly shown in case of the profile of Neeta Nair, the wife of Ashwin Nair; a qualified Engineer shifted to crime.

Further, in case of Sujata Nikhalje, the wife of Chotta Rajan, Zaidi again develops a profile that how a less qualified person raised the business as if she has done an MBA from IIM Calcutta and compared her success to Indra Niyogi. Such stories emphasise that these people who are considered criminals and then escaped or dodged the law enforcing agencies should be subject to study and research by academics so that some vital workable solutions may come up.

In this book also, there are numerous examples, which tell that Bollywood is financed by these people. They are not only funded, but they are content providers for the storylines. The three books by Zaidi which I have read by now, are all meant for the Bollywood ready-made storylines. In this book, there are explanations for the making of Company and Vaastav, both of them were highly successful films.

In the Book, Zaidi has taken Religion angle again and again. However, he has brought out a fascinating thing about the religion angle. The women criminal readily convert from one religion to other religion from Hindu, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity.

In case of Padma Poojary, Zaidi has made a fascinating observation. Zaidi writes that Padma believed that Bollywood and business class were the real mines of wealth. Her life was also a subject of the storyline of the Bollywood movie in the movie World Cupp 2011.

In case of Ms Paul, Zaidi has brought out another feature of the Underworld. The people ruling the underworld has been shown as excellent recruitment master. Their skills of poaching and recruiting people from both genders are better than any qualified Human Resource Manager or established Recruitment and Placement Company.

The Underworld has more progressive and brighter way of personnel management. They provide financial backup to the participants and their families when they deal with the legal system. Zaidi has covered this issue in all the three books which I have read.

Now I have one more book written by Zaidi. I have tried to buy one more title written by Zaidi but failed due to a technical glitch of e-payment. Now onwards, after reading the fourth book, I am going to leave the Crime work and revert to history and philosophy. I wish that Zaidi may be able to write a novel like Vikram Chandra.

I wish to make an observation after reading the books by Zaidi. I believe that there is a need to make the rise of crime in independent India as a subject of academics. The history departments of the university must take it as a subject of specialisation. In case of Punjab University, they have made a separatist movement as the subject of study. The term Khalistan appears prominently in the syllabus of Punjab History of the Punjab University Chandigarh. The historians are unbiased. They study the activity of man as it had occurred. Today, D Company challenges the State of India by its existence. The issue of terrorism is a subject which is debated among the university scholars. It should become more specific. It should not remain confined to study of Law. It should be taken up with the History departments also.

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