S Hussain Zaidi, better known as Mumbai’s leading crime reporter, has authored yet another book titled ‘Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades Of The Mumbai Mafia’.
The cinematic adaptation of which is reportedly ‘Shootout At Wadala’ by Sanjay Gupta.
His earlier books too have found their way to the screens- one being Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Black Friday’, and other one being Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey.
Following is an extract from his latest book:
The First Blood
A couple of years later, when Dawood Ibrahim heard that Bombay’s reigning Gold King, Haji Mastan Mirza, had got some Pathans to beat up two of his cronies, he was seething with revenge. Nobody knew exactly why Mastan decided to beat up Abu Bakr and Ejaz, but he had now strayed into Dawood’s territory. He wanted to get even with Mastan, who he thought had garnered enough glory by smuggling gold and silver. Resting on the laurels of Mastan was the ‘Madrasi’, Varda bhai. Dawood knew that Mastan was not a man of action; he had never done anything to assert his might in the city. He believed that such a man had no right or authority to rule over the city. And Dawood had had enough of his photographs being splashed in the newspapers while attending various film mahurats. Bollywood was obsessed with Mastan and sought to epitomise him in forthcoming movies.
This just was not right to Dawood’s mind. So, while a seemingly harmless group of boys and men were caught up in a heated discussion on 4 December 1974, one of them, young Dawood Ibrahim, was masterminding the gangster’s downfall.
After toppling the might of Baashu and staking his claim as the big boss of Dongri, Dawood felt he could do just about anything in Bombay and get away with it. Offence is the best form of defence and the best way to take revenge is to hit where it hurts most. For Mastan, money was everything. So, Dawood decided to get even with Mastan by stealing a chunk of his black money. On that December morning, the group had received intelligence from their local spy network; in mafia parlance, ‘tip mili’. The tip-off was that some angadia was going to carry 5 lakh rupees belonging to Mastan from an office in Masjid Bunder to his house at Malabar Hill.
angadia s in Bombay are unofficial money carriers, acting like a local form of Western Union, and generally hail from the Marwari community. It was spontaneously decided to deny Mastan this much of his precious cash as compensation for all the beatings and torture meted out to their two dear friends for no rhyme or reason. For the Dongri youth, this was a matter of prestige, as they felt obliged to avenge their friends’ beatings. Also, the two were part of Dawood’s gang, and were his friends. Out of a sense of loyalty for his boys, Dawood could not simply turn away and ignore the whole episode. Back in those days, 5 lakh was a huge amount. These young men had never seen so much money earlier. While they were a bit nervous about the plan, there was also a certain complacency; they had heard that the angadia s were foolish enough to carry this kind of money around unescorted.
Dawood and his band of cronies decided to strike when the angadia left from Masjid Bunder and moved towards the Carnac Bunder Bridge. As Musafirkhana was the area where Dawood ruled the roost, he knew the area like the back of his hand. He also knew how he could intercept vehicles, trap the money, and disappear in a crowd without the cops or anybody else getting wind of him.
He gathered seven boys around him, including Abu Bakr, Yusuf Khan, Ejaz Jinki, Aziz Driver, Abdul Muttalib, Sayyed Sultan, and Sher Khan. Among these seven, the latter two were his favourites.
Sayyed Sultan Ayubi had strong shoulders, bulging biceps, and a powerful body. The 20-year-old had just been voted as Mr Bombay and was vying for the top title at the body-building competition that would begin as part of Mr India in the following year. In the seventies, muscular men were a rarity. Even the popular Hindi films of the time sported clean-cut, chocolate-faced heroes like Rajesh Khanna and Jitendra. So when Ayubi graduated from Mr Bombay to Mr Maharashtra to Mr India, he managed to remain consistently in the news with pictures of his awe-inspiring torso. Legend has it that when he strolled on the Marine Drive promenade in south Bombay, women were beguiled by his very broad shoulders. The other, Sher Khan Pathan aka Sher Singh, was well-known for his loud, bone-chilling voice, which inspired great fear in people.
Dawood at the time was barely out of his teens and had just acquired a moustache. He had developed all the traits of a typical Dongri lad; the lingo, the chicanery, the know-it-all attitude, yet he was regarded as a greenhorn in the underworld, as he did not have the kind of money that Baashu or Haji Mastan did, and everyone thought of him simply as a wannabe don.
Carnac Bunder area lies at the periphery of Bombay’s three big markets Mohatta Market, Manish Market, and Crawford Market, a legacy of the colonial era. The entire area was at the time a hub for all the wholesale and retail markets for all agricultural produce. The place was a madhouse as all the traders and long distance trucks offloaded their goods here. It was always teeming with handcarts, porters carrying gunny bags or trunks on their shoulder, cabs moving in and out of the market with goods laden either in their boot or on their overhead carrier space. There was an air of urgency with the hectic activity ongoing everywhere.
The amateur robbers had seen a lot of movies and wanted to make a reproduction of their meticulous planning and preparation. So, two men were stationed theatrically at the Carnac Bunder Bridge while two men were standing near Musafirkhana, to efficiently seal off both the entry and exit points of the cab. The men were armed with iron rods, sticks, and choppers. The remaining lads were supposed to intercept the cab. These men were carrying choppers, knives, and country-made revolver called katta. Somehow, by sheer coincidence or simply bad planning, the major players like Ayubi, Abu Bakr, Hanif, and others were either stationed on the bridge or left behind and by default Dawood got pushed to the forefront. Perhaps it was destiny or his own bravado, but he ended up leading the team of seven men who, willy-nilly, were in charge of intercepting the cab. The moment the cab came out of the narrow lane of Dana Bunder and moved out towards the road that connected with Carnac Bunder towards the market, they would spring into action.
Around 2 pm, as the cab drew out from the road below the Carnac Bunder Bridge that links Crawford Market to P. D’Mello Road, the informant pointed out the vehicle, implying that this was the car carrying the cash. Surprisingly, the taxi had two Marwari-looking men seated in the passenger seat and an escort in the front seat next to the driver. As it slowly made its way from the bridge towards the route that led to Mohammed Ali Road, the seven men positioned to attack ran towards the cab at once, their arsenal ready and drawn.
No instructions were given and there was no coordination at all between the team members. The whole gang of seven men had swung into action in the most haphazard manner. The first strike was made by Sher Khan, who took the handcart and rammed it against the cab, bringing it to a screeching halt. Even before the Marwaris or the driver could comprehend anything, Sher Pathan the body builder opened the driver’s door and threatened the driver, instructing him not to move.
The sight of seven men surrounding them was a menacing one for the Marwari businessmen. The weapons froze their blood. Dawood was the first one to speak. He asked them not to make noise or do anything foolhardy that could endanger their lives.‘Agar halak se awaz nikli, to zindagi bhar nahi niklegi, kyunke main tumhare gardan kat lunga [if I hear your voice emerge from your throat, it’ll never make a sound again, because I’ll slit it],’ he said, steely and calmly.
The final act belonged to Dawood, who opened the door of the passenger’s seat, looked at the Marwari seth with fire in his eyes and asked, ‘Maal kaha hai [where is the money]?’ The menacing tone and the icy glare of the lanky 19-year-old sent shivers down the spines of the Marwari seths. Both stared at each other, speechless. The time they were wasting in indecisive fear made Dawood impatient. He slapped one of them, hard enough to make his spectacles fall to his lap, and said, ‘Mere paas zyada waqt nahi hai tumhare saath baat karne ko [I don’t have much time to talk to you]!’
With that he grabbed the bag that the seth had on him and opened it. ‘Aur kaha hai [where is the rest]?’ he asked. The seth, with a trembling hand, pointed towards the boot of the car. Dawood waved to Ejaz, who went and lifted the hood. There, he found a small black box, locked and sealed.
Now that Dawood had both the bags, he did not waste any time. He immediately signalled to his boys to move and all of them disappeared on foot from the scene of the robbery, leaving behind two seths and a cab driver, shaken and stunned in their seats. When the Marwaris finally got over their shock, they decided to approach the police. At the Pydhonie Police Station, they registered a complaint, CR No. 725/74, under the section of dacoity and armed robbery.
Dawood and his men did not realise they had committed the biggest bank robbery of the decade. This was the first time such an audacious robbery had taken place, executed by seven inexperienced men who had by luck carried off their feat.
At the time, Dawood was three weeks shy of his 19 th birthday. What he did not know was that he had actually robbed money that belonged to the Metropolitan Cooperative Bank, not Haji Mastan. The amount looted on that day was 4, 75, 000 rupees and it immediately brought the whole focus of the crime on one youth, Dawood Ibrahim. He was front-page news in the city the next day.
Ibrahim Kaskar was speechless when he heard of his son’s temerity. After being suspended Ibrahim had resigned, and was let go unofficially from the elite Crime Branch of the Bombay police only a few years ago, but was still highly respected in police circles. In the predominantly Muslim stronghold of Dongri, Ibrahim’s baithak was the first place people went to if they had a problem. It was privy to everything-from people discussing their choking lavatory drain to the excitement of the elopement of lovers or cases of police harassment. When Dawood and Sabir picked fights on the streets or indulged in other misdeeds, Ibrahim felt small but ignored them, while putting their delinquency down to the passion of youth. But this incident threatened to destroy his hard-earned respect and reputation.
That evening, out of shame and embarrassment, Ibrahim did not even go down to his baithak. He did not have the courage to face people and their queries about Dawood. He was reminded of the seer’s prediction about his second born, who would be known for his success and power. His son had indeed found power, but he had, in the process, defamed him. Ibrahim had to hide his face even from his friends.
In the meanwhile, the Bombay police were at the boys’ heels and while the other members of the gang were caught without much effort by the police, the Kaskar brothers, Dawood and Sabir, proved elusive. The day after the daring robbery, a constable knocked at Ibrahim Bhai’s house and asked him to see the officer at the Crime Branch. Ibrahim, who was squatting on the ground, thumped his hand on the floor, all the while cursing himself. He was expecting this. It is not known what transpired behind the closed doors of the Crime Branch, but Ibrahim’s friends say he was very grim and had resolved to drag his sons to the police station, allowing the law to take its own course.
Ibrahim had his own network of friends and well-wishers and he worked all of them to trace the duo. They had not come home for two days. After days of intensive search and pursuit, finally the enraged father heard his sons were hiding at a friend’s house in Byculla. He picked them up and brought them back to their house. As they stood with their heads bowed, their mother Amina raving and ranting, he went to the loft and opened an old steel cupboard. He came down bearing a thick leather belt that he had worn proudly as the Head Constable of the Crime Branch. When he came down, his sons looked at him with fear, dreading what was to come. But they dared not move an inch.
Neighbours still recall the hammering that Dawood and Sabir were subjected to, for a whole day and night. They screamed and the entire neighbourhood trembled at the brutal punishment. Ibrahim belted both incessantly, so much so that the skin on their backs peeled and bled; both of them were reduced to a heap, lying in a corner of the room. Ibrahim finally stopped when he was overpowered by his friends and they snatched the belt from his hand.
Still, this father did not relent. Even before Amina could offer them food or water, Ibrahim dragged his sons out of the house, put them in a cab and took them to the Crime Branch. He threw his sons at the feet of the officers and folded his hands as he wept. Before leaving the Crime Branch, Ibrahim apologised profusely to the officers and asked them to forgive him and his sons for their disgraceful act. When the Crime Branch officers looked at Dawood and Sabir, witnessing their pathetic plight and Ibrahim’s sincerity, they spared the boys their own stock of blows.
This was the first case of a severe reprisal that came most naturally to Dawood. This incident, this one shot of adrenalin and the 15 minutes of fame that followed, is perhaps the event that gave birth to the man who would one day become Dawood Ibrahim, the don.