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The Mafia Queens Of Mumbai by Hussain Zaidi is pulp reading to savour – guts, grime and retribution at its engaging best.
For aficionados of the crime genre, reading stories based on reality can be addictive in a way that watching horror movies based on real life incidents can be for those who plight their troth with the horror genre. What could mar the experience, however, is if the narrative becomes a mere dry recounting of events without the drama necessary to hook the reader. Thankfully, Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women from the Ganglands does not fall in that category.
Crisp and smooth enough to keep the pages turning, this account of women in the Mumbai mafia is written in a style that is dramatised and keeps the interest unflagging. Written by veteran crime reporter S Hussain Zaidi (this is his second book, the first being Black Friday) along with Jane Borges, the stories are all based on fact, and the research that has gone into the writing is evident in the amount of detail that passes casually in the course of the narrative. The book has been pieced together painstakingly through anecdotes, documentary evidence, official case papers and conversations with family and acquaintances of the Mafia Queens. The result is a pacy thriller, a compendium of many stories, each replete with drama, action and intrigue.
Of all the stories, the most inspiring and intriguing perhaps, is the first one, that of Jenabai Gandhi alias Daruwali. From a freedom fighter under the British Rule, to a bootlegger and a woman of such clout that mafia dons like Dawood Ibrahim and Haji Mastan turned to her for advice and protection, Jenabai was an intriguing character. It was thanks to her efforts that Dawood, Haji Mastan and the Pathan gang brigade came together as one force. The first among the 13 stories of the Mafia queens of Mumbai is the stuff gangster films are made of. Another story talks about a burkha clad woman, who learns to shoot and spends her life trying to avenge the murder of her husband.
Another interesting story is that of Gangubai Kathewali, who ruled Kamathipura, a far call from the young woman who was lured and betrayed into prostitution herself. Among the stories is that of Neeta Naik, the wife of Ashwin Naik, the noted underworld gangster who was paralysed after a shooting, and then compelled to move out of the country to escape imprisonment and being exterminated by his enemies. Almost a film script in its twists and turns, the life of Neeta Naik is the stuff that makes one believe that life is stranger than fiction. Educated at Sophia College, Naik was a Shiv Sena corporator by day and a gang leader by night, on first name terms with all the gangland sharp shooters and a controller of the finances of the Dadar vegetable market. She was shot dead, apparently under orders from her husband, because of an extramarital affair.
Monica Bedi also figures in the book, though she seems to have no role to play in crime apart from being the apocryphal gangster’s moll. We see the grime of a life where cash is stashed in shrines, loyalties are constantly tested and informants lead double lives with impunity. This is noir, pulp reading to savour – guts, grime and retribution at its engaging best.
Publisher: Westland Books/Tranquebar Press
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