Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia book review

Posted: June 30, 2013 in Book Reviews
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The summary of the book reads as-

This is the first book that presents the history of the Mumbai mafia, and details the lives of Karim Lala, Chhota Rajan, Haji Mastan, Abu Salem, and Varadarajan Mudaliar. The main part of the book revolves around Dawood Ibrahim and describes his story starting from a young age as a boy in Mumbai to the international terrorist he has become today.

This book traces the journey of a boy from Dongri to Dubai. Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar was born in 1955 to a policeman. The author describes Dawood’s first robbery, his love affairs during his youth, and how he turned into a local goon. The police used to use him against various Pathan gangsters. Gradually, he managed to destroy the competition, formed the Dawood gang, and ended up being the Mumbai Police’s arch nemesis. The don is an ally of Pakistan’s ISI, though he is not an Islamic fundamentalist.

Zaidi analyses that this alliance was born out of necessity. Pakistan is said to shelter him though he is one of the most wanted people on this planet, and in return he funds Islamic jihads. Interestingly, Dawood’s biggest source of income in Pakistan comes from selling pirated Bollywood movies. The personality and characteristics of Dawood Ibrahim have been covered well in this book. His lust for power, his focus, his shrewdness, and his calculating mind have been captured beautifully.”


S Hussain Zaidi, one of the leading crime reporters in India who has previously given us books like Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts (later adapted into the critically acclaimed movie of the same name by Anurag Kashyap) and Mafia Queens of Mumbai literally presents us the dummy’s guide to the Mumbai mafia with Dongri to Dubai.

An absolutely riveting read, the book chronicles the formation and rise of the Mumbai underworld from the post independence era to the present and is an effective narration of the story of Mumbai from the prism of the ganglords who called the shots in the financial hub of India.

It starts with an interview with Zaidi’s interview with Dawood Ibrahim himself and subsequently  lays out the rise of different gangs in Mumbai, their deadly rivalries with each other and the role and relationship of the Mumbai police force with the underworld. The narrations are in the form of short chapters, focusing on the story of various gang members as the quagmire known as the Mumbai mafia devours everyone within it. The book is in two parts-

I) The first one covers Dongri and other sub-urbs which were the hotbeds of crime, like Byculla, Kamathipura, Chor Bazaar. It also covers the meteoric rise of Dawood- from a streetside ruffian son of a respectable cop as a force to reckon with in the Mumbai underworld.

II) Second part- Dawood shifts to Dubai and his consequent dealings with other ganglords, his fascination with Bollywood, glamour, his ever expanding network, his involvement with the ISI and being declared as a global terrorist.

The 1st part is more captivating and it meticulously details how different gangs operated and created the black market by netting all the fishes in the crime dragnet- from the politicians to the police to other influential players- each one eager to make a quick buck in economically difficult conditions (a prime factor for fostering the rise of different gangs). The vicious rivalries between the Pathans and the Dawood gang makes for some intense reading.

The 2nd part mainly is about Dawood establishing himself as the uncrowned don of the underworld by controlling all operations from the comfort of Dubai through his stooges like Chhota Rajan and Chhota Shakeel and the introduction of Hindu crime lords in a basically Muslim D- company. His venture into terrorism by funding Pak-based terror outfits and the importance he holds in Pakistan through the unflinching support of the ISI is well documented. The reluctance of the US in cracking down on Dawood’s network is also mentioned. Strangely, though Dawood’s role in the 1993 blasts is elaborated, the 2008 Mumbai terror attack isn’t covered. I wonder why Zaidi missed out on that.

The dialogues in the book are present in raw Hindi (complete with expletives) with English translation and you feel like you are unravelling a Bollywood thriller. On that point, another fascinating aspect is the relationship of Bollywood and the Mumbai Mafia. Whatever you have seen in Hindi films (in the 80s and 90s mainly)- the dialogues, the crime scenes, the emotions on display, all the Bollywood cliches- EVERYTHING is an actual portrayal of the Mumbai underworld. Those cheesy dialogues, the infatuation with ladies of bewitching beauty (i.e. the ‘dekha to pyaar ho gaya’ syndrome), the bloody machinations involved to wipe out rival gangs- it’s film makers presenting the mafia in celluloid. A point to be noted is that many of them were financed by the underworld which substantiates the fable of the D-company running the show in the glitz world.

The information related to the crime lords is phenomenal and the various facets of Dawood’s personality is captured with different incidents- the rebellious rageboy, the protective brother, the docile son and the extremely vindictive inflamed ganglord methodically eliminating his opponents. One thing I can’t understand though. Zaidi describes the personal appearance of the various gang leaders as if most of them are quite charming and handsome. Whereas, in the pics below you can see that they look like typical uncouth and ugly barbarians (which they totally are) who have risen from the gutter to settle in perfumed gardens.





This is bluntly summarized later on with Abu Salem and his obsession with his good looks-

“Salem had seen a lot of balding dons- Chhota Shakeel, Anees Bhai, Noora, Tiger Memon- and shuddered at how ugly and repulsive they were.”

Hahaha. Ugly dons and their ugly lives.

The movie Shootout at Wadala has been inspired from a chapter in this book where the fiery, paranoid personality of Manya Surve is captured in superb detail. The infamous Shootout at Lokhandwala incident and the surge in encounter killings also makes for an enthralling read.


Verdict: The only valid criticism of the book can be the editing errors that have crept in. It is a thoroughly gripping and absorbing book, an encyclopedia of the Mumbai mafia. Buy it. Borrow it. Read it.

4.5/5 stars



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