Book Review : Dongri To Dubai / Byculla To Bangkok by S Hussain Zaidi

This is the first time I am feeling slightly queezy about writing a book review, to be honest - which is frankly a tribute to the Author, S Hussain Zaidi. These 2 books are based on the Mumbai underworld, and are unique; absolutely unique in their approach, attention to detail, coverage, research and narrative. While the chosen topic is guaranteed to attract a good number of educated Indians, the genre itself does not lend itself to a taut narrative

This is where the books score; the narrative is taut, fast-paced and almost frenetic. The story is well put together, and does not dwell needlessly on futile aspects, sticking to the title chosen. In the first one, it deals with how a Mumbai Big Gun Dawood grew from Dongri, to become Dawood  of Dubai; while in the second, it is the story of one-time Dawood aid and then enemy Rajan and his career graph from Byculla to Bangkok

The 2 books together trace the full story of the Mumbai underworld. Zaidi has started from the beginnings in the 1950s, and has included well-known names such as Haji Mastan's story as well. This forms the backdrop to the main story, and creates the atmosphere, as well as shows how the Mumbai underworld metamorphosed in various phases. Further, this also enables us to understand how the modern bhais grew into the system.

The books make for a fascinating reading, reading almost like a thriller, at times a deeply moving and tragic story as circumstances force decent people to take to crime, at other times a story that stokes various emotions in you, and at yet other times reading like a fast-paced action movie, resulting in keeping you glued to the book till the very last page. One would never have thought such a fast narrative can be possible in this genre!

The books are extremely well-researched, and use police records, court records, personal interviews with various players - gangsters as well as police officers, news reports, and various other sources to create a vivid motion picture in front of your eyes, treating you to a ringside seat in one of the most important phases of our nations independent history, and leaving you much the richer for the experience.

The books form a set of must-read books for Indians, not just because of the sheer quality of the writing and the interesting portrayal of seminal events it contains, but also since it highlights a series of ugly aspects of our country and our society, aspects from which there is no escape in these books. The entire saga of the textile mills of Mumbai and the hopelessness of those who lost their jobs will shock you, and you cannot help but feel a deep sense of loss and regret for the tragedy that had struck the mill workers

The blunt and open exposure of corruption in all its ugliness will leave you in a state of perpetual wonder as you read the book, and page upon page screams corruption. The open and shocking look at this aspect is what makes these books a must-read; it is here you will see and understand how corruption and high crime interact, it is here you will realise in full force the power that your 10 rupee note holds, and it is here you will realise the sad and terrifying impact of corruption!

In these books you will also get to read, and with proof, of the hypocrisy of various international regimes. The highlight is an interview with an Assistant Secretary Of State of the USA, which speaks volumes of the one-sided US approach to terrorism in India, as I had highlighted in my previous article on my blog on India-USA relations.

All in all, an excellent set of books, a superb taut narrative with an ingrained lesson that is delivered without preaching, but rather as a part of the story itself. There are no value judgements, or diatribes; the story is unveiled as it is without any remarks. This is what hits you in full force, far harder than a sermon could ever have done, as you realise the damage through cause-and-effect!

Just as I have reviewed these 2 together, it is preferable that the reader reads both. The two books are totally independent of one another, and either can be read first; you can also skip the second or the first. But in doing so, you run the risk of missing a fascinating headlong rush through contemporary history and a deeply involving non-fiction book! Rated 5 stars out of 5!


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