July 14, 2012

Mumbai, Mafia and Zaidi

(My bookish tryst with the ganglands of Mumbai...as seen through the works of S. Hussain Zaidi)

Okay, so I have been reading a lot of S. Hussain Zaidi’s works – all about the Mumbai ganglands. And my intense struggle to be able to express my experience of reading them will be absolutely clear through this post.

The itch of reading Zaidi began some few years ago when I saw the movie ‘Black Friday’, directed by Anurag Kashyap and based on Zaidi’s book by the same name. It claimed to essay the real story behind the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. The movie was superbly made and executed. Needless to say, it remains one of my all time favourites. Considering the guts with which the film was made (taking real names, not aliases unlike many other real-incident based movies and many more points which I shall not elaborate here and hence digress) maintaining a safe ground, I was very sure that the book had much more to offer than what could be seen on the silver screen. And I was right.

But I was to realise this just a few days ago. That is when I finally read the book. My introduction to Zaidi’s writings turned out to be far too impressive than I could have imagined. Impressive may not be an appropriate word here, actually. Stunned, maybe. My thought process stopped and entered a new realm. This, as soon as I realised that what I was reading was not a work of fiction but a picture of real life (which I suspect is still not the complete picture). This book was “Mafia Queens of Mumbai”. I don’t know how it made me feel. Angry? Surprised? Proud? Ashamed? Zealous? Thoughtful? ... maybe ‘All of the Above and more’. I tried my best to not involve my soul into the book but I failed miserably. Zaidi was far too talented in writing it down the way he did.

I was reading something like this for the first time. Leave alone fiction. Man, this was real stuff. Real women. Real situations. So my mind did not know how to respond. This was a new stimulus. I may have heard about, read about (and even interacted with) quite a few from the notorious class, but none were women. Of all the accounts he presented, Sapna didi was the one that hit me the most. (to know more, read the book). It was not so much about women being part of the mafia. It was more about the process, the function, the intentions. Besides, the intricate details of the underworld that Zaidi reflected, gave much fodder for thought. And there began the urge for more...

The next day itself (thanks to Flipkart), I got hold of his book – “Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia” – which left me even more dumbfounded. Each page made me more and more speechless. As I read the accounts of the most dreaded gangsters that once had Mumbai under siege, I was stunned. Stories of people rising to power in the mafia, internal and external gangwars, expansion into different forms of illegal trade, ruthless killings, cold blooded murders, uncountable monies, knives and guns, bollywood actresses, models, sleaze and all that... took me to a point of (should I say) absolute silence and stillness...? This was beyond reaction.

What was more difficult to digest was that this was actually happening in my city, in a timeline parallel to mine, and in a fashion that it did not really affect my everyday life. Or so I thought. Little did I realise that this was not the case. This is the innate problem found in largesse among the youth of Mumbai that they can feel only those ‘issues’ that can be seen and measured. What lies beneath, nobody knows and nobody cares. And those who know do not dare. But the opening it created in my thought process was beyond comprehension. This book will now be transformed on screen as ‘Shootout at Wadala’. But I am sure we’ll get to see a very sublime version.

Finally I knew it was high time I read “Black Friday”. And it is, like I thought, much more than the film. I am still reading it but could not hold myself anymore from writing this post. I started writing this post sometime in April this year when I first read Mafia Queens... but I couldn’t. It had to happen today. I won’t enumerate on Black Friday since I am not done reading it. Writing anything would be as incomplete as reading half the book. So just go ahead and read it. And let me know how you felt.

What I learnt in totality from these readings and my life experiences is impossible to narrate here. It might just create the space for a book in itself. But I strongly recommend all of you strong-hearted people to go ahead and read all his three books and give yourself a never-before experience. 

Reading Tip: Try and read between the lines...

March 29, 2012

After Sunset by the Sea

The sea always fascinates me to no end. And watching the sea after sunset is a differently exhilarating experience in itself. The sea in all its pristine beauty at this time is inviting and magnetic. And the weather – perfect! You are simply mesmerised.

The crowd on the beach is scanty now, having dispersed off after watching a memorable sunset. The nariyal paani-wallas, gola-wallas, fugga-wallas, chaat-wallas and the likewise have all closed shop. The beach lies in its full expanse before you, in its original avatar – vast and tranquil.

As you stare into the yonder you notice that there is no horizon. The magnificent waters simply merge into the deep dark sky. It is all one black backdrop – infinite. Only the white of the waves can be seen, the foam forming in the middle of nothing, coming gently towards you and then disappearing... again into nothing. The sand also merges into the blackness. Except for that lighthouse, with the cyclic lights throwing a golden arc every few seconds adding candour to the exquisite colour display of black, white and glow!

The moon is shining in all its glory. Of course it doesn’t have any rippled reflections in the water unlike the sun, but you know what I mean when I talk about the subtle beauty of the moon. And the warmth of its radiance! And yes, you can see the stars too. (A few feet inside the city you can’t see a single one, only layers of polluted air). Though I can no longer spot the constellations, except for the Orion I think, but the mere feeling of a blanket of stars above you takes you into a different world altogether.

The sand is cool now and as you go closer to the waters the wetness of the sand tingles your feet in a sort-of therapeutic way. It magically moistens your feet soothing the eyes and the head. As you move closer the noises inside and outside the head disappear and you can ‘hear’ the stillness of the ocean and the playful splashing of the waves. Aaah! Bliss. Absolute bliss. Every moment feels so full, never-ending. Quiet. Peaceful. Tranquil. Feels like you have also merged into the vastness.

Turn around and you see the Mumbai city shimmering with lights all over. You can even ‘see’ the noise in the city. Turn back to the sea and you are again in a different world. But it is that other side you have to return to. Not having got enough of the seaside, you turn back with a heavy heart and a silent promise to return soon. The high seas shall await your home-coming.

Too bad it couldn’t be captured in a camera. But hope you were able to see the picture...

February 2, 2012

Why I hate the Idiot Box

Hating the television is my latest obsession. But to be an involuntary passive viewer / listener to it is a compulsion. It makes me go numb. I can seriously feel the degeneration of my cognitive and motor abilities creeping in considering the amount of crap that I witness on television every coming day.

Blame it on the lack of space or loud volumes or whatever. If your TV is off then you can well be able to hear at least 2 more TVs from the neighbourhood – clearly! At ANY given time... needless to say that. I used to think TV is played on a high volume only in my house but NO. I think people’s hearing abilities have decayed overall. Especially in a city like Mumbai where one is subjected to innumerable sounds (read noises) all day and all night.

It is 1:00 AM right now and the TV is off. The world is supposed to have slept. But there is still no quiet. There is some music playing somewhere in the building, some aunty talking over phone and there is this deafening sound of the vehicles running on the flyover close-by and the occasional dhaddad-dhaddad of the local and outbound trains which pass from under this flyover. So there is no absolute calm and quiet. I sometimes wonder how people living in buildings close to the flyover survive!!!

But the ears of the Mumbaikar have become immune to all the noises. Anyway, coming back to our topic on hating the television – its content! Much has been said and written on how the ‘quality’ of the programmes have gone down and how there is no real ‘talent’ ‘these days’, etcetera. I don’t have drastically different views than the general ones. More or less the same ones. Sheesh! I don’t even feel like talking about that now. I have been driven to a point of sustained irritation.

But you have to give credit to the TV for letting me develop a great skill – closing the ears. Yeah! I am now able to work on utterly serious and intense topics even with the TV blaring beside me. I can hear everything else except the TV. It’s like you know – automatic (wink). My hearing sensors do not allow TV sound to enter my brain. They act like a firewall, an anti-virus... even if I am looking at the TV screen. My mom keeps going in and out of the room and when she asks me what happened in that serial while she was away, I go blank. I really can’t answer her.

Hmm, that said, TV as an entertaining medium has added undue stress to the brain, eyes, ears and overall the body since there is little or no physical activity while watching TV. But it is here to stay and we have to develop our own coping mechanisms (like my anti-viral TV sound-proof ears). I am now training my eyes to not register what they see on that damned tube. How they progress? Let us wait and watch.