Review – “The Dirty Dozen: Hitmen of the Mumbai Underworld” by Gabriel Khan

The Dirty Dozen: Hitmen of the Mumbai Underworld by Gabriel Khan is a non-fictional account of Mumbai’s underworld hitmen and their life, woven in a story. Not a fan of non-fiction myself, I only took this book up when it came free as a part of Amazon Prime Reading, and who could ever refuse a free book?

The author, a journalist in the 80s, pens down his memories, (interviews, interactions, meetings, pieces of information, and whatnot) about the hitmen of the underworld. During his time in the world of criminal journalism, the author came into contact with Mr. Farooq Batatawala, a devout Muslim and a chuddy buddy of Dawood Ibrahim. Mr. Batatawala’s life could have been the inspiration behind the tons of Bollywood movies made during those times, childhood friendship went haywire, one becomes a don, one a sincere law enforcer. Despite his association with Dawood, Farooq never had the urge to join his friend’s gang, instead, he became a customs officer hell-bent on busting each and every single of the don’s consignment and bring him to books. It is through him that the author comes in touch with Ustara, a small-time hitman with his own group of cronies, who managed to defy Dawood for almost 8 years! Both Farooq and Ustara act as informants for the author during his professional career until Dawood gets the better of them and has them shot and left to die.
Munna Jhingada, a hitman for the D-gang, had humble beginnings compared to what he did later on in his life. A small-time badass in his locality, Munna tastes blood for the first time when he stabs a college bully who succumbs to his death a few hours later. All of nineteen, Munna surrenders almost immediately after the attack only to be bailed a month later on the behest of his lawyer showcasing a clean past record. His stint in the jail makes him wary and he loses his awe of the D-gang, starts working with his father as an apprentice for 3 years before an encounter with the brother of the bully he killed sucks him back into the world of crime. From then, there is no looking back. His journey from a local criminal to being the favorite hitman of the don himself is bathed in blood. He is currently in the Thai prison for the attack on Chota Rajan, while Indian fights a diplomatic battle with Pakistan over his extradition.
When he was just 16 years old, Tanasha had decided the course of his career, that of crime. Having grown up seeing Chota Rajan work his way up the underworld from the lanes of Chembur to the right-hand man of Dawood, Tanasha joins him as soon as he gets the first opportunity. Despite his father’s best efforts to keep him away from the world of crime, Tanasha was attracted to it like iron to a magnet. After the split of Dawood and Chota Rajan in 1993, Tanasha didn’t change his loyalty and ended up in Chota Rajan’s newly formed gang and plots against the master of the D-gang. Several failed attempts to kill Dawood in Karachi put him in the limelight and make him a target of the rival gang. Having the mouth of a parrot, Tanasha never failed to boast of his relations with the important people and organizations. Having been into hiding for long, he is finally ticked off by Bharat Nepali’s men while he is enjoying some quality time with his family. It was never found out if Nepali acted on his own or was prompted by Dawood for his actions.
The blood-guzzling Bagga, or Baba Reddy as he is known, is probably one of the most notorious characters of the underworld. A devout Hindu, he drank the blood of his victims, mostly Muslims. Over a period of time, he worked for several gangs, but never settled and managed to get in trouble with most of them, thereby increasing the number of his enemies. Having businesses in South East Asia and bank accounts all over the world, Bagga finally sets up base in Hyderabad and forms his own B-gang. It is only when he falls in love with a Muslim girl that he puts aside his communal hate and converts to Islam. Despite numerous cases and an arrest by the police, Bagga remains a free man until a tip-off by one of his close aides results in his encounter.
Shootout at Lokhandwala, the encounter of Maya Dolas. Maya always was a non-descript foot soldier of the D-company, but one day everything changes when he escapes from the court premises by assaulting the policemen accompanying him. Another feather to his cap comes when he kills 3 members of the rival gang in broad daylight, during Ganpati Visarjan. From there, he starts his journey towards becoming the most feared gangster in Bombay. Extortion, kidnapping, settlements, you name it, Maya has it. Cursing is his second language, and he speaks a mix of it with his first. As he grows in strength, so does his ego. Apparently, Dawood and his close aides cash in on his reputation. But, karma comes a full circle. Surrounded by the ATS team hell-bent on eliminating him, Maya breathes his last only after 3 months since the day he escaped. Riddled with bullets, Maya is finally sent away from the world by the policemen, finally avenging the assault that was done on 2 of their men.
Sada Pawle, or Sada Mama as he had come to be known in the Arun Gawli gang was the only non-family member to be given such respect. Suffering from the textile mill strike, Pawle joins the gang in desperate need of money and moves up the rank with some extremely important assignments, one of them is killing the conspirator behind the killing of Gawli’s brother. When Gawli is imprisoned, Pawle becomes the high command which boosts his ego to such levels that he starts defying Gawli himself. From a small mill worker to a ruthless and fearsome gangster, Pawle comes a long way and more so when he has the complete command of the gang. A couple of more daring murders brings him into the notice of Mumbai Police, who after being on his trails for quite some time, finally nail him en route with his brother and sister and gun him down.
Sadiq Kalia, a former Arun Gawli gang member turns his loyalties towards the D-company when his ambitions become too big for his shoes. On being recruited by Chota Shakeel himself, Kalia finds himself thrown into the important assignments and works his way up. His most daring task, the murder of Arun Gawli’s political party’s main man’s murder, which of course, infuriates Gawli. Plus, Kalia’s broad daylight attack on his childhood friend and his subsequent murder puts the police on his heels. It takes a huge force to track the man who is also called Bhoot, one who comes, does his task, and vanishes in thin air. As fate would have had it, the police get hold of Kalia’s closest companion and use him to nab the Bhoot. A gunfire battle ensues in the Dadar flower market one late afternoon, where the Bhoot is finally sent to hell.
In a classic tale of brainwashing, the young and intelligent Firoze Kokani ends up in the D-company. Spotted by Sajid Batliwala, this young boy turns into a deadly killing machine, and by young, I mean young. By the time he was 21 years old, Firoze already had more than a dozen murders in his kitty. His killing of the Mathadi workers turns the fate of the Mumbai riots and he is singlehandedly responsible for the second round of communal murders. His rise to fame, the murder of BJP MLA Ramdas Nayak which turns the police heat on him. After a lot of helter-skelter by the men in khaki to nab the murderer, Firoze is arrested from a hotel room. Reluctantly, he helps the police to capture the other conspirators. While the police beam with their success, Firoze already plans his escape, and 3 years later, he implements it and vanishes for years. It is only after his audacity puts off the D-company king that plans for his disposal are made. Tip-off from the man himself lands Firoze in the police’s grip once again, only this time he is made to escape the world forever.
Gangster turns priest. Unlikely, huh? But true. Raju Philips, the Gawli gang loyalist has his day when he agrees to kill a prominent Muslim leader. After Bukhari’s murder, although Raju is arrested, he is never convicted and is subsequently released. Always a Gawli supporter, Raju never shied away from voicing his opinions on public platforms. When he is made the spokesperson for ABP, he uses the position to spew venom against all of Gawli’s rivals. His faith in Gawli was so much that even when he is subjected to third-degree by the police, he keeps his mouth shut, which later results in his being limp for the rest of his life. It is strange that he leaves the gang when the new Millenium turns, taking refuge in the church and becoming a Padre. His focus now lies in spreading the message of Jesus, amongst those who are less fortunate to not have found Him yet.
Ravi Bora, or D.K. Rao as he later came to be known as was a small-time crook until he started looting bank vans and came into contact with Chota Rajan’s recruiter in jail. Once out on bail, he starts working for Chota Rajan and sheds his previous name for good. On a tip-off, police follow Rao again when he is about to strike a big loot, ambush him and his men. The gunfire ensues the killing of his 4 men, but with 19 bullets in his body, Rao survives. He also kills Dawood’s brother’s personal driver later, bringing him into the notice of the D-company who hires shooters to kill him, and again Rao is saved by destiny when the police nab the shooters before they could complete their task. He remains to be one of the old-timers of the Rajan gang. After his bail, Rao starts operating from his plush office. Although he works under the guise of doing social work (he has opened an NGO), reports suggest otherwise. In the later years, even from within the jail he operates for Chota Rajan.
Sunil Sawant, nicknamed Sautya came from a well-bred family. His father worked for the railways and had brought him up well until the young Sautya found himself making his own gang in the school. His first brush with crime came when he kills Bhau Marathe, a Shiv Sainik in broad daylight, he was fed up of being bullied by him. From there, he first gave his loyalties to the Nair gang, and then was enticed by the D-company. One of the important murders he commits is that of Mahesh Dholakia, whose growing influence was a risk to Dawood. His steady rise in the gang and closeness to the big D himself puts him on the receiving end of Chota Rajan. Also, Sautya’s precarious lifestyle, guns, and women worked together to take him towards his ultimate fate. Sautya was finally gunned down on Dubai streets by Chota Rajan’s men with the help of an ex-wife, in broad daylight, the same way, years ago he had sent his first victim to hell.
Samad Khan, the Pathan gang member had one motto in life, dhanda, and danda. While his dhanda ranged from extortion, smuggling, and murders, he was one of those who couldn’t keep his danda inside his pants. A known womanizer, he incurs the wrath of the D-company over a period of time. The killing of Dawood’s brother and those under his protection, creating a nuisance in his area were a few instances that irked the D-boss. Being Karim Lala’s nephew always worked in Samad’s favor and the police were never able to keep him inside the jail for long. His love for women, many women proves fatal for him when Dawood plays his game. Sending a beautiful girl to lure Samad wasn’t difficult, and even easier was to pump his body with bullets after a night of passion, when he was leaving the place. Although Bombay didn’t have a dearth of gangsters, it was only Samad who showed signs of usurping Dawood. With his killing, Dawood made sure of his undisputed rule over the city.

Underworld. The stories are never-ending. Dons, hitmen, henchmen, punters…all have their share of two minutes of fame sometime or the other. As much as their stories seem full of excitement, unbelievable facts, and out of a typical Bollywood film, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is, in fact, somebody’s, or a city’s reality. The narration of the hitmen starts with such stories, seemingly fictional yet very true, but ends up being simple stating of the facts. I was looking forward to reading about the Mafiosi in more than just paragraphs off a newspaper article. The headings were catchy and like the breaking news headline. The climax was revealed even before the story was halfway, which took a little fun out. Though with great editing and writing style I am not complaining.
Although there are many reasons why one gets into the world of crime, few are extremely common, the lure of money, power, and style. Almost all the hitmen that the author covers, ventured into the underworld because of these reasons. Growing up in the Bombay of the 80s and 90s, no young boy or man could have processed the right and wrong before falling prey to the ganglords charm. Another factor that is common to most of the hitmen is that they have been abandoned by their masters at some point in time, the reasons for it may differ, ranging from insecurity or the risk of being exposed or just out of sheer uselessness. Once the young were exploited for their selfish purposes, often the ganglords tipped off the Crime Branch or the police about the movements of the poor men, who would then be liquidated by a team of law enforcement men.
That the politicians, police, and the mafia have a relationship, cannot be denied. Their hand-in-hand working is evident whenever one wants to benefit from the other. The give some, take some method applies. There are countless cases wherein the real conspirator is never brought to justice, even when at times pieces of evidence point towards them. Then there is the issue of encounters, fake or actual, no one would ever know, though, in my opinion, it shouldn’t matter till the time it results in wiping the country off hardened criminals who refuse to give up their ways.
I enjoyed reading this factual account, but that in no way means I support the underworld or am insensitive towards the people who have suffered at their hands. This book has made me realize that I have interests in reading more about the Bombay gangs and their history. I think the time is not far when I’ll be seen reading many books on this topic.


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