STORYTELLER

One of Mumbai’s most prolific historians is a retired cop with endless tales of true heroes

Quartz india
Quartz india

Sometime in the early 1990s, Rohidas Dusar promised his young daughter he would leave work at Agripada police station in time to head home with a cake for her birthday. As it happened, though, he had to stop over at another little girl’s birthday party first. The police had received a tip-off that a fugitive member of the powerful Gawli gang was expected to arrive at his daughter’s party in Ghatkopar. Dusar, who was the investigating officer on the case, and his team ended up spending several hours lying in wait until the arrest could be made and the accused brought back to Agripada. By the time Dusar reached home with the cake, it was past midnight and his daughter had fallen asleep, leaving him a note to wake her up.

This is just one of the stories in Dusar’s first book, Mumbai Police Tapas Katha (Mumbai Police Investigation Stories), a collection of anecdotes from his career, which was published in 1998. He has since written a dozen more non-fiction books, including a biography of Charles Forjett, the legendary Anglo-Indian police officer, a volume for children about the police, a history of police athletes, and an account of the 1925 Bawla murder case, which is considered a landmark in investigation.

Photo illustration by Anirudh A. Ashar
Dusar. (Photo illustration by Anirudh A. Ashar)

Considered the go-to archivist and history expert in the Mumbai police force, 65-year-old Dusar is now working to complete his research on the history and development of Mumbai city police training as part of his PhD work, which he started in 1995, at Mumbai University.

“Those who don’t know history, how will they make history?” he said, sitting adjacent to the same room at the Agripada police chowky where he began his writing career during a 24-hour stint at the time of the 1992 to 1993 riots in Mumbai.

Dusar gestures towards the crowded Saat Rasta intersection in central Mumbai. It was here, he recounts, in 1908 that the city erupted in protests as angry locals swarmed the streets following Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s conviction for sedition. European officers took refuge from the rioting crowds in this very station, he adds.

The conversation is peppered with similar trivia and stories that Dusar has gleaned over years of poring through police records, rifling through the archives, and reading. In his home, he has more than 150 books written by members of the police and another 50 or so written by others about the police.

The release of one of Rohidas Dusar's books.
The release of one of Rohidas Dusar’s books. (Rohidas Dusar/Facebook)

Crime and punishment

The Mumbai police force has periodically thrown up poets, memoirists, and chroniclers, but perhaps none has been as prolific and focused on history as Dusar. Bawla Murder Case, his book on the sensational 1925 killing, for which he spent several years consulting primary sources, was spun off from a previous book in which the story had appeared as a short piece among others.

In January 1925, Abdul Qader Bawla, a rich Mumbai businessman, was shot at by a group of assailants while travelling through Malabar Hill with his lover Mumtaz Begum, a former dancer in the Indore court of Maharaja Holkar. The case, featuring murder, royalty, powerful figures, and a courtly conspiracy, was a widely-followed sensation of its time and eventually led to the king’s abdication and the conviction of his hitmen. It is still taught during police training. “This was a milestone investigation because there was tremendous pressure on the commissioner at the time,” said Dusar.

One of his other subjects was Charles Forjett, an Anglo-Indian officer who was ultimately denied the commissionership because of his mixed heritage. “You know the Mahabharata? The story of Karna?” said Dusar. “[Forjett] struck me as an Anglo-Indian Karna.”

The allusion to Karna, one of the most complex characters in the Mahabharata who was the result of an illicit union between a princess and a god, harks to Forjett’s parentage—his father was of European descent, his mother Indian. He was credited with monitoring the city with a deft hand, modernising the police force, and helping lower crime rates through Bombay Presidency in the 1850s, but Forjett was only ever referred to as officiating commissioner. “He was very smart but didn’t become commissioner because he was dark and had inherited his mother’s skin colour,” said Dusar.

Respected by peers

Though most of the archival material he consults is in English, Dusar writes in Marathi, and is highly regarded in the Mumbai police force—one senior even nicknamed him “Dusar Guruji.” “Nobody has looked at police history the way he has,” said Deepak Rao, a Bombay police historian and author of Mumbai Police 150 Years, a 2006 coffee table book on the police. “Ask him anything, and he will have the answer. He has meticulously recorded police history through various themes.”

Dusar spent his childhood in a village in Raigad district, tending cattle and working as a farmer at first. He later became a teacher, acquiring an MA and a BEd, and even served as an education inspector in Raigad district before passing the state examination to qualify for the Mumbai police in 1981. Posted in police stations across the city, the state CID, the crime branch, and the traffic division, he eventually retired in 2011 at the rank of deputy commissioner of police.

His writing career began with a story published in 1990 in Dakshata, the monthly police magazine which chronicles stories of investigations and force-related news in Marathi. He continued writing for the magazine, eventually bringing out his first book with Samvedna Prakashan, a Pune-based publisher, in 1998. “I never had any doubts when I started writing,” Dusar said. “Crime stories have a market. There has always been a market because people love reading crime stories.”

During long working days, he’d squirrel out parcels of time for reading and writing, and often took days off just to write, even as others spent their holidays relaxing or travelling. Four more books followed while he was still in the force. “The history I write is for everyone,” said Dusar. “What do ordinary people know about the police and their history? All they know is that the police does dadagiri [bullies people], or is corrupt. But [they don’t know] that the police works 24 hours.”

Untold stories

Priced at Rs200-odd (around $3) or less, Dusar’s books are hardly money-spinners. His most recent one, Hutatma Policeanchi Amar Gatha, is about every policeman of any rank who has ever been “martyred” in the line of duty. Proceeds from its sales will go to their families. And though his primary market is usually police or training institutes, Dusar’s books are also sold in stores in Pune and Mumbai.

“There is always a tremendous demand for his books,” said Nitin Hirve, the founder of Samvedna Prakashan, which has published all his books. Each title usually has a first print run of 1,000 books and two have gone into second editions. Dusar is also reasonably well-known among Marathi-reading audiences and he says they write to him or call in with feedback.

The Mumbai police, which is in the process of setting up a museum, consults him occasionally. Dusar, a quiet, soft-spoken man, is widely looked up to in the force, both for his personality and the wealth of his knowledge. “The police are busy with their professional lives, but for him research has always been a deep passion,” said Rao.

Since Dusar retired, he has been travelling to give lectures across the state, mostly to the police force. He is writing and researching his next book—a biography of former police inspector Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, who won India’s first individual Olympic medal, a bronze in wrestling, in the 1952 Helsinki games. But there are many more topics that await exploration, Dusar points out, and such little time—“I just want to keep writing as much as I can. The goal is to spread more knowledge among people.”

This piece was first published on Scroll.in. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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