How Dawood Ibrahim, India’s most wanted gangster, found his mentor

Look what good mentoring did.
Look what good mentoring did.
Image: AP Photo
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Rashid Taxi was running for his life.

Pushing and shoving the passers-by, colliding with bicycle riders and oncoming scooters. He was trying to get away from Khalid, who was looming large over him like an angel of death. But Rashid was scrawny and lean, he could run faster. Khalid was heavier and had to strain harder to continue running behind Rashid.

The chase ending successfully was very important for Khalid. He not only wanted to discipline Rashid but also terminate the possibility of any more Rashids rearing their ugly heads and threatening Bashu in the future. Bashu’s arrogance had spawned a legion of detractors in the area. His financial growth and Khalid’s increasing clout had become a headache for several people in the neighbourhood. Bashu expected everyone to pay obeisance to him. If anybody failed to be subservient, the poor fellow was a marked man.

One of them was a Muslim League member of the legislative assembly called Ziauddin Bukhari, a political leader with considerable influence. When Bukhari refused to do Bashu’s bidding, the haughty ganglord engineered his defeat in the subsequent elections. One diktat from Bashu was enough to frighten people into doing his bidding. No, it was not respect that Bashu garnered, but fear. Bashu fed off people’s fear and grew more powerful.

A Sufi saint by the name of Nirale Shah Baba was highly venerated among the Muslims of the area. This was an era when Wahabism had yet to take root among the Muslims of Dongri and Sufi saints were not taboo. Nirale Shah sat outside the Makhdoomiya Bakery across the road from Teli Mohalla.

His presence attracted a sizeable crowd of devotees, a fact that angered Bashu. Nobody else in his fiefdom was allowed to attract a fan following larger than his—most definitely not a maverick old man with no money. He felt the Baba had the potential to dilute his power centre. Bashu’s men often chided the baba for the milling crowds.

Finally, one fine day, Ziauddin Bukhari, along with Nirale Shah’s devotees, cobbled together a convenient alliance to put the fear of God into Bashu. They held clandestine meetings in the area, and sometimes even in a different area, so that Bashu and Khalid did not get a whiff of their plans. After the secret brainstorming sessions, the consensus was that only a parallel force equally driven and strong, could outwit Bashu and undermine his growing power. The anti-Bashu coterie assembled a ragtag band of young men and formed an anjuman (a group) and called themselves the “Young Company.”

Bukhari, in a clever, strategic move, also roped in Ibrahim Havildar and convinced him to give his blessings to their organisation. However, Ibrahim Havildar was shrewdly kept in the dark about the real motive for the creation of this band of youths. He was persuaded to help with the ostensible purpose of constructively channelising the energies of the wayward youths of Dongri.

Rashid Khan was popularly known as Rashid Taxi as he owned a fleet of black-and-yellow taxis. The mafia identifies people with the same name by adding a sobriquet to distinguish one from the rest. Rashid Taxi had a history with Bashu. He had initially started off as a Bashu acolyte but left bitterly after being mistreated.

Khalid, being Bashu’s enforcer, called Rashid a couple of times through an emissary. But Rashid not only shrugged them off but also slapped and abused the messengers every time he was summoned. He told them, “I don’t have to submit to Bashu and his commands.” For Khalid, it was a direct challenge. He finally decided to discipline Rashid in his own way. There is a proverb in the mafia circles: Pehelwan khopdi, puri chokdi (A wrestler’s brain only wants to wreck completely).

He alerted his men and posted a couple of boys at the end of Teli Mohalla; if they spotted Rashid passing by that route, they were to alert him immediately. That evening in the summer of 1973, Khalid’s boys told him about Rashid’s presence in the area. Khalid swung into action immediately. Two of those boys who were earlier beaten by Rashid also joined the chase. They knew that Khalid not only wanted to shatter Rashid’s pride but also his bones. They were also itching to avenge their own humiliation at Rashid’s hands.

After chasing Rashid for half-a-kilometre, Khalid, a heavyset man, had begun to pant, beads of sweat dotting his forehead. It was too much work for one day.

Khalid was thoroughly frustrated at such a potential loss of face and decided to give up. Both his men who were running behind him were also out of breath. They stopped the moment they saw Khalid slowing down. They decided to return and were resigned to their fate.

Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, a youth whizzed past them, almost flying with extreme agility, jumping across the handcarts, hopping away in front of the honking car bonnets, intercepting motorbikes and scooters. Khalid turned to look in wonderment, surprised at the sudden surge of energy that one of his boys seemed to have acquired in no time. But as he turned around, he saw both his men were still behind him, the epitome of deflated tyres, thoroughly punctured. They too looked at him incomprehensibly and shrugged, acknowledging that they too didn’t know who this man was, sprinting ahead of them like a rabbit.

The youth was holding Rashid Taxi by his collar and was not allowing him to move an inch from the spot. “Khalid bhai, aa jao (Come here, Khalid Bhai),” said the boy. While Khalid was overjoyed that Rashid had finally been cornered, he looked quizzically at the boy who held Rashid in his firm grip. One of his aides announced, “Yeh to Dawood hai (Oh, this is Dawood).” Khalid was trying hard to size up this scrawny lad who had been introduced to him by Ibrahim Havildar just recently, and who was now holding Rashid like a sack of potatoes, with so little effort.

Khalid patted Dawood’s back, indicating that he was very pleased with his actions. The boy had no idea that Rashid was a prize catch for Khalid and by netting him he had rescued him from a tight spot. Then Khalid turned swiftly and administered a resounding, heavy slap—in full force—on Rashid’s face.

In the few years that he had been with the Mumbai mafia, he had learnt the golden rules too well. If you want to kill someone, then you stab him in the stomach. But if you want him to live but still want to subject him to abject and disgraceful humiliation, then you stab him in his buttocks. This is called gaand pe waar—attack on the arse. The injury inflicted in full public view would be a perennial source of embarrassment for the victim and he would never be able to sit straight even after recovery.

Eventually, among Bombay denizens, this form of retribution got whittled down to gaand pe laat (kick on the arse) and, now, GPL is a widely used acronym. Khalid took a knife from his aide and drove the knife down both of Rashid’s butt cheeks, leaving two deep gashes. Rashid let out a piercing scream. Khalid and his men were satisfied with the punishment and were ready to leave.

It was then that one of his men asked, “Bhai, agar police case hua toh? (Bhai, what if the police registers a case against us?)”

This question stopped Khalid in his tracks. He had been preparing to gloat to Bashu about Rashid’s public chastisement at his hands. According to Indian penal laws, an assault could still be interpreted under section 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC, or even under section 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means).

Dawood, who was, until now, merely standing by without participating in the violence, stepped forward and said, “If there is a cross complaint of a similar case, then the police will resolve it within the station premises and the matter will not go to court, thereby ruling out any prosecution or trial.”

Dawood had simplified their dilemma and spoken like a true policeman’s son. Khalid’s brow creased in worry, “How can we lodge a cross complaint against Rashid when we don’t have a victim whom he has hurt?” Khalid inquired from Dawood and also looked towards his two men.

Even before Khalid’s aides could respond, Dawood acted with the same swiftness that he had displayed earlier while chasing Rashid. He took the knife from Khalid and inflicted a deep gash on his own forearm. Fresh hot blood gushed out from his wound and splattered on his clothes, and also began dribbling on the tar road. Dawood’s clothes were soaked with his own blood. Everything happened so suddenly and abruptly that Khalid was left stunned.

It was at that precise moment that he vowed to himself that he would stand by the young man and protect him always, even if he had to give up his own life to save him. Khalid immediately gave Dawood a warm, crushing embrace…

It was the beginning of a long-lasting bond.

Excerpted from Dawood’s Mentor with permission from Penguin India. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com