Book Review: Byculla to Bangkok: – “The Saga of the Maharashtrian Mafiosi”

byculla to bangkok

3/5 Stars

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Frédéric Bastiat

“Ganda hai par Dhanda hai yeh !” (“Its Bad(..filthy..) but it’s Business!”), this song from the movie Company, seemed to be playing all the while in the background while I was reading this book.

The Mumbai Underworld, Mumbai Mafia….. Organized crime in any part of the world, makes up for a fascinating study, (insensitive, is it? well, its true anyhow) be it the glorified Mob in America, The Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Italy ,The Yakuza in Japan, Bratva in Russia or our very own ‘aamchi muley'(‘our boys’, as Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray once put it) from the Mumbai Underworld. So, the subject matter of this book was obviously intriguing in the extreme, add to it my own personal curiosity about anything related to real crime and the writer’s own credible background (S.Hussain Zaidi was a former investigative journalist, who spent much of his career covering the mafia and crimes in Mumbai) all solid reasons to read his books, specially this one. And so I had, this was my third book my Mr. Zaidi, Dongri to Dubai and Mafia queens of Mumbai being the first two.

Byculla to Bangkok, focuses on those individuals in the Mumbai Mafia,(Arun Gawli, Chota Rajan & Ashwin Naik, mainly these three, but many more big & small) which were perceived (in general? Really?) as Hindu Dons or Gangsters, more ‘Maharashtrian’ than the others (Dawood and his ilk). But let’s overlook that distinction for the time being. The stories of these dreaded gangsters and mob bosses are no doubt most interesting. Add to that the sensational way of writing that only a seasoned journalist could have and you hope to get a treat of a read. But, well, I was left a bit underwhelmed by the whole account. Primarily because his first one(D2D) kind of stole the show. Now, Dongri to Dubai was better in my opinion, Why? because firstly it had a more comprehensive coverage of the subject and it gave you the Origins of crime in Mumbai from the very start .i.e after independence, with Don after Dons and gangs and all that. Secondly, though it was also tainted with bias and sensationalism, Mr.Zaidi had not tried to divide the world of Indian Crime along communal lines (I mean its CRIME, for God’s sake….umm…. that is, NOT for God’s SAKE obviously). In Byculla to Bangkok, he has kind of botched up both these points. If one book was not enough for the whole story (which of-course, was not) he could have split the whole thing on a more general lines than portraying them in such a fashion. But oh well, I will take it.

Now, despite the interesting and often chilling stories this book contains, it struggled with being a ‘Non fiction’ Vs ‘Sensational Fiction’, often it read like a chronological account of events leading to the formation of a gang, rise of a Don or a vicious gangster, and then their subsequent downfall (All the while trying to be neutral) and some other times it was a sensational almost fictitious tale straight out of the silver screen. Perhaps, when you are this much involved in your subject matter as Mr.Zaidi no doubt is, some musings are pardonable, but what to make of it as a reader I was hard pressed  to think.

Despite these few problems that I had with the book, It was a good read nonetheless, well researched and quite informative (just….take some cringe worthy..roamctic vibes with a pinch of salt…its the Mafia after all). The stories about Arun Gawli(alias ‘Daddy’) were specially interesting, about the mills, the allure of crime, about the struggles for dominance with other gangs, the role of politics (Yeah I admit it….I saw the trailer of the movie ‘Daddy’…so I was curious, guilty as charged)

Daddy movie
‘Arun Gawli’ The gangster turned politician( on the left); ‘Arjun Rampal’ as Him in the movie ‘Daddy'( on the right)

Ahhhh.. Bollywood and its glorification of Crime and Criminals, what would the youth of this country do without you.

Getting back to the book, It is fast paced and not that big (266 pages, Kindle edition) so, you could comfortably finish it in a few sittings. If you are interested in reading about crime , the mafia, their origin stories then this is a must read for you, along with the other two by Mr.Zaidi, because if someone could write credibly about the darkness of that world it would be him. So, pick up this one and travel the congested alleys of Mumbai in the 1970’s, with a whistle on your lips and a ‘Rampuri’ (Knife) tucked in your back.

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