Recently, I read an old book which I found quite fascinating. This was, ” Mafia Queens of Mumbai” by S Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges – first published in 2011 by Tranquebar/Westland. The title itself makes those fond of crime stories- like me- reach out for the book. Zaidi is perhaps Mumbai’s best known crime reporter. He has written several books about the interesting cases he covered involving Mumbai’s underworld over the decades.
In this book the focus is not on the underworld gang lords themselves- men like Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar and Dawood Ibrahim- but about a few women who became enormously influential in the underworld, in their times. They had different social and economic backgrounds, lived in different circumstances but all of them had the grit, determination, and even ruthlessness, to become feared in the dim lit alleys and backstreets they operated in.
We read about Jenabai Chaavalwaali, who brokered a truce between warring gangs by invoking the name of religion. This probably was the start of underworld gangs owing allegiance and building empires largely on communal lines. Of Ashraf Khan aka Sapna Didi and her aim to avenge the murder of her husband; and of Mahalaxmi Papamani, the wealthiest drug baroness in Mumbai.
The authors also cover the stories of the fabled gangster’s molls? What were they like in real life? Were they as they were depicted in the Hindi movies? Perhaps the most famous-or infamous- of them was Monica Bedi, who became a Bollywood starlet before linking up with gangster Abu Salem. Other “underworld wives” we come across in the book are Asha Gawli, Neeta Naik, Sujata Nikhalje and Padma Poojary.
Overall an interesting read. It makes you realize that pretty much the same base emotions and motivations drive people, irrespective of which side of the law they are on!