In the belly of the underworld

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 21 December 2017

In conversation with journalists-turned-authors about penning books in the crime genre

With S Hussain Zaidi being the co-publisher of the Blue Salt along with Penguin India, it’s no wonder that he has roped in journalists — on legal and police beats — to pen non-fiction books, which are thoroughly researched and serve as eye-openers in many ways. He was in the city to talk about crime, criminals and how to write books on them, with Mili Ashwarya, of Penguin India.

To start with, let’s talk about Jyoti Shelar’s book, Bhais of Bengaluru, which was released in Mumbai last evening. Now, Mumbai’s association with guns, gold and drugs smuggling is pretty well-known. But Bengaluru, India’s Silicon City’s connection with mafia, is not so well-known.

And so, Shelar travelled to Bengaluru from Mumbai, as frequently as she took the local train from CST to Borivli. Her persistent efforts finally allowed her to make a breach in the mafia world of Bengaluru and got interviews with the dons, who have now ‘reformed’.

But when it came to writing the book, was her approach different from that of filing a news report? “Well, the common factor was research. As journalists we research our stories, check and cross-check facts. So it was with the book, Bhais of Bengaluru. It was a new city, so I had to do a lot of leg work, make contacts, and be persistent in meeting them, following-up etc,” says Shelar.

Did she also stick to the inverted pyramid concept? “I had to chuck out lots of stuff while writing the book. The important parts got in the book, the rest didn’t,” she says, adding, “I tried to dig in the hows and whys and what triggered their unlawful activities. I covered the period from about 1950s to the present times. I met their families, listened to their stories.”

Whilst doing the research bit, Shelar learnt the differences between Mumbai and Bengaluru mafia. “The first important difference between the two is that the Bengaluru mafia always had a back-up plan, to return to white-collar life. Even when they were actively engaged in criminal pursuits, they had formed social organisations, running a tabloid etc. Majority of the Mumbai mafia didn’t have such a plan. Also, the Mumbai mafia took to guns quickly, whereas the Bengaluru mafia stuck to swords and knives. Their first encounter with gun was also courtesy, the Mumbai people. A don in Bengaluru was bumped off by another don with the help of the Mumbai mafiosi,” she explains, adding, “Also, Bollywood had a greater role to play in bringing to life the exploits of Mumbai mafia.”

Sharmeen Hakim and Nazia Sayed have co-authored a book on the 2006 train blasts in Mumbai. The book titled The Six Minutes of Terror highlights the investigation and the procedural side of the case. Hakeem, the legal correspondent, and Sayed on the police beat, covered the respective angles in the book, which led to a lot of co-ordination on either side. As Zaidi pointed out, “The legal and police investigations are never on the same turf, so yes as reporters and co-authors, Sharmeem and Nazia had differing viewpoints on how the book should flow.”

Hakim also focused on the people and families, who were injured and also lost their lives, in the book. “The trains are the lifeline of Mumbaikars. At least 183 people were killed and 829 were injured in the blasts. Who were these people? We had to find out. Eleven years later, their lives are at a stand-still. We had invited some of the families for the book launch in Mumbai, but only one person turned up. That is telling, isn’t it?” Quite so.

Journalist and bestselling author of Black Friday, Dongri to Dubai, S Hussain Zaidi has mentored many a young person in journalistic work and also in getting their stories out to the wider world.

He has two suggestions or rather advice for the journalists-turned authors:
a) Show a story; don’t tell it
b) Don’t worry about the beginning.

“I have many first-time writers coming up to me, saying, ‘I can’t begin my first chapter’. I tell them, ‘Vomit on paper, whatever comes to your mind. Usually, you find the story, somewhere in the middle.”

But since he and his protégées are dealing with crime and criminals, how does he deal with the pressure? “A crime story has to have a protagonist and an antagonist. I have several disagreements with the way police function, but they are the sutradhars, protagonists of my stories. The antagonist is the don, the criminal. That’s very clear to me. We cannot support or glorify criminal activities,” emphasises Zaidi.

Next he talks about his upcoming book, which would introduce us to the mentor of Dawood Ibrahim. “There was one man who helped Dawood rise to notoriety. What he saw in Dawood, and how he trained him is what I am attempting to put down in the book,” he adds.

Also on the cards are other books from Blue Salt; one talks about the anatomy of sting operations and the second one is about the sensational kidnapping cases.

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