Note: The Bombay bombings are taken from the perspective of an innocent bystander. The other parts are from the perspective of Dawood Ibrahim.
I was only nineteen when I knew I would end up with this career. Only it wasn’t your usual doctor or engineer type of job; I was going to become the Don of the Underworld. Having dropped out of school, I resorted to hooliganism, small-time smuggling, and violence. I had a small gang of boys, with my elder brother Shabir, from my village and we felt invincible. That was until the then-reigning King of the Underworld, Haji Mastan, had two of my boys beaten up. I was only nineteen, but the thirst for revenge burned inside of me.
It happened in 1974 when I decided to act on a tip-off to get back at Haji Mastan. An informal money courier would be carrying about 4.5 lakhs belonging to Mastan from a Masjid to his house. With eight of my boys, iron rods, and revolvers, we decided to approach the taxi in which the money was being transported. We were rich overnight, but the next day we realised the money belonged to the Metropolitan Bank, not to Haji Mastan. We committed the biggest robbery Mumbai had seen in a decade.
I was scared out of my wits. I started to think of my father, the police constable who, I was confident, would be handed this case. I loved being proven right, but this time, I wished I would’ve been wrong. I was dragged back home and beaten. Before I knew it, I was in the police station, confessing to my crime.
Even though the police registered the complaint against us, the Crime Branch offered me a chance to help them bring down the Pathan gang in Mumbai. I happily agreed but kept wondering about my gang. We were knee-deep in smuggling and violence, and I wanted to avoid my father from finding out about it. I thought the worst was over, but I was incredibly wrong. Samad Khan, leader of the Pathan gang, wanted to incur his wrath on us for daring to rob in his territory.
With The Emergency in 1975 looming over us, men like Haji Mastan and Karim Lala went into hiding. My brother and I took advantage of the situation and started managing Mastan’s smuggling business. By 1980, we were as rich and influential as the Pathan gang, if not more.
The police began to depend on Shabir and me to give them tip-offs of any illegal transaction the Pathan gang made. I don’t know who benefited more from this — the police, who could act on these tips, or us, who got to continue with our illegal activities.
On the 12th of February 1981, Samad Khan along with two men — Alamzeb and Amirzada — chased after Sabir’s car and gunned him down in Prabhadevi before getting back in their car and coming for me. If not for my alert bodyguard, Khalid, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I managed to escape. As soon as I knew I was safe, I began to plot the revenge.
By offering a contract for killing the three men, I got acquainted with rival gang leaders Bada Rajan and Rama Naik. We eliminated all of the men one by one from September 1983 to October 1984.
The bank robbery I had pulled off when I was nineteen made for a long case in the court. It dragged on for 15 years, but it was 15 years spent outside prison as a free man. However, in 1989, a trial court acquitted all members except Sher Singh, Sayed Sultan and myself. The police, who had been favouring me due to the tips against the Pathan gang, turned on me. I wasn’t surprised by how the events conspired. In 1992, there was finally a non-bailable warrant to arrest me.
However, no arrest could be made. In 1986, I was charged with the murder of Samad Khan, and I had to flee India. I fled to Dubai, controlling my men in Mumbai from there. After that, I went to Pakistan. A deal was put forth to me; I can continue smuggling in counterfeit currency and contraband through my men in India only if I could get information from them — information that would keep Pakistan one step ahead. The government kept denying the claims that I was residing in the country — I was Schrödinger’s cat, neither living in India nor outside. The world was on in its toes, talking and questioning whether or not I was actually in India. Could I possibly be dead? It’s a pity they got their answers the way that they did in 1993.
1993 Bombay Bombings
It was the 12th of March 1993 — the start of a new day in the “City of Dreams.” The usual hustle and bustle of Mumbai’s working-class characterised the morning. People packed the trains and commuters were hanging out of the buses as they went past. I was on my way to work — just a regular guy, with a regular job. I lived in Bandra, and my office was just down the road from the Bombay Stock Exchange in Colaba. I took the train and reached at 9 o’clock. Just after lunch, I was on my desk when I felt a tremor from the ground beneath me, accompanied by a loud thud.
Within the next hour, we learnt that the Bombay Stock Exchange had been bombed. Mumbai was under attack.
I was frightened. Soon after the news of the Bombay Stock Exchange blast, I learned that a series of explosions had rocked the city of Mumbai. Trains and buses were stopped, and communication was shut down. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with my parents and let them know where I was. All I could think about was how to get home. But they told me to stay at my office and that my father would come and pick me up the next morning.
A couple of hours earlier, my younger sisters, who were in college, were informed of the blasts and were told to leave for home. Their college was on Peddar road, not exactly very close to home. Along with a friend of theirs, they boarded a BEST bus in the hope of reaching home safely. Little did they know that they were in for a horrifying experience.
The bus was halted by a mob on the street, somewhere near Mahim. People were throwing stones at the bus, while a couple of them pulled the driver out and started beating him up. My sisters, along with their friend, managed to escape the bus. Once they got off all they saw was bloodshed, fire and violence. Vehicles were set ablaze, and anyone who was wearing a taqiyah or burkha was beaten up. They were scared and were praying to find a way off the street. Their friend said he owned a restaurant nearby and that was that best bet as their house was too far away. Fearing for their life, they walked for 15 minutes to his restaurant amidst all the chaos. It was the longest 15 minutes of their lives. They managed to reach the restaurant and took refuge inside. My father picked them up a couple of hours later.
I was stranded in my office till 9 o’clock that night. A colleague of mine offered to let me stay at her house in Worli. I took up her offer. Perhaps, in retrospect, it might not have been the smartest thing to do because two places had been bombed in Worli. I stayed the night, and my father picked me up the next morning.
Bombay had come to a bloody stop. The next day I learnt that a total of 13 places were bombed, killing over 250 people and injuring over 700. International, urban terrorism had come rampaging through the city in a form and scale never seen before. It was a retaliation to the 1992–1993 riots, by the Muslim underworld, specifically Dawood Ibrahim and his D-Company, which aimed to set off a fresh round of violence against the Hindu community.
Twenty-seven years later, the city has moved on but the memory of the 12th of March, 1993 — now ominously known as “Black Friday” — lives fresh and the memory of everyone who lived through it. It brought to the dark and dirty underbelly of the city of Bombay under the spotlight, drove a wedge between communities and tore families apart.
Written by Daniel Fernandes and Kaavya Azad for MTTN
Edited by Rushil Dalal for MTTN
Featured Image by Ashitha Melissa for MTTN