This post is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the Crime Writers Festival:
By Krishangi Singh:
What do you do when the name of the man you’re about to interview is on one on the ‘Most Wanted’ lists of not just India, but many other countries?
And when the man is the head of the D-Company itself – Dawood Ibrahim. The man allegedly behind the Mumbai terror attacks in 1993 that killed over 350 people and who is supposed to have close links with the Al-Qaeda, and the now dead Osama Bin Laden.
Well you probably can’t do what veteran crime reporter, investigative journalist and author Hussain Zaidi does. And that’s to get to the bottom of things without batting an eyelid.
No fictional characters. No change of names. Just sheer facts.
S. Hussain Zaidi’s ‘Black Friday’ was a book that gave an extensive and transparent account of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, which were executed on the command of Dawood Ibrahim. Heavy on research and nothing short of a fast paced thriller, Zaidi in his book ‘Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia’ interviewed Dawood Ibrahim, and one has to ask, was he not ever afraid in his line of work?
“I was not afraid because I was always sure that I wrote my books in the way I used to report for my newspaper. I remained impartial, very unbiased and never took sides. I never lost hold of objectivity. When you do these things people who are being written about know that you’re just doing your job, without having any personal agenda behind it.”
It won’t be a stretch to say that no one really had so thoroughly covered the Mumbai mafia’s notorious activities before Hussain Zaidi stepped in and began discovering the outreach of the gangland’s power and influence. So when he tells us of Dawood’s current standing, skeptical as we are if he has any left, it makes sense to listen to Zaidi on it, “He was and he remains a very influential Don in India. His techniques and involvement might differ but his influence is not going to wane anytime soon or at least till he is alive.”
Zaidi’s word on Dawood’s possible successors and the kind of influence they will hold in India after his demise, whether it is Chhota Shakeel or someone else, are equally powerful, “I don’t think Dawood Ibrahim will ever have a successor who will reach his level of power. He has many friends and ‘clones’ that would take his position but the thing is that although Dawood’s successor will inherit his power from Dawood, Dawood’s own power centers are very varied. He has connections amongst many MPs, diplomats, bureaucrats, top police officials and other powerful places. None of his successors will be able to have such people at his beck and call.”
To extract information about men of such influence could not have been an easy feat. Even harder is the task of pulling out the intimate details surrounding the Mafia women and whom they entertained, which he covered in his book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’. His investigative abilities show as he explains the difficulties of unearthing information on these women of power, “It was very difficult because some of those people were dead and gone. About others, people had just clamped up. They were not ready to share details about those women at all. So to dig out details such as their age, behavior and mindset was akin to stealing a piece of flesh out of a tiger’s mouth”.
However, his accomplishments in investigative journalism go beyond covering the Mumbai mafia. When he thinks about his most challenging work, he is unsure about which of these varied tasks was more difficult than the rest “I don’t know whether to talk about the story against a High Court judge doing an exposé on him, or exposing the transcript of conversation between deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and Abdul Karim Telgi in the Telgi scam, or about a religious head who was commercializing crores of charity into commercial property.”
Crime reporting involves coming in touch with all sorts of dangerous and distasteful men, which makes it essential to set clear boundaries of involvement.
His definition of what constitutes as essence of crime reporting reflects that, “I think a crime reporter should never lose objectivity. He should never wine and dine with his sources and only treat them as subjects. When you let your feelings come in the way of work, you don’t remain a crime reporter anymore.
Often crime reporters are given the analogy of pathologists. A pathologist examines a lot of infectious matter but ensure that he himself remains uncontaminated, and the same goes for a crime reporter.”
So does he like any authors from the current lot? “Some recent crime novels have caught my eye but I don’t know whether it will be fair to talk about them. However, my all time favorite is ‘Sacred Games’ by Vikram Chandra. I also like ‘Quantum Siege’ by Brijesh Singh.”
[alert type=white ]
What does your writing space look like?
It’s quite room with no distractions in it.
The view from your window…
There’s a lot of greenery outside my house. There’s also a metro track running outside my window at some distance, the lights from the metro, entering and departing at night are something I enjoy looking at.
That what keeps you from writing/work…
A compelling book or a classic fast-paced Hollywood thriller.
What aspiring authors must not do…
They should not lose the focus of their story and they must not copy the style or narrative of other authors.
Tea Or Coffee?
Tea. Only if it is made by my wife.
Early Bird or Creature of the Night?
Creature of the night.
Road trip or flying?
A little bit of both.
Okay to sip wine while writing?
No, I like tea while writing.
What do you do when you hit the mythical Writer’s Block?
I take a break and go after all those pleasures that were kept on hold for some time.
And where does one find that mystical Muse?
A good subject, a good idea or a good story.
If not a writer, you’d be?
I would be a spy for my country.
A character of your own creation you have fallen for?
None so far.
Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans?
I like both. The more the merrier. [/alert]
Catch the author for more as he discusses, ‘Notes From Mumbai Mafia’ and ‘Mumbai: The Megalopolis’ at the HT Crime Writers Festival on 18th Jan ‘15 at the India Habitat Centre.