Hussain S Zaidi’s books – Black Friday and Mafia Queens Of Mumbai – are controversial, packed with saucy details from the underworld and are full of drama and action to say the least. The non-fictional accounts of the incidents and lives of the people are so spicy, interesting, well-researched and varied that these books are bound to put any fiction to shame…
We chat up with journalist-author Hussain S Zaidi who wrote his books after keeping tabs and reporting about the crime for more than 16 years, first as a crime reporter with Mid Day, Mumbai Mirror and Indian Express and now as the resident editor of Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle in Mumbai. In his first, Black Friday, Zaidi gave a detailed, well-researched account of the 1993 Bombay blasts that were carried out by the terrorists. The book was later adapted into a controversial film by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap.
In his second, Mafia Queens, Zaidi has given an in depth yet super interesting account of the lives of empresses of the underworld along with smugglers molls and underworld doyennes. BookChums chats up with this writer who is known for his impeccable research and lucid writing style.
After Black Friday, what took you almost a decade to come up with your second novel?
Writing a book on female gangsters has always been on my mind as their stories really fascinated me. In fact, I actually started researching on them in 1996, when I was first asked to write a special feature on women in crime. Also, while working on my second book Dongri to Dubai, I came across a lot of information about women criminals. I, however, kept it aside because it was not possible to incorporate those stories in that book. Later, a friend suggested that I write a book on those stories, as it was an interesting subject. And that is how the idea took shape and this book came into existence.
Was it more difficult to write about the female mafia?
Compiling the tales of these women was challenging, especially because a number of them flourished at a time when crimes by women were barely documented. Black Friday on the other hand was based on the 1993 blast, which happened while I was a crime reporter, so it was a different experience. Mafia Queens of Mumbai though was easier to write. For Black Friday I had to sift through 10,000 pages of chargesheet, court evidence, FIRs, defence arguments, etc related to the 1993 Mumbai blast. One must remember that it was the biggest terror attack until 9/11 happened.
Some stories like the one about Sapna didi, Archana Sharma or Sujata Nikhalje are not as interesting. Why did you decide to include them in the collection?
I think it’s all a matter of perception. Some readers found Sapna’s story the most interesting and engaging in the book. She was a brave woman who stood up against Dawood Ibrahim, undeterred by the consequences of her actions. Same applies to Archana, who from playing Sita at the annual cultural event Ramleela, transformed into a real-life Ravan. Readers’ choices vary, what might sound interesting to you, may not to others.
Gangubai is not really a mafia woman. It was just that she used a Mafia contact for her safety. So what prompted you to add her story?
Gangubai may have not been a gangster, but she was a godmother in her own right. Her story is both intriguing and poignant. She grew from strength to strength — from being forced into flesh-trade to managing a big chunk of brothels at Kamathipura, to taking thousands of sex workers under her wings and hobnobbing with gangsters — that woman did it all. At the end of the day, one cannot deny that she was running an illegal trade. She is undeniably a mafia women
Which is your favourite chapter in the book and why?
My personal favourite is Femme Fatale, the story of Ashraf Khan alias Sapna didi. None showed the courage to stand up to a powerful don like Dawood and survive for so many years. Also, the way she plotted to kill him was audacious. The woman went to extreme lengths to avenge her husband’s killing.
In the intro you mention: “We have taken literary license only in those places where we feel it is absolutely necessary to add graphic drama…” Could you please explain?
Many people think I’ve fabricated information while writing the book, so I’m glad you’re asking me this question. There is nothing fictitious here; all these stories are accurate accounts of women and their lives with barely minimum creative license taken to narrate their story. For instance, in the first chapter, Jenabai actually meets Mastaan, all that we’ve done is created an ambience for the meeting — like the heavy downpour, dark clouds etc. What transpired between them is based on true facts, derived from our sources.
Your reaction to the way the movie Black Friday has shaped.
I would not like to comment on it.
You had mentioned that you were not very comfortable speaking English. How did you then go about penning novels and become such a master at narrating stories?
I was shy of speaking English publicly as I was not confident of myself. About storytelling, well it just happened with the passage of time and experience.
You did not believe in sharing a byline. You said it is sacrosanct to a reporter/writer. So how did you come about writing the book with Jane Borges? What role did she play in penning the novel?
Jane had assisted me in doing interviews and putting together several chapters. I thought by saying thanks to her in my acknowledgments will not be fair to her so I decided to give her a joint credit with me.
Any book you would like to recommend to our readers. And why?
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra. This book chronicles organized crime in Mumbai at its best.