Saturday, September 3, 2011

Queens without crowns

Well researched, this book is a tribute to the women who have made significant inroads into Mumbai's criminal underbelly.

Mafia Queens of Mumbai 
Stories of Women from
the Ganglands
S.Hussain Zaidi, Jane Borges
Tranquebar Press
Rs 250; Pp 308
ISBN 9789380283777
It couldn't get feistier than this you think on reading the title and immediately conjure up images of gorgeous molls lolling on the arms of cigar-puffing villains sporting mismatched shoes. But Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women from the Ganglands is nothing like what you'd expect. A cool clinical tribute to the women who made significant inroads into the infamous arena of Mumbai's criminal underbelly, the extensively researched work of journalists S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges, besides enlightening one on the ways of lady gangsters, informs, enthrals and very frequently chills the reader down to his bone-marrow.

No stereotypes
There are no stereotypes in the world of crime, it is established at the every onset, and not every woman criminal is pushed into crime by unfortunate circumstances (as generally depicted in movies and literature). Some women are born to crime, some others chase it relentlessly and yet some others have crime thrust on them. And then there are those others who choose to channel their genius towards darker goals for the sheer adrenalin rush it entails. Thus we have the imperturbable Lallan Bhabhi, a cog in the petrol adulteration cartel, Sapna Didi, a rare woman who had the guts to stand up to Dawood Ibrahim, liquor queen Jenabai Daaruwali and the iconic brothel madam, Gangubai Kathiawadi. A rare touch given by the authors is the perennial riches-to-rags possibility hovering over each head and which seems to deter not a single of these women. As Zaidi and Borges lead one down the dark dinghy alleys of Dongri, Bhendi Bazaar, Nagpada, Dharavi and Mumbra, it becomes difficult to forget characters like the dainty bereaved Ashraf who turns into a gun-toting avenger, the charismatic Gangubai who lights up the streets of Kamathipura with a rare dignity or the bootlegging aunties. There is no attempt to romanticise the real-life stories or add unnecessary embroidery for added texture. Consequently, there is an element of starkness, a bleakness of approach that is very brave, yet strangely unsettling for the reader. One wishes the authors had added further dimensions by a deeper exploration of the complexities within each character. Some of the motives and choices made by the protagonists remain fuzzy and perplexing to the very end.

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