Mumbai ka King Kaun?’
‘Rahul Ramakant Jadhav.’
When Bhiku Mhatre, the iconic ganglord, standing atop a cliff and staring down at the Mumbai skyline, in the 1998 film Satya, shouted, ‘Who’s the king of Mumbai?,’ Rahul yelled back his own name in response. It was almost laughable, that proclamation in a full, dark cinema hall. But the twenty-two-year-old did not care if his declaration made him cut a foolish figure. In that instance, he was consumed with the testosterone running through his veins, feeling as powerful, as alive as the mighty Bhiku himself.
After that first time, whenever Rahul watched the film – eighteen times over the next year – he’d watch it academically, learning more from Bhiku’s character than his crimes. The gangster opera, with its dark undertones and noir lighting, covers the ruthlessness and brutality of the Mumbai underworld around the turn of the twenty-first century – when Rahul made his foray into the world of organized crime.
‘He was so influenced that he also took on Bhiku as his gangland pseudonym,’ says David Machmach, one of Rahul’s friends and co-accused, ‘Initially, he’d ask us to call him that. But as days passed, as he started living up to the character behind the sobriquet, the name caught on. Everyone in the underworld, even the cops, would refer to him as Bhiku – with all the respect that name deserves.’
When Rahul entered the underworld, it was partly Bhiku’s audacity, which extended him the courage to dream big. Although a newbie, he told himself he was a conqueror, one who would create the largest mafia empire of contemporary India, become one of history’s most successful gang commanders. He was a fantasist, distant from reason. To bridge the gap, he had the underworld veteran Bhaijaan, his newfound mentor, his guru.
‘You have a clean record, don’t get into this shit,’ Bhaijaan would tell Rahul when the latter asked him for tips and training. The sharpshooter probably felt protective about the underworld hopeful, like an older brother. He would reiterate, ‘It’s all glamour and guns on the outside, beta – and guilt and grime on the inside.’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever felt guilty, Bhaijaan,’ Rahul once replied. ‘I’ve made men older than my father cry. Even after threatening so many of them, I can’t tell what remorse feels like.’
‘I know, gandu,’ Bhaijaan lightly slapped his cheek. ‘That’s exactly why I try to keep you away from this shit.’
New recruits in the underworld usually work far from sharpshooters and gang heroes like Bhaijaan. Rahul had managed the unparalleled opportunity. All he had done was show up when Bhaijaan needed help. It was instinct that took Rahul to the court that day, a moment that froze to become his criminal life.
Rahul would spend every day at Bhaijaan’s home following the sharpshooter’s bail, fiddling with pistols and carbines, loading and unloading them, learning their complicated mechanisms. Late at nights, he would fire the guns, irking sleeping birds and Bhaijaan’s wife. When Mahajan called, an exuberant Rahul would note down particulars of the assignments for the hitman – names, numbers and addresses of extortion and murder victims, details of arms dealers and money deliverers.
‘Did you really kill two of Dawood’s men?’ Rahul asked Bhaijaan one evening, venturing into the murders that led to his arrest.
‘Of course, I did,’ the sharpshooter replied. ‘It’s part of the game. The Bhais and their companies are battling for the underworld throne, for Mumbai. Casualties, like in any war, are lieutenants on the frontier, men like me and the ones I killed.’
‘If you know it’s a game, why do you take part?’
‘Because it isn’t just a turf war anymore. It’s a battle of ideologies. A gangster is nothing if not loyal, Rahul – and loyalty demands a price. I love my don. I believe in his beliefs. The 1993 Bombay blasts should not have happened. Those 257 innocents should have been alive. Dawood doesn’t deserve Mumbai; all his men deserve to die,’ Bhaijaan declared with the conviction of a revolutionary. The hitman was genuinely enraged – his nostrils flared, jaw clenched and teeth gnashed.
‘When Dawood’s name emerged in the 1993 blasts, I was shocked, even disappointed,’ Rahul offered. ‘They were burning his effigies, chanting “deshdrohi Dawood Ibrahim”. He was my hero. I couldn’t understand why he’d done that. He’s a gangster, not a terrorist.’
‘Your hero’s dragged the underworld’s name through the mud,’ Bhaijaan spat, his face now turning red. ‘Gangsters are men of ethics. We don’t steal, rob, rape or bother the poor. We target the rich, who are anyway sitting on empires built on deprived men’s sweat and blood. We have principles. We don’t kill in temples, hospitals or in front of one’s family. We take care of the area we live in. No one can mess with our women, elderly or our kids. We’re respectable men, and he’s made us look like terrorists.’
‘That’s also probably why everybody – from politicians to the police and the legislature – is so pissed with the underworld.’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Bhaijaan, ‘The Mumbai police is running wild for our capture. The bastards have chased and gunned down 600 of us in seven years. The state is enacting the mindlessly stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Now, there will be special courts to prosecute gangsters, and the khaki-clad “Dirty Harrys” will have even more liberty to shove their sticks up our asses.’
‘Wow,’ mused Rahul. ‘It’s a really bad time to enter the underworld.’
This excerpt from Gangsters on the run: The true story of a reformed criminal has been published with special permission from Harper Collins. It will be released on SoftCover, ThePrint’s new e-venue to launch select non-fiction books.
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