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Samruddhi Pathak



Samruddhi Pathak


Dagdi Chawl 1986

Dagdi Chawl 1986

19 mins 23.7K 19 mins 23.7K

1980, the decade of defeat that Mumbai cannot erase from its dark underworld history. The city that never sleeps had confronted it’s worst encounters and vanquishes. From Mumbai Police’s first encounter to India’s worst gangster fleeing to Dubai, organized crime mafias had their peak in the 1980’s. An economy wherein, from rags to riches, the underworld had its claws gripped tight on every penny and human. The decade when, even with a hundred eyewitnesses, the Mumbai Police couldn’t touch a gangsters hair. People had more faith in whores than in the police since a slaggle at least served its purpose. In the sprangling world of underworld sponsored crime, what was common among the bhais of Mumbai? Dagdi Chawl, a chawl known for its dungeons, home and origin of the mafia dons and queens of Mumbai.

Dagdi Chawl, then, was infamous for another reason, immense squalor. Those days of muck are the ones that the streets of Byculla wish were a nightmare. A chawl that sheltered around 150 families in its kholis. A street with overflowing gutters, urine smelling houses, houseflies collected at every corner of the chawl. People had to see their children die of starvation. Men killed their wives so that they have one less to feed. Sons let their mothers get laid for some currency. One among the population fighting with the filth was Arun Dolas.

Dolas was a malnourished scrawny boy of 18 with rumpled dry dark skin, eyes bulging out like a frog’s, disproportionately large out-curved teeth wore a torn off-white shirt and khaki shorts that he had found beside a municipality dustbin. Arun lived with his sister, Abha, 14 years old, and his mother. His father has eloped with a harlot after two days his sister was born, leaving a family of three, without any breadwinner, on their own.

Dolas, then, had started working in a tea stall to earn 7 rupees a week. His sister’s diet and mother’s health necessities had increased with inflation with his salary sagged. Their kholi had a capacity to accommodate two, which was manageable until Abha was 5 years old. After Abha was 8, one among the three had to sleep over another since the room crammed till the edge.

A fortnight after Abha’s ninth birthday, Arun came to his home after a regular day. His home was swept like every day with a plate filled with rice and raw onion on it. He said, “Abha, come. Have some rice. Where’s mother?”.

“Mother left in the evening with a letter. She told me to hand it you once you arrive.”, she replied.

As soon as Arun opened the letter, a 20 rupees note fell from it, an amount that he had never seen in his life. A letter and 20 rupees that overwhelmed his life, destroying all his emotions as though a spear went right through his heart, crushing all his hopes as if poverty was simpering at its victory.

A letter from his mother, her last letter to him, that said,

” I am sorry, child, that I wouldn’t be there for you for the rest of your life. I hope 20 rupees would better your living. I contributed the most I could. You and Abha need money the most today, I made it to your 3-week salary. Please don’t try to look around for me anywhere in the city else you might burn your hands, please forfeit that thought. Do not think of me as a benevolent person either, I’ve sold myself to a pimp. I’ll be living in a brothel. I am alike of the person your dad had eloped with. That’s all I could say. Take care of yourself and Abha.”

Arun was broken after he read the letter. He fell on his knees on the ground, felt physically weak as if bugs were eating his veins. Abha held his shoulders, horrified and quailed, her expression was of a little girl when choked. She said, in a shrilled shivering voice,” What is written in it? What is it? Please read it out.” trying to figure out what was written on the letter, but in vain since she was illiterate. Arun looked into her eyes and got up, promising himself to be strong for his sister for she was unaware of everything that had happened in the last six hours, in her presence.

In between the turmoil of how to let Abha know about this, he decided to get her admitted into a school with the 20 rupees in his hand.

Abha, still afraid and sweating, cried,”What happened? Where’s mother?”.

“Mother has gone to grandmothers. Our grandmother has expired.”, Arun replied to temporize the ordeal of Abha’s reaction. Abha wondered, then, if they even had a grandmother and why didn’t their mother ever tell them about her. After they were done with their dinner and a small talk about their day, Arun had concluded that his mother was in Kamathipura, 50 kilometres from Dagdi Chawl but decided to not go there for her. Meanwhile, Abha had concluded that Arun had lied to her about their mother but decided to not bring up their mother’s topic or anything else that would weaken her brother, even for a while.

The days that followed, gradually, normalized to the initial ones. Their regular routines resumed except that Abha started attending her school and the household expenses were now handled by Arun instead of his mother.

Beneath all the sorrow and agony of his mother’s sacrifices, he knew, now, he had one less stomach to feed. Counter-intuitive to his expectations, his life worsened. He had sworn to not mingle with the 20 rupees and he couldn’t manage his earnings as good as his mother could. There used to not be even a paisa as a residue after 6 days of the week.

17th January, 1986.

Like every day, Arun went to the tea stall and Abha went to her school. In the evening, while Arun was washing all the teacups after customers had left, a little boy of nearly 4 handed him a chit and ran away. Even if the boy dwelled in Dagdi Chawl, Arun was unaware of his existence. Nobody, in the slums of Mumbai, had any time to know about the person next door. Every kholi in the chawl had too much dirt in itself to bother about someone else’s.

Arun opened the wrinkled chit, in his hand, and a 10 rupee note fell on the ground. He quickly picked up the note and put it in his underwear to pretend that he was adjusting his shorts. He, then, opened the note which read,

“The 10 rupee note is much needed, right? My father once told me that a paisa not earned is alms. Meet me at Swati Complex, Matunga after 3 hours to either earn it or return it. - Bhaisaab.”

Arun looked around for who must have sent the chit. He saw a man in aviator shades which only aristocrats were known to wear in the 80’s and 90’s, yellow shirt and black pant that seemed to be made of royal terracotta cotton. As the aristocrat walked towards a long black car with a well-dressed driver and an assistant in the front seat, the throng around made a way for him to the car. Everybody lowered their head when he crossed them. It was very astonishing for Arun that he had never noticed this man before in Dagdi Chawl.

So, Arun took a train to Matunga and got behind the Swati Complex wondering what he would have to do to earn the 10 rupee note. He looked around for a man who possibly could be Bhaisaab. After a few minutes, he saw the same black long car he had seen at the Dagdi Chawl with the same men inside. The aristocrat seated behind opened the door and signalled Arun to enter the car. Arun had seen only pictures of such cars and such clean seats before, he always thought such sanitation as imaginary.

As soon as Arun got into the car, he noticed the aristocrat, perhaps Bhaisaab, closely. He seemed a reticent man by his mien, a scar on his left cheekbone just below the eye and a clean-shaved beard with a moustache that went perfectly with his dusky face.

Arun, nervously, asked, “Bhaisaab?”.

The aristocrat smirked and retorted in a sedate voice,”How was your day Dolas? How’s Abha? I hope her new school is going well. Have you told her yet about your mother? Do you plan to?”.

Arun’s eyes widened with surprise and fright when Bhaisaab asked this. His heart started pounding blood heavily when discerned that Bhaisaab knows almost everything about his living.

Bhaisaab smirked again and continued obstinately,”Don’t worry. I don’t run a business through blackmailing. I just wanted to let you know that I am aware of your helplessness. I just wanted to make an offer if you’re interested. I will never cross your way if you deny and that’s my word to you.”

“What can I do for you and 10 rupees you’ve offered. You’ve emerged like a hope in my utter despair. I can never more grateful to anyone, Bhaisaab.”, Dolas said obliged with his help.

“The task isn’t very difficult for you, Dolas.”, Bhaisaab said instructing the driver to start the car and drive to the place as instructed. Meanwhile, on the way, Dolas and Bhaisaab talked about Dagdi Chawl and it’s history. The driver stopped the car and said that they’ve reached the place.

“This isn’t Byculla.”, Dolas said, with a perplexed expression.

“This is Zaveri Bazar wherein you’ve your work tonight.”, replied Bhaisaab in a serene tone.

He continued, pointing towards a Goldsmith’s Shop,”This is Zade Jeweler’s. The owners haven’t been faithful to me for last months. You see the person seated on the billing counter? After years of friendship, he broke my trust. I wish such a person’s demise.”, his voice becoming sombre with each word.

Arun didn’t see any good-willed task coming ahead of him, already. His fear proved to be correct when Bhaisaab handed him a pistol and said,”Dolas, go, shoot him and sit back inside the car after you’ve blown three shots into his breast. I’ll give more 20 rupees post the encounter.”

Dolas thought of refusing the work for a second but the price offered weakened him. Ask a gangster what poverty does to a guileless person. No one is a born murderer, situations make a person. The turmoil that Dolas was going through was no different from this.

Between hundreds of thoughts running through his head, Bhaisaab’s voice interrupted,”This is more than your mother’s price. This is worth thinking about.”

Dolas, then, couldn’t think of anything else except the reason his mother has sold herself to a pimp. Money! Living! The reasons that fail morality. Without a second thought, Dolas took the pistol in his hand and asked Bhaisaab to unlock it.

With all his gallant, his love for Abha and, respect for his mother’s sacrifices, he got out of the car with the pistol in the left hand which he had put into his pocket. He walked towards Zade Jeweler’s and into it. He stopped at the billing counter, looked in the owner’s eyes. As the owner moved his lips to utter even a word, Dolas took out his pistol and fired three shots into his breast, in a breath. After the shots were fired, he could only hear screams and cries of the people around in the shop. He looked at people trying run away from him as if running for their lives. Ignoring everything, he walked swiftly out of the shop and into the car.

The driver geared up the speed in a blink and drove towards Byculla. Dolas had become numb for a few minutes, had gone blank as though the previous 10 minutes never existed, everything before his eyes had blurred. After a few minutes, when his sight and consciousness became clearer, Dolas felt a guilt of the sacrilege he had committed but it all got forgotten when Bhaisaab handed him the rest 15 rupees.

“You’re a good man, Dolas. Not everybody can do anything for their family. It is never easy to keep your family satisfied.”, Bhaisaab said in an impressed tone.

The car stopped near Dagdi Chawl. Before leaving the car, Dolas said, with gratitude, “Please, Bhaisaab, do let me if there is any more work for me. Would love to work for you again and whenever you need me.”

Bhaisaab gave the same smirk, again.

Dolas walked towards his kholi with absolute guilt and satisfaction with 25 rupees in his hand. He got into his home and saw boiled rice and raw onion kept for him on a plate. Abha was practising written Hindi on her slate. He had his dinner and asked Abha if she needed anything and promised her a new kurti for the next day. Abha, thinking this would cost more than he can afford, denied the offer initially but agreed on being insisted. Though she was happy for her new clothes but puzzled and afraid for where would the money come from for her clothes.

As Arun had promised, he bought Abha a new kurti and eatables for the coming week, all at once.

“A kurti for me, vegetables and flour! Where did all come from? From where did you earn such a huge amount?”, Abha asked, astonished to see vegetables and flour at their home. Their family had always survived on boiled rice and raw onion.

Arun was quite relieved for the next week in terms of finances.

29th January, 1986.

Like the previous time, while washing up the teacups the little kid handed, Dolas, a chit with 15 rupees, this time, in it. Bhaisaab had asked Dolas to meet him at the same spot, at the same time as before. Dolas reached the spot as instructed. The car arrived before him, Bhaisaab opened the door and Dolas got into it. Bhaisaab asked the driver to drive, meanwhile, Bhaisaab and Dolas conversed about their past week and Dolas couldn’t stop thanking Bhaisaab for whatever he did for him and his sister. The driver stopped and said that they’ve reached Lokhandwala. The car stopped before Wadhwani Builders Company.

Bhaisaab unlocked and handed Dolas the pistol and said,”Go to the third floor, towards Mahendra Wadhwani’s office. Tell him that Bhaisaab wants his share if he refuses to give you know what you need to do.”

As instructed, he walked into the building, into the lift for the third floor and into Mahendra’s office. Dolas’ confidence this time was incomparable to the previous time. His demeanour, this time, reflected more defiance. He had an intense frown on his face every moment during the task. He entered Mahendra’s office, closed the door and sat on the chair before. Mahendra looked at him ordered him to leave as though Dolas was a filthy insect in his property. Dolas fired a shot on the telephone kept on his table and said, “Bhaisaab has asked for his share, Wadhwani.”

Mahendra shouted threateningly, ”He wants his share? Let him have his share then.”

He opened his pant’s zip and started pissing at Dolas. Dolas shot his penis and asked again for Bhaisaab’s share. Tortured builder pointed towards a drawer. Dolas opened the drawer; it had a bag in it. Dolas picked up the bag, left the office and got into the car. Bhaisaab looked at the bag, gave a smirk and asked his assistant to take the bag. Bhaisaab, then, gave 50 rupees for the task saying that it among the very important ones and, since their first talk itself, he had decided to make Dolas one of his trust worthies. Dolas saw total 65 rupees in hand and fell to Bhaisaab’s feet out of respect. Dolas said, with tears of happiness in eyes,”How do I ever return your favour? Give me a chance to worship you for the rest of my life.”

“Just stay faithful to me. I ask for nothing else.”, Bhaisaab said.

The next week, Arun bought Abha, one more new kurti and new footwear too. He had never seen Abha happier. He could now afford clean water for Abha and a meal that consisted of vegetables and chapatis now.

But, as they say, “The murder will be out.” Dolas’ venturous stories spread in Byculla, Matunga and Dadar like fire. After the news of Dolas’ connection with Bhaisaab were known to the people, everbody, from local vendors to roadside gangsters, in the region feared and respected him. Dolas had a cult in the region that perpetuated.

Abha, in the evening when Arun came back to home, asked with qualm, ”Is everything true?”.

“Did anybody say anything to you? Did anybody tease you? Is anything different from the usual with you?”, he asked, with a gesture of affection and care.

“No. Everything’s going well. Very well.”, she replied, with a tranquil smile. The smile on her face was everything Arun had ever wanted. Abha had no idea of how relaxing her smile and contentment was for Arun.

Arun kept his hand on her shoulder and said, ”Let me know if somebody meddles with you. I’ve enough to keep you happy and safe.”, he paused for a second or two and continued, ”I will keep you far away from my work. You won’t be even close to whatever I do once I step outside our home.”

Necessity might be the mother of invention but it is also the father of crime.

Dolas signed up for a number of contracts for killings, robberies and narcotic trafficking in the days that followed. His contracts, later, got promoted to money laundering and Bollywood financing. Eventually, Dolas formed his own gang to assist him with all the contracts. Dolas never shared Bhaisaab’s money laundering or movie financing contract record with anybody.

Bhaisaab, now, after 8 months of duty, trusted Dolas with his finances of Byculla and Matunga. The two areas were Dolas’ to handle now.

In these 8 months, Dolas learnt two things about the Bombay Underworld. First, signing up killing contract is the fastest route to fame in the underworld. Second, clench the world in your fist and open your palm only to receive money.

19th September, 1986.

Bhaisaab was having his morning tea and over viewing his finance. His right hand, the person who knew about every little decision Bhaisaab makes; who was present in the car during every meeting that Bhaisaab and Dolas had, said,”Why did you hire Dolas at such a young age in the first place itself? How do you know he can be trusted with everything? Will it be fruitful to empower him?”, with a perplexed thoughts crossing his mind.

“Gawli, do you know why people prefer buying ponies and puppies above horses and dogs? Because the younger ones are easy to train. And about trust, I’ve thought about it long before you did.”, replied Bhaisaab with the usual smirk on his face.

“Also, Talpade is demanding 1 lakh rupees more else he’ll hand over our Dahisar and Ghatkhopar records to the police he told.”, said Gawli.

“You know what to do then.”, said Bhaisaab, mixing sugar in his tea.

“He has a wife. Are we suppose to do anything for her as Talpade has been working for you since last 5 years.”, Gawli asked.

“Keep her belly full and your balls empty.”, replied Bhaisaab ignoring his concern.

26th September, 1986.

Dolas caught the train to Matunga and got into the car, just like every time. 

Dolas touched Bhaisaab’s feet and asked,”Bhaisaab, what work do you have for me today?”

Bhaisaab, staring out the window, said,”Dolas, after today’s task, if the task is successfully completed, I believe I would trust you with anything and everything. After this task, I’ll hand over you the finances of Mahalaxmi, Tardeo and Dharavi. I am leaving for Dubai next month thus I ought to decide my general for the Bombay Region.”

“The person I worship considers me as such an enabled and trustworthy man of his. I would take every opportunity to show my servility, Bhaisaab.”, Dolas said, grateful to Bhaisaab for everything he had.

“Things will be crystal clear once today’s task is completed successfully.”, retorted Bhaisaab with a qualm in his eyes.

Why was today’s task so important to Bhaisaab? What doubt did Bhaisaab still have after such sincere deference he has been seeing by Dolas for last one year?

Bhaisaab continued after a long pause, handing him over the gun, ”We’re going to Congress House in Kamathipura. Owner of the brothels in the Congress House had tipped the Bombay Police about the money we laundered through Chaturthi in Gokhale Chawl. Since he’s a close acquaintance of the Mastan gang, we won’t harm him. We will harm his business. Kill his whore. Go into the brothel having a glittery name plate at the door that reads “CHITRA”. She’s among his top messengers and among his A class girls for special guests. Also, keep the gun after this task is completed.”

After Bhaisaab elucidated him about the task, there were several thoughts running through his mind. First, Kamathipura is where his mother might be and he never wanted to face that woman, who left him and his sister at their worst, again. Second, why was killing a whore such a crucial test? Third, why is Bhaisaab leaving Bombay only after this killing? Will this tend to heavy risk?

But, above all these questions lay the reason he was respected in Dagdi Chawl. Pimps dared not to look at his sister. People in Byculla dared not to squabble with him for any issue. Crushed between the vile thoughts, he unlocked the gun himself and left the car feigning gallantry. He entered the Congress House and had never a place ornate, the fragrance of roses all around the hall, with bright yellow walls, beautiful women everywhere, in front of every brothel, calling him inside. Dolas was astonished to see such beauties all in one hall, at once. He was left awestruck for a minute or two and then started searching for a door with “CHITRA” nameplate, meanwhile, saving himself from not getting distracted by the beauty around. He finally found the brothel, situated at the front wall of the first floor in the hall, the most ornamented brothel of all with jasmines all around the entrance, doormat of silk cloth, roses decorated all around the door and a heart-shaped red balloon stuck on the door.

He walked briskly towards the brothel, heard a woman’s voice, the shrilled orgasm that came out of the door but this did not flinch Dolas since he was born and brought up in a place where the entire chawl heard a woman’s orgasm in the dark. He had heard, a thousand times, the voices of consent and the noises of rape. Dolas, anyway, opened the door and took out his gun. He saw a man naked over a woman, his target. Dolas fired a shot right into the man’s head, blood sprangled on the walls of the beautifully painted pink room. The man was dead. The woman screamed and pushed the lifeless man away from her. Arun’s heart stopped for sometime when the man fell on the floor from the bed as if he had forgotten how to breathe. His brain had gone numb and, for the second time, he fell on his knees and felt as though bugs were eating his veins, again. He had neither seen a whore naked nor his mother naked before. His mother quickly covered herself with the saree that lied beside her. Arun felt puckish after he saw his mother but the feeling of sickness was nothing before the dilemma he was in. Outside the House, was a man waiting for him, who was the reason of everything pleasant that had occurred in his life, the reason of his sister’s smile, their economic stability and his social status in Bombay. Before him, was his mother who sold herself for him.

His mother, covered with a saree, shouted with a scowl on her face, tears rolling down and ignominy in her eyes,”I told you not to come after me, to not find me.”

He closed his eyes, remembered his sisters smile, and said in a belligerent tone while closing the door behind,”I haven’t come after you. I’ve come for you.”

A moment after the door was closed, there was a huge sound on three shots being fired in the Congress House.

27th September, 1986.

Lokmat headlines read,”Two found dead in Congress House, Kamathipura.”

Bhaisaab read the headlines and smirked, like always.  

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