Book Review: The story of an extremely ruthless man who shook both the Mumbai elite and an average Mumbaikar. The Story of a womanizer & highly vainglorious man who thought he was better than Bollywood Heroes.
After reading his extremely well researched and well written “Byculla to Bangkok“, I was waiting for S Hussain Zaidi’s book on Abu Salem, My Name is Abu Salem. How does this fare in comparison ? Let us read on.
When a celebrated Crime Reporter decides to quit reporting and start writing, it mostly turns into engaging read. Hussain Zaidi has already built a reputation as India’s most established Crime writer. This time around, he tells us the story of Abu Salem, one of the most dreaded Dons, the country has ever seen.
A crime book on such an elusive person can’t be turned into reality without enough help, input and support from various sources and Zaidi rightly acknowledges contributions from a wide range of people before the story unfolds. The Prologue starts with a guy named Malik luring Zaidi to Dubai with the Abu Salem story. The widely traveled writer brings each and every corner of Dubai that matters before our eyes along the narration.
There are some similarities between Dawood Ibrahim and Abu Salem. Both were under-educated but extremely sharp men from fairly decent family backgrounds. If Dawood’s father was a Policeman, Salem’s father was a respected advocate and he is called “Barrister’s Boy” by the writer during the narration of his fairly unremarkable childhood till he lost his father in an accident when he was just 5 years old. From there the struggle begins. From running away from Azamgarh to Delhi, indulging in some small time business and then to Mumbai in search of big money, Salem was a restless young man.
Salem’s quest for quick money and fame also cohabited his enormous lust. He had a forced marriage that failed which he refuses to acknowledge and his tumultuous love story with Sameera Jumani culminating in marriage. He turns out to be a megalomaniac and narcissist to the core. Salem’s initiation into petty crimes and then his establishing an extortion racket is detailed in the chapter “The First Brush”. We quickly come to understand Salem is a ruthless man and Zaidi rightly has no sympathy for his subject.
Salem’s initial association with Bollywood and his admiration for the Stars gradually turns into a role reversal where the starts are awestruck by the mere mention of his name. Sanjay Dutt is his first big acquaintance and Zaidi is merciless in keeping before us threadbare, the details of Sanjay’s misadventure with the underworld. Salem’s almost total devotion to Dawood’s brother Anis Ibrahim and subsequent betrayal are narrated over different chapters. Lot of incidents are inter-linked to Zaidi’s earlier works, “Mafia Queens of Mumbai“, “Dongri to Dubai” and “Byculla to Bangkok” because the story of underworld can’t be independent of underworld rivalries. Salem’s uncomfortable existence with Chhota Shakeel in the D-Company is an open secret.
Salem’s escape to Dubai after the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts and his subsequent running away from the law becomes a constant part of his life. Pradeep Jain in February 1995 and Gulshan Kumar in August 1997 are two of the biggest victims of Abu Salem as he spreads his tentacles from Dubai and dictates terms and in the process succeeds in “Taming Bollywood”. SRK, Salman, Manisha Koirala, Aamir Khan, Subhash Ghai and Rajiv Rai were some of the people he had targeted and tried to harm in different ways. The involvement of Music Director Nadeem in bumping off Gulshan Kumar is explained in detail. Zaidi drops ample hints of Salem having bedded several Bollywood Starlets including a former Beauty Queen without naming them. Except of course Monica Bedi.
Mukesh Duggal’s protege, Monica Bedi enters Salem’s life as the love of his life and goes onto supplant Sameera. Her story is told in three separate chapters “Duggal’s Doll”, “Don’s Darling” and “A Starlet’s Rise”. One thing most noteworthy about Salem is his ability to take different identities and come across as authentic. He had passports in different names. Akil Ahmed Azmi, Ramil Kamil Malik, Danish Beg, Arsalan Mohsin Ali and Ramesh Kumar were few of those identities.
He is constantly on the run from Mumbai to Dubai to South Africa to United States and then to Lisbon before he is finally caught by the Portuguese Police. Once he is caught, the story is about the long drawn battle Indian agencies had to fight to secure his extradition from the Human Rights obsessed Portuguese legal system. The man survives imprisonment in India, Dubai, Portugal and finally back in India and yet manages to lord over the system and is cocky about it. This doesn’t speak well about our country and our political and legal system.
“Sameera Lashes Out” is a chapter where an entire dialogue between investigative reporter Sheela Rawal and Sameera Jumani is reproduced. Both Sameera and later Monica come across as ladies who had no issues with his criminal activities as long as the going was good. But both turn against him once he is in deep trouble. “Monica the Turncoat” chapter describes how the lady refuses to acknowledge her marriage to Abu Salem even the though he claims to own the Nikahnama.
When his mother passed away in October 2011, Abu Salem is given special permission to attend the funeral. He is accorded a Hero’s Welcome in his village, which again goes on to show all is not well with our system. We also get to know something about the controversial lawyer Shahid Azmi and his refusal to take up Salem’s case. Subsequently, Shahid is bumped off by a sharp-shooter in a still unexplained assassination. Shahid’s partner and fiancee Saba Qureshi turns out to be “Salem’s One Woman Army” as she sets out to secure his release or cancellation of his extradition from Portugal. Two attempts on his life and one of them inside the prison are strong enough issues pursued by Saba in her quest.
Abu Salem is still alive and still fairly young and has survived attempts on his life by Chhota Shakeel’s men, and Mustafa Dossa and later by Devendra Jagtap or JD. His story continues as he promises to come out and form a Political Party and win elections from his native place.
My Name is Abu Salem is the story of an extremely ruthless man who shook the cream of Mumbai, Builders, Bollywood and was also accused in Mumbai blasts. But he also was a womanizer and highly vainglorious man who thought he was better than Bollywood Heroes. He believes his story is not meant for a book but for a Bollywood Blockbuster.
Kudos again to Hussain Zaidi for his exhaustive research, preparation and the final narration. One more winner for the writer. I would rate this on par with “Byculla to Bangkok” if not better.