Mumbai's Underworld: When smuggling was just business

Mumbai's Underworld: When smuggling was just business
Mumbai:  Post-Independent India was a land of golden opportunity. And one of the many hands that grabbed that opportunity was a man who toiled for 12 hours a day at the docks in Bombay. The man we grew up to know as Haji Mastan.

In the early 70s, dons like Haji Mastan ruled the roost with the pure intent of making money. It was a profitable era devoid of supari killings, gang wars and shoot-outs.

Born to a humble family of farmers in Tamil Nadu, Mastan Haider Mirza first came to the city in 1954 in search of greener pastures. He joined as a daily wager at the docks earning a paltry sum of Rs 5 per day.

Frustrated at the hand-to-mouth existence and his inability to earn money, Mastan turned to smuggling imported watches, radios and gold biscuits from the docks. The money started flowing in and soon he began roping in more coolies to handle his operations.  

In the late 50s, the state government imposed a prohibition on alcohol and that created the perfect opportunity for Mastan to cash in.

Rampant smuggling of liquor ensured profits for everyone involved in the process, right from the hands that smuggled the bottles to the hands that poured it in glasses across the city.  

Mastan was a peaceful person and never advocated violence in his business. He believed in the concept of making money and sharing the spoils with the chain of people involved in the game.

It was a smooth ride for the smugglers as there were no murders or shoot-outs and therefore no criminal cases were registered. The cops were happy with the weekly under-the-table arrangement and never came knocking at their doors.

However, that era of thriving business was soon replaced by a bloodbath on the streets with the advent of dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Sayed Batla, Amirzada, Rama Naik and Babu Reshim.

One particular incident that sounds right out of a Bollywood masala flick was when Sayed Batla, a dreaded gangster stormed into Mastan's office and threatened the ageing businessman.

"Batla kisi ka ghulam nahin hai, ke uske galey mein patta dal do," he screamed from Dongri at Mastan.

Mastan understood that the time had come for his business to move ahead and needed the likes of Batla. The end of the 'business' era was here.

There were other businessmen who specialised in supplying smuggled goods to traders at Musafirkhana -- a hub of smuggled goods.

Smugglers like Karim Lala hired Batla's nemesis Dawood Ibrahim and his elder brother Sabir. Most of these toughies were used as recovery agents to collect money from defaulting traders at Shuklaji street and other pockets where smuggling goods were sold in large quantities.

However, events took a nasty turn when Dawood crossed swords with members of the Pathan faction led by Amirzada over a recovery from a Customs agent.

The tiff resulted in the Pathan brothers killing Dawood's brother Sabir in 1981.

The murder launched a bloodbath that resulted in over 20 high-profile gangsters being gunned down, including Amirzada inside the Sessions Court in September 1983.

While Dawood had the support of gangsters like Rama Naik and Babu Reshim, the Pathans formed their own group. It was a war between the Konkanis and Pathans.

The killings marked the end of the smuggler's era, most of whom had never fired a round or stabbed an adversary. Soon after Dawood took over the smuggling business, most of the businessmen went into hibernation.

Mastan began dabbling with film production and distribution. He also floated a political party Dalit Muslim Surakhsha Maha Sangh in 1985. He continued to be a social worker until his death in 1994.

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