25 November 2015

Mafia queens of Mumbai by S. Hussain Zaidi

Women leaders of a different kind

This book is a fascinating collection of true-life stories of women gangsters who lived and worked in Bombay. The author, S. Hussain Zaidi, was a crime reporter for decades and some of his books have been made into movies.
Not all the mafia queens in this book have blood on their hands. Jenabai, the elderly Muslim woman who somehow acquired the same name as a thirteenth century (Hindu) Marathi poet, made her biggest and most damaging impact because she was able to influence another powerful gangster with her strategic thinking. Then there was Gangubai, who was lured into prostitution by a young man with whom she eloped and who, instead of marrying her, sold her to a brothel. Gangubai rebelled by first developing a reputation for the highest skills of her trade, and later by rescuing other women from the trap she had fallen into, if she felt they were not cut out for life in the cages of Falkland Road.  She became a public figure, and campaigned for the need for a prostitution belt in all cities.
Some of these female gangsters were drawn to their profession by dire economic circumstances and some enticed into it by exploitative males. Some are symbols of glamour; some admirable for their courage and nimble thinking.
I was lent this book to read by a friend who is a police officer more than a year ago. That turned into a year in which I did not read many books at all. Eventually, I read it aloud to Gladys. It turned out to be a quick read and, though a teeny bit raunchy at times, we both enjoyed it. One problem with reading a book aloud, though, is that the proofing and editing flaws stand out. I may not have noticed the many colloquial expressions and common clichés of Indian newspaper crime-reporting that this book is strewn with if I had just been reading it to myself. Another thing I wondered about was the extent of detail in the book: was it fictionalised or was every setting recreated from what was told to the author in an interview? I tried to contact S. Hussani Zaidi to find out, but was unable to.