Mumbai’s underworld and its dons are as famous as the Bollywood and its superstars! It’s a menace that has captured the attention of the general public for years now. Through Bollywood flicks and newspapers, many have tried to explore the dark side of the city and its anti-heroes. But beyond the ugly gang wars and encounters, there’s one side of the underworld which has often been overlooked. It’s about the women who were part of this organized crime scene. Surprising but true, there were many women who made a mark in the world of crime. Discovering Mumbai presents Jane Borges, who co-wrote the book “Mafia Queens of Mumbai”, which throws light on these lesser known female characters from Mumbai’s underworld.
Jane, born and brought up in Muscat, Oman; moved to Mumbai nine years ago to complete higher studies. An alumnus of St. Xavier’s and Sophia College, she is currently pursuing Masters in English from SNDT University alongside her job as a senior sub-editor at The Asian Age. Jane enjoys writing and feels that journalism is just a vehicle for her to stay connected with it. “I won’t deny that my love for writing supersedes that for journalism; this is probably because I am more creatively inclined”, says Jane.
The opportunity to co-write the book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ came across in 2009 when she was working as a sub-editor at The Asian Age. Mr. Zaidi, Mumbai’s well known crime journalist, was then the resident editor of the paper and he chanced upon a few short stories on Jane’s blog. Impressed by her writing he decided to put her on a challenging assignment – the crime beat. “It was only after I had published a couple of stories on the drug mafia and prostitution rackets that he offered me the opportunity to research and write the book with him”, says Jane. However, being very new to the industry back then she was a bit apprehensive about the work, after all Mafia is related to everything dangerous and risky. “Mr Zaidi, who by then was a veteran in the crime beat, helped calm my nerves. Under his guidance, I learnt a lot faster”, says Jane.
The work, however, was easier said than done. Compiling the tales of these women proved very challenging as most of them flourished at a time when crimes by women were largely overlooked and hence went undocumented. The biggest challenge was getting in touch with some of the women who were still ruling in the Mafia. It was difficult to break ice with them, a process which took weeks and sometimes even months. “For instance, it took almost five months before I could trace Jenabai’s daughter”, says Jane. The hard work didn’t stop here; she had to visit her often to convince her to speak about her mother. She realized that it was not easy to get the family or the concerned person to speak about their role in Mafia.
“One of the most arduous tasks was meeting drug baronesses’ Jyoti Adiramlingam and Mahalaxmi Papamani”, says Jane. Jyoti was the first person that she met for the book. Meeting her was a very frightening experience for Jane. “That woman can challenge you, by just staring right at you…if only looks could kill (literally), she’d get full marks”, she says. Getting in touch with Mumbai’s biggest narco queen Papamani was an arduous task too. For two months, she masqueraded as social workers and sometimes as a vegetable buyer to get in touch with Papamani, who used to sell drugs in the garb of a vegetable vendor. Papamani just refused to speak with Jane and once even set up a mole who tried to fool Jane by posing as Papamani. However, Jane had seen her photographs and was able to call her bluff.
“Women in the Mumbai underworld are dangerous, strong-willed and unlike their male counterparts, more focused and determined”, she says. These women had the advantage of being the fair sex and they often used their gender and sexuality to play with the system. Some were mere sidekicks; however, some like Sapna, stood up against the likes of Dawood Ibrahim, undeterred by the consequences of her action. Sapna’s husband was killed by Dawood’s men, and since that day killing him became Sapna’s mission.
Mafia Queens of Mumbai received an overwhelming response from readers and critics alike. Both Jane and Zaidi’s intention was to ensure that the book had a mass appeal. “Right from college kids to senior citizens, everyone has enjoyed the book. Some readers have been kind enough to write to us and make their appreciation known”, says Jane. Even Bollywood has been impressed by the book and two leading filmmakers have bought the rights for some stories of the book. The television industry too is keen. “Our biggest achievement was when the book made it to the Economist Crossword shortlist in the non-fiction category for the year 2011”, says Jane.
Jane, who is pursuing her Masters along with her job, says that her hands are full for now. But she intends to take her writing seriously and plans to come out with something soon. And what does Jane have to say about Mumbai, the city which gave her the opportunity to write a book at a young age? “Mumbai is the dream hub for writers. It is where all the stories are”, Says Jane. We couldn’t agree less! It really is the place where all the stories are!
You can find the book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ at all leading bookstores in the city.