Many years back, when, as a teenager, my interest in the newspaper was limited to the movie and book sections, I chanced upon a short column in the Indian Express, titled ‘Notes from the Underworld’. I think it was about ‘Anda Cells’, the Mumbai slang for solitary confinement cells in Arthur Jail. Well written and gripping, I read the thing through and found myself awaiting the new instalments of the column as it took me through current and past history of the gangs of Mumbai. Before Satya, this column was my gateway to the Mumbai underworld lingo. The column lasted a couple of years, and each instalment was as gripping as the last.
It all came back to me about a year ago, when I chanced upon a book in a Crossword, titled Khallaas: A to Z of the Mumbai Underworld. It was written by a journalist named J.Dey: the same person who had authored those newspaper columns all those years back. Unfortunately, the book didn’t get the publicity it deserved, because just like those columns, it was well written and extremely well researched. It included those ‘Anda Cells’, as well as bios of Haji Mastan, Dawood Ibrahim, and their cohorts, as well as all the strange terminology they use to throw off the police who may be listening to theri conversations. For example, they use a lot of pseudonyms for weapons (“Lift wali Building” meaning a pistol with a spring for auto-loading the bullets). Because the book is split into short essays, it’s best read in instalments.
A few months later, Mr. Dey released another book, called Zero Dial. The term refers to informers in underworld slang, and the book covers the lives of three high-profile informers, and the role they played in the search for Riyaz Bhatkal, a wanted terrorist. This book was a proper non-fiction narrative book, and again, brilliantly written – I finished it in one sitting, and would recommend it to everyone interested in the topic.
J. Dey had been working with the seamy side of Mumbai for nearly two decades now, and his knowledge of the field was perhaps unparalleled. Many, many press folks who knew him have come out to write of him. Though I never met him, like many other readers, I knew his name through his work. It was a shock to see the headlines in the papers today – this same man, who had risked his life to bring out this hidden part of society, had finally been killed by the people he was reporting on. The papers talk only of him as a reporter, but he deserved to be as well known for the two books he wrote. Thank you, sir, for your courage.