To quote an old cliché, Mumbai spawns a dream a minute. On the surface and off it. In the twisted lanes and mohallas of Pydhonie and Dongri, those dreams have a language and character of their own. Dark, ruthless and wildly exciting.

No one raises so much as an eyebrow here when the son of a police constable becomes a “bhai”, or a small-time chaiwala starts calling the shots in his neighbourhood. There’s one thread that runs through their life stories: the power and ambition to be Big Daddy. The Godfather.

Stories from badland have made it to the movies, and fired the imagination of a nation. From Karim Lala and Haji Mastan to Maya Dolas and Dawood Ibrahim, almost everyone holds in awe the meteoric rise in infamy and fortune of its protagonists.

As a journalist on the crime beat, I have had a long association with the keepers of the law and those living on the underbelly. I have spent long hours talking to those in uniform, those in the underworld and those in the grey zone – people who work as police informers.

This may sound like a contradiction, but the underworld is inhabited by people much like us, except that they live more on the edge. It’s a world that’s even codified its own language – many that spring up on the spur of the moment. Thus, there are unique derivatives used by the underworld to describe the cops, rivals, extortion, rewards and even the big bosses, most of them aimed at sending the police or an adversary on a wild goose chase.

It’s a world that also thrives on the spirit of enterprise. The rules of “dhanda” apply equally here – risk, profit and competition are at the very core. An informer will think nothing of selling precious information that he has about a rival to the police if it can earn him a few good bucks or goodwill. The rules here are straight and the ethics sacrosanct. Entrepreneurship and new ways to beat the system are the skills that are honed to perfection over the years.

The underworld also actively courts danger and death. In many ways, it has conquered the fear that many of us mere mortals face – during the course of writing this book, four of my sources in the underworld have died – some to police bullets, others to inter-gang rivalry.

I share with you some of the stories that take you through this universe – vibrant, dynamic and yes, dangerous.

Chhota Rajan (Nana Ka Jai Hind)

Born Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, Chhota Rajan began as an understudy to Rajan Nair, then the undisputed underworld king of north Mumbai. To distinguish between the new recruit and his master, the prefix of Chhota and Bada were affixed to them respectively. Bada Rajan was shot dead while being escorted to the Esplanade Court in south Mumbai on September 15, 1983.

This is when Chhota Rajan, the front line gangster of the slain Rajan, took over the reins of the gang. Later, in 1987, Chhota Rajan escaped to Dubai to become Dawood Ibrahim’s second-in-command, before parting company with the D-Company six year later. Believed to be holed up in South East Asia, he is popularly known as the “Hindu Don”. He is also considered close to some officials in an Indian central intelligence agency.

Encounter Bachao (Deflecting Encounter Specialist’s Bullets)

Gangster Chhota Rajan’s key shooter Satish Tankappan Joseph had just been released from Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail on bail, in 1996, when he became the prime suspect in the killing of an eyewitness in another case, Mohan Shinde, in Khar.

It was not long before the Khar police tracked Joseph down. Taken to the nearest police station for interrogation, members of the police squad escorting the suspect were stunned when he suddenly grabbed a handful of pins from the officer’s desk and swallowed them. He was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment.

To a layman, Joseph’s behaviour might seem rather extraordinary. But for the gangster, the pins ensured that his life would not end in an “encounter”. He must have sensed that the police squad was planning to eliminate him.

It is not only the gangsters. Pickpockets and petty thieves too, routinely slash themselves with blades or stab themselves to avoid being shot and killed in encounters. The reasoning – they know that all suspects will be medically examined if injured when taken into custody. If already dead, there will be a post mortem. Any previous injuries suffered immediately prior to the encounter with the police will raise questions.

Ghoda (The Gun Gave Him Away)

During his routine patrol rounds, a police officer spotted a well-built youth riding his motorcycle in an erratic fashion. Something about the man made the deputy commissioner of police suspicious.

Going by his instincts, the officer intercepted the man and began questioning him. He was then taken to Dadar police station. At the station, the youth requested that he be allowed to answer nature’s call. Though suspicious, the investigating officer gave him permission.

The officer did not know that the man he was questioning was dreaded gangster Sanjay Vasant Nehar alias Sanjay Ruggad; He was also unaware that Ruggad had hidden an imported pistol in his underwear. Ruggad just needed an excuse to get rid of his ghoda or gun.

The pistol however, fell with a thud. Ruggad’s attempts at trying to hide it failed and he was caught red-handed. Later, the Chhota Rajan aide confessed to his involvement in four murders in the city. Since then, city gangsters have learnt their lessons.

Shooters rarely carry a ghoda before or after a killing. Over the years, gang leaders have ensured that their shooters are never caught with arms. Not only does this strategy ensure that there is no evidence to nail the shooters, it also helps to save costly firearms for future operations. How do gangs ensure this? The weapons are delivered by an unsuspecting friend or a neighbour. Another team is assigned the task of receiving the weapon from the main shooter. The third team, then, transports the arms to a “strong room”.

“Various relay teams could be working in tandem to ensure that the ghodas are not recovered by the police,” admits a crime branch officer. Sometimes, the ghoda changes hands in a nearby public toilet, not far from the spot of killing.

Kaum Ki Churan

Kaum ki churan implies professing secularism, in the underworld. Religion has the least significance among gangsters. A don often tries to impress the understudy into believing that he is secular and religion has no relevance in the gang.

Party Se Meeting Kar Lo (Kill Him)

Chhota Rajan’s key associate Raju Nalawde was appointed the gang’s “handler”, an underworld term for coordinator, because of his seniority after he was arrested and detained in connection with the murder of Shiv Sena corporator Kim Bahadur Thapa in Bhandup, in mid 1992.

Nalawade wanted a municipal corporator killed in Ulhasnagar in Thane district. The task was assigned to high-profile assassin Balu Dokre and his men. A hit squad under Dokre was dispatched to Ulhasnagar to identify the target. The success of any shootout depends on the homework done by the watchers.

“Bhai party se meeting kar lo,” Nalawade told Dokre, which translated from the underworld lingo meant, ‘kill him.’

Local corporator Gopal Rajwani was shot dead near a local court on January 26, 1998. But the shooters soon realized they had killed the wrong man.

Rajan was furious. But Dokre and Nalawade were among his most trusted lieutenants and he could not punish them. The don later found out that Dokre and Nalawade were misled into killing Rajwani. A death warrant was issued against the erring informer.

Rajan, in the meantime, ordered Vishal Dhakan alais Vicky to carryout the killing. But he and three others were arrested with the two AK 47 rifles given to eliminate the target.


Raja is the favourite word of gangster Chhota Rajan used for endearing his new footsoldiers, to gain their loyalty and trust.

Incidentally, most of the rhetorical comments are meant for arch foe Chhota Shakeel, who is Rajan’s eye comes second only to Dawood Ibrahim on the list of traitors of the nation.

Raja, jo apni maa ka na ho saka, to woh aur kiska kaise ho sakta hain’ (If a man is not loyal to his mother (country) how can you trust him?).”

In fact, seven of those accused in the 1993 serial blasts have been systematically eliminated by members of the Rajan gang, on the streets of Mumbai.

The key to brainwashing recruits in Chhota Rajan gang is professed patriotism.

Rivals claim Rajan’s rhetoric is a sham. “Beta gaddar toh woh hain (he is the traitor)“, they say, referring to Rajan’s defection from the D Company in 1993.

Excerpted with permission from Khallas: An A to Z Guide to the Underworld, J Dey, Jaico Publishing House.