| 05-06-2022 6:29 PM 14

"From my childhood through my youth and right through the time I did my M.A and even got a job as the “literary assistant” of K. A. Abbas I spent my life in a sprawling slum which was named Latif Ahmed Cyclewala Compound. Latif Ahmed I was told was an admirer of a man known as Haji Mastan who was the biggest smuggler in Bombay. This Cyclewala had betrayed Haji Mastan and the punishment for betraying Haji Mastan was being bound hand and feet and thrown into a dark cell in a far place like Madh Ialand.

Anyone who turned a “gaddaar” (betrayer)was punished in the same way, kept without any food or even water and they lived only if Haji Mastan remembered them and had pity on them and freed them or they had to rot to death in those cells. Cyclewala knew he was guilty and in serious trouble and sold all his property and all that he had and fled to Pakistan even before the partition. His daughter who was in Bombay sold the rest of his property of which my widowed mother bought a piece of land for rupees twenty- five only and built her own house (hut) almost single-handedly.

I had seen photographs of Haji Mastan and had heard other countless stories about him and I got my first complete picture of him from the first ever interview he gave to the well known writer, Khushwant Singh. The king among smugglers as he was known had opened up and told Singh his entire story and the magazine in which the interview was published with his photograph on the cover sold within 15 minutes.

It was some kind of a major record. I always had the ambition of at least seeing Haji Mastan from a distance and this interview doubled up my ambition…

I joined “Screen” which was an all- film magazine. I knew I would be meeting all the film stars while doing my job as a reporter, but somewhere within me that ambition to see Haji Mastan never left me, and one day my ambition came true and what a away it came true!

It was the birthday of Dilip Kumar and I was marked to cover what was considered a major event. I found myself in the midst of all the big stars, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and other ministers, businessmen, bureaucrats and some of the leading poets and singers.They were all having a good time with Dilip Kumar and his actress-wife Saira Banu playing the perfect host and serving some of the most sumptuous snacks before lunch could be served.

All of a sudden an imported car drove in with two other cars. I was shocked beyond belief as I saw everyone from the C.M to the workers in the legend’s house coming to a standstill. In the second car was the man I was dying to see, the one and only Haji Mastan Mirza sitting all by himself.

In the first car were some of his friends and the last car packed with his bodyguards. The great Dilip Kumar and his wife went up to the entrance to receive him and Dilip Kumar embraced this king of smugglers who I know came to be known as the “Original Don” of Bombay.

He was not at all like the image I had of him. He was tall, dark, had longish hair and was dressed in complete white with matching chappals and he laughed like a child at anything Dilip Kumar said. It was very clear that he was a very big fan of the legendary actor. He took his seat in a very special chair which was kept for him and was the center of attraction. He was introduced to everyone by the actor and I was surprised when he held me by my hand and led me to the “Don”.

I was a bundle of mixed feelings. How would I meet this man who I thought was a character from fiction? Even before I could find any answer to my question I found the “Don” standing up to shake my hand and asking me what I did for a living and whether I was happy with life.

I could only shake my head and found it very difficult to find words to answer his questions. Before I could leave him he said, “Sahaab, kabhi bhi koi bhi kaam ho toh mujhe yaad karna, mera ghar Mahim mein hain, kisi ko bhi pooch lo.”

I couldn’t believe that The Haji Mastan was talking to me and making an offer to help me. Soon, there were some other smugglers who were also the guests of the actor and Haji Mastan behaved very courteously with all of them even though they were his rivals and were always waiting for a chance to eliminate him from the face of Bombay. At around 3:00 pm lunch was announced. It was Biryani at it best and Haji Mastan said, “Biryani ho toh Yusuf Sahab (Dilip Kumar) ke ghar mein jo Biryani banti hain waisi ho nahi toh Biryani khaane mein mazaa kya hain? Arre bhai, hum yahaan sirf Yusuf Sahab ko badhaai dene nahi aate, hum toh yahaan Biryani khaane aate hain”, and the whole crowd in the hall of the bungalow which was as big as a play ground burst into laughter whether they liked it or not.

Soon after lunch Haji Mastan decided to leave and everyone tried to get close to him and even Dilip Kumar and his wife were keen on being photographed with him. I can never forget that first meeting with Haji Mastan, one of the greatest smugglers in the world and who the don who inspired many others was but no one could succeed like he did.

For days I was obsessed with the image of the dark man with white clothes and white chappals and I wondered how this man could have so much power that he had the power to rule Bombay.

I soon had my second chance of meeting Haji Mastan. It was the launching of a film called “Inspector, Daku Aur Woh”. Sanjeev Kumar, Randhir Kapoor and Ranjeeta who had just become popular after she played Laila in H.S.Rawail’s “Laila Majnu” had also become very popular were the lead players in the film which was to be directed by R. K. Nayyar, husband of the actress Sadhana and produced by N. P. Ali who was a very close friend of Haji Mastan.

The launching ceremony was to be performed in a village called Aptegaon some two hundred kilometers away from Bombay. There was hardly any crowd to watch the stars and what was happening. But soon three cars reached the venue in the same order that they had reached the house of Dilip Kumar. Haji Mastan got of his car and everyone in the unit rushed towards him and many touched his feet and embraced him and did everything possible to catch his attention but he had only come to wish his small-time smuggler friend N.P. Ali.

He sat till the muhurat shot was taken and then left even as the wind blew wildly and all the three cars vanished in the dust that was flying all around. But what was surprising was that as soon as word spread all around Aptegaon almost every house was empty because they had all come to have a glimpse of Haji Mastan.

He was like some God- like figure for most of these illiterate farmers and their families. He was certainly more popular than the three stars of the film…

My third chance came with my meeting him at the launching of a very big film by the actor-filmmaker Sanjay Khan. Feroz Khan and his brother Sanjay were very close to the Don and he was invited to sound the clapper-board for the first shot. There was much excitement in the hall of the Centaur Hotel all because people, even stars wanted to see Haji Mastan. Drinks were served at 10:30 in the morning and all the drinks were over in less than fifteen minutes.

It was only when it was time for the first shot to be taken that Haji Mastan arrived and there was the kind of clamour that I have not seen any big star drawing from people, big and small. That morning I made it a point to meet him somehow in spite of the huge crowd and I managed to reach him. I put out my hand and before I could say anything it was he who said, “Arre, aap, aap ko toh hum Yusuf Sahab ke yahaan mile the, kaise hain aap?” I was once again tongue-tied but I had already had two drinks in me which gave me the courage to talk to him.

I asked him if it was true that he was thinking of giving up smuggling. He did not answer me but took out a visiting card from his pocket and handed it over to me. It was a card with its borders designed in green and the name Haji Mastan Mirza, President, “Dalit Mukti Morcha” embossed on it in golden letters.

He said he was planning to start his own political party without any of his own interests but to serve the poor, the downtrodden and the people from the minority communities who he said were being neglected by all the other political parties. He asked me to come and see him in his house and I don’t know why I felt so thrilled.

He had created such a commotion at Sanjay’s muhurat that he took a decision to leave early because he said he did not want to spoil the atmosphere because of all the attention focused on him.

I don’t know how he saw me and told one of his men to me to remind me to come and see him. I didn’t know what he had in mind for me and I will never know because I did not or could not make it to his office but even twenty- five years later I still have that visiting card of his with me, placed among some of the most precious things I have. I was lucky to have one more chance of meeting him. Mukri, the popular comedian who was a very dear friend of Dilip Kumar and therefore also known to Haji Mastan decided to make a film on his life.

He did not plan anything but had the launching of the film at a place called “Mastan Talao” which was according to some named after “Mastan bhai”. The entire area came to a standstill when he arrived and the traffic could not move till he was there. He once again realized that he was spoiling Mukri’s show, wished him all the best, embraced him and asked him to present a correct picture of him in his film which was to be called “Mastan”.

He was very happy when he was told that Amitabh Bachchan was playing a character based on his early life and with some elements of entertainment in a film called “Deewaar”.

He asked some of his friends to contact Salim-Javed and give them a narration of the story and he liked it and his only reaction was, “Mastan ka role karne ke waaste sahi actor chuna hain inn logon ne. Yusuf bhai ke baad agar koi badhiya actor iss desh mein hain toh woh hain Amitabh Bachchan. Woh zaroor mere kirdaar mein jaan daalengaa”.

Soon the police was getting very tough with smugglers and dons. They had put most of them behind bars and brought their smuggling business to a halt, but they still could not stop or think of arresting Haji Mastan who was so easy to catch if they wanted, but they did not do anything like that.

After all, he had looked after their interests for several years. He however soon fell sick and did not recover for a long time and died in his sleep. His funeral was attended by lakhs of people and was the kind of funeral that was not even given to the greatest of stars or political leaders. KUCH GAJAB BAATEIN MASTAN KI

Ø He was born in a poor Muslim family in Central Bombay which was densely populated by lower class Muslims. He did not go to any proper school but attended a Madrasa for some time. Those days most men worked as helpers or coolies in the mills in the area and the docks like Mazgaon Dock, Alexendra Dock, Princess Dock and other smaller docks. His father worked as a coolie in one of the docks and the young Haji Mastan followed in his footsteps

Ø He was a very timid young man when he first joined and was made a victim by most of his seniors and treated badly by those in “charge” of the docks

Ø He watched the scene for some time and saw all the wrongs that were being carried out by some of the workers and specially the “Dadas” who demanded haftas (bribes) or protection money from the helpless coolies. He decided to fight against this cruel system and grew up to be the protector of all the poor and helpless workers and coolies and was hailed as their saviour

Ø Haji Mastan also took to smuggling and within no time he was the biggest smuggler in Bombay whose activities spread all over India and even in different parts of the world

Ø The boy who lived in a kholi (room) now had a mansion of his own which was better than the ones owned by some of the richest people in Bombay, but he believed in living a very simple life

Ø He was a very large-hearted person and gave away lakhs of rupees in donations to various institutions, orphanages and homes for the aged and widows without letting the media or anyone else know about his activities

Ø He loved Hindi films and Dilip Kumar, undoubtedly was his all-time favourite among the actors and Madhubala his favourite actress. He found it difficult to watch films in theatres but arrangements were made for him to see the films of his choice

Ø He loved the company of Urdu writers, shaayars, qawwals and called them home on special occasions and loaded them with money and gifts

Ø He developed a soft corner for a small time actress called Sona because she had a very strong resemblance to Madhubala. He financed several films in which his only condition was to see Sona as the heroine but she could not make it as she did not have the qualities to be an actress. He built a bungalow for her in Juhu

Ø He had plans to start his own production company but he did not go ahead because he felt, “Yahaan par hum logon se bade kuch lafange aur chor hote hain”

Ø He wanted to make a very big film with Dilip Kumar but he was never satisfied with the subjects he was narrated. He once said, “Agar maine Yusuf Sahab ke saath naa insaafi ki toh usse bada gunah koi nahi hoga.” His ambition stayed unfulfilled but his admiration for Dilip Kumar only kept growing with time

Ø He financed several films and helped many producers to make their own films and even helped those whose films were stuck up

Ø He had several other ideas after he had surrendered as a smuggler to Jayaprakash Narayan, the socialist leader before whom even dacoits like Phoolan Devi had surrendered. He was still working out plans to come up with various kinds of projects, build theatres and studios and make the kind of films which he found interesting, but none of his dreams could come true because he died when his dreams were almost about to come true

Ø There are several filmmakers and people associated with films who are in places of power in the industry today because of him, but are ungrateful and have forgotten the place Haji Mastan played in bringing them up from men who had no place to be anybody to places where they are now, living the lives they could never dream of

Ø There are efforts still being made to make films on his life, but many feel that Yash Chopra’s “Deewaar” was the ultimate and they cannot make the same kind of film and do justice to one of the most colorful, controversial and even “saintly” personalities of this century."