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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

How I sneaked into an underworld wedding.

Covering underworld means not only keeping track of crimes committed by various gang members or their changing equations, but also to keep an eye on gangster’s  family functions, marriages and deaths in their families. Such events often help to get an idea of the people who have affiliations and loyalties to a particular gang. They serve as a means to know the nexus of a particular gang with influential people in the society. They also need to be checked because there is always a possibility of attacks from rival gangs during such events. However, coverage of such events is not an easy task for a crime reporter. It needs courage, quick decision making ability and willingness to take risks. If you are caught, the result can be anything from few broken bones to losing life. I got an opportunity to witness and cover such an event. It was underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim’s nephew Danish Parker’s wedding.

From an informer I got a tip that Dawood’s sister Haseena Parker is arranging Dawat-E-Walema (wedding feast)for his son Danish’s wedding on 18-12-2004 at Anjuman-E-Islam School outside C.S.T railway station. I took this as a great opportunity to update myself on the infamous D-Company as many gang members, well wishers and relatives of D Company were likely to be present on the occasion. It had tremendous news value too. For the first time after Dawood fled out of India such a grand function was to be organized by his family.

I decided to do the story, but there were challenges at every step. The first challenge was to gain access into the highly guarded venue. I needed to gate crash. Second challenge was to shoot the event with a spy cam and capture most of the visitors at the venue. Third challenge was to get out of the venue safely and without the camera getting damaged. It required a fool proof plan because even a minor glitch would have been a disaster. I decided to take along my most trusted cameraman Atul Kadam with me.(Now he is with Times Now) He had done many such daring shoots with me and was never scared of taking risks. Moreover, he knew my style of functioning.

Atul got a medium size black bag and hid camera inside. He made a small hole in the bag so that lens could capture the objects. Both of us then brought white coloured Pathani kurtas and white skull caps wore by Muslims. I feared that being an “on-air” face of Star News I would be identified by D Company’s men, but then an idea struck. I got  dark glares which covered a large part of my face. I assumed that the skull cap along with the glares would make me look different and I will not be identified. But then Atul cautioned me –“Wearing glares at night will  look weird and raise suspicion.” Atul’s concern was right but then the illness of sore eyes came to our rescue. That was a time when Mumbai was in grip of sore eye illness. Many people were wearing dark glasses so that others don’t get infected. I told Atul not to worry as people will think that I was wearing glares due to sore eyes.

We reached the Anjuman-E-Islam School at around 8pm. Before trying to enter the venue, we decided to get an idea of the security arrangements at the entrance. From a distance we observed the activities at the Gate of Anjuman-E-Islam School. The gate was well decorated with white flowers and colorfully lit. There were around 3 young men of around 25 years of age who checked the invitation cards and allowed people to enter. Bouquets and bags were also thoroughly checked. All of sudden I heard abuses and shouting. 2 people were being pushed out from the gate. I went closer to check who were they. Both turned out to be Mumbai’s veteran photo journalist Ashish Raje and Mukesh Parpiani. They were caught with the camera while entering the venue and were being thrown out with warnings that they should not be seen near venue again. Their attempt to access the venue failed. I feared that our will also meet the same fate as the security arrangements at the gate were very strict. There was also a camera from the police which shot each and every person who entered the venue. We checked whether there was any other way by which we could enter the school, but found that the main gate was the only option. We thought of aborting the operation as it seemed impossible to sneak in. However, before taking the final call we decided to wait for few more minutes.

At around 9.15pm, the number of guests arriving at the venue reduced and those who had already arrived had started returning after the dinner. This allowed all the 3 youngsters to relax as they didn’t expect more visitors. Moreover, the crowd at the gate now was of people who were returning. One of the youngsters left the gate and went inside. Second one got a call on his cell phone and got engrossed in a conversation, the third one kept an eye on the gate. It was at this moment that 2 tall beautiful ladies dressed in shiny Panjabi dress arrived at the gate. The guy with cell phone stared at them while talking. The other one checked the invitation card and allowed them to enter. As soon as both the ladies went inside, the guy who checked their cards went to the guy with cell phone and murmured something in his ear and then both started laughing. I assumed that they were discussing the attractive looks of those ladies. This was the right moment for us to move. Both the guys present at the gate lost the attention from their task. I pretended to be talking on cell phone and moved swiftly inside the gate without making eye contact with anybody. Atul did the same. We were not noticed by the duo. My heart started beating faster. We successfully crossed the first barrier.

The reception was organized on the ground of Anjuman-E-Islam school. It was well lit with powerful flood lights. The stage was beautifully decorated with colorful flowers and around a dozen fans filled up the ground with pleasant fragrance. The dinner counters offered choices from numerous dishes of Mughlai and Chinese food. There were several vegetarian dishes also. A Paan stall was arranged next to the deserts counter.

 Haseena Parker was dressed in a light green sari and stood next to the couple on stage. This was for the first time that I saw her in person. She appeared to be a middle aged lady with an aggressive face. The “pride” and “power” of being Mumbai’s most dreaded Don’s sister was very much evident on her face and was also expressed through her body language. Her commanding behaviour and harsh tone distinguished her from other ladies present in the function. Nobody dared to look into her eyes while talking to her. She was being addressed as “Aapa” meaning elder sister.  I tried to imagine that if this is the personality of “Sister”, then what would be the personality of “Brother.”

I moved around to check who the invitees were. The first person who caught my attention was an inspector from the crime branch of Mumbai Police. He too dressed in a Lucknowi Kurta had sneaked into the reception. He was one of my sources and also a good friend. I assumed that he had come to track some wanted criminal of Dawood gang and was hopeful of catching him here. Later on the inspector told me that he was on lookout for a gangster named Salim Sondha as he was expected to come there. He recognized me and winked. He too realized why I was there and wished me luck by lifting his right thumb. We did not talk or came close to each other. Majority of the guests were from Gordon Hall Apartments of Nagpada area where Haseena Parker lived with her family. There were few people from Dawood’s native village in Mumka of Ratnagiri district. They had traveled more than 300 kilometers to spend few hours at this grand reception. Whenever, Dawood organized any family function in Dubai or Karachi he invited famous film personalities to sing and dance. Even before fleeing to Dubai he organized shows of film stars in Pakmodia Street for the people of area where he resided. Film stars always obliged D company, some due to gain proximity with the gang and others due to having no choice. Saying No to a Don meant inviting trouble. Dawood’s brother Noora who died in 2009 was also a song writer and had connections with filmi people. I was not much hopeful of catching any film star at this event, but still scanned each and every face thoroughly. While looking at the faces of invitees I saw veteran crime journalist and writer of film “Black Friday” amongst the crowd. He was there with a colleague from his tabloid and had the same agenda for being present there which I had. I decided not to communicate with him as it would have deviated attention of both of us from the ongoing mission. Among the crowd of invitees there were only two faces which I recognized with names and both were of no news value as one was a police officer and another was a journalist. The excitement of this operation started dying. However, I stood very close to the stage with a hope of catching somebody whose presence at this wedding will become a big story. Atul was trying his best to capture most of the faces.

“Hello Mr.Jitender Dixit…how are you? Where is your camera man? Are you not going to show Dawood bhai’s nephew’s wedding on Star News?” A loud voice attracted my attention towards the stage. “Oh my God.” I felt like being hit by a lightening. He was the lawyer of Dawood’s family who stood on the stage to get photographed with the couple and with Haseena Parker. He knew me well as I had often interviewed him on various criminal cases against D Company. The lawyer unintentionally revealed my identity in front of Haseena Parker and all her cronies. It was not his fault. He just got excited on seeing me there. I did not respond to him, but the response came from Haseena.
She thundered- “How dare to come here…you media people need to be taught a lesson. @$#$%. You are behind our lives and you don’t let us celebrate our family functions also. What crime has been committed that I and Dawood bhai have come out from the same womb? You deserve to be punished.”

I was caught. Apart from a failed operation there was an imminent threat of assault. The only choice to escape was to run away from the venue…but as I turned myself towards the gate a bulky and bearded guy wearing a black coloured Pathani grabbed my collar with his left hand. As he was about to deliver a forceful punch on my face, I pushed him back with full strength and he fell on a chair after losing the grip from my collar. Immediately, I rushed towards the gate. As I came near the gate I realized that 4-5 young men had started chasing me including those 3 guys who were earlier posted at the gate to keep an eye on gate crashers. As I ran out of the venue, I saw that there was nobody at the gate and police camera which was there since the beginning had also left.

Right outside the school, there is a footover bridge which connects CST railway station from Times of India building. As I climbed the bridge, the youngsters continued chasing me. They kept on saying- “How dare you come here basturd? Do you think we are fools? We will not let you go alive. Media is not powerful than us…” While chasing me they attempted to hit me by throwing 2-3 stones, but somehow I escaped from being hit. As soon as I entered CST railway station, I saw a Harbour Line train leaving from platform number 1. The guys had come very closer and I was about to get caught. There were just 2 choices- 1) Take the risk of boarding a running train or 2) Get assaulted by furious gangsters. I boarded the running train. Guys chasing me also attempted to get into the train but by then the train caught speed and they were unable to board the train. I looked back at the platform from the door. The frustrated guys were showing their middle finger to me.

Even after I escaped from the venue, Atul stayed back. He informed me that Haseena Parker got very angry when she realized that I had sneaked into the reception and also escaped unharmed. She gave a verbal bashing to all those who were responsible for security arrangements for their negligence. Haseena’s son Danish died next year in a car accident at Mumbai-Goa Highway