Chhota Shakeel had, predictably, called me to deny the split. But more than that he was upset by how he had been portrayed in the story and claimed that the Mumbai Police was misleading the media. “I would never part ways with Bhai. Always remember this!” he asserted.
Shakeel is the one gangster I have professionally interacted with since 1994. It has become routine for me to receive a call from him from wherever he has been hiding after a story related to him is aired.
On this occasion, he sounded aggravated. He asked me, “Yeh Sayeed Ansari kaun hai? Uska number de aap! (Who is this Sayeed Ansari? Please give me his number!)” Ansari was the anchor of our show.
I tried to pacify Shakeel, but he didn’t listen.
“I need to tell Ansari how to address me on your channel. Your channel is a respectable one, and yet you use such nonsense language to describe me!”
I told him Ansari was an anchor, and he read the news from a script that was put before him. “The scriptwriter is a different person and I will check with him if you tell me what is wrong,” I said, trying to calm him down.
He retorted, “Galli ka chor, mawali aur shirt ke button khule… yeh sab bhasha aap ke channel ko shobha deti hai kya? (A petty thief, a rowdy who roams about with his shirt buttons open… Is this language befitting of your channel?)” Shakeel had never objected to the media calling him a dreaded underworld don or a “Bhai”, but he certainly didn’t like to be described as a petty thief and a mawali. I assured him that I would look into the matter. I subsequently informed the producer who had written Shakeel’s profile and asked him to remove the “objectionable” words. After all, the objections had been raised by a dreaded don himself!
As luck would have it, the same version of the profile got aired a few weeks later in a different context. And, of course, Shakeel called again. I remembered he had told me once that he had a media-monitoring unit working 24/7, which recorded everything that was said about the D Company and its members across the world.
This time, he reprimanded me. “I spared the wrongdoers as you assured me that the story would be rectified. If you don’t reveal the names of who did the story, I have my ways of finding out. And then it will be you who will have to call me. This is a serious matter!” By the end of our conversation, though, Shakeel noted in a lighter vein, “Yeh jumma ke jumme, nayi Dawood–Shakeel ki film banti hai. News channels ki TRP bhi Bhai se chalti hai, samjhe na! (There’s a new film on Dawood and Shakeel every Friday. Even news channels are getting their TRPs because of Bhai!) But barring a few, it’s all fiction so why would we mind it!”
Nevertheless, it was indeed a serious matter. Dawood and the D Company were big draws for news channels in 2007. I immediately informed all concerned department heads about Shakeel’s call, evoking the funniest reactions. One colleague said he would not take any overseas calls, while another said he would ask his secretary to handle it and avoid the situation. Eventually, the two “objectionable lines” were deleted from the profile.
This was not the first time Shakeel had objected to a news story.
In October 2000, once I had returned from Bangkok after covering the bloody attack on Chhota Rajan and the subsequent case on Shakeel’s associates who were caught by the Thai Police (as narrated in a later chapter), Shakeel had called me one evening after reading the story, “War of the Dons”, which I had filed from Bangkok for India Today.
He was happy that his crony Munna Zingada had given a “kadak” (solid) (his words) interview to me in the presence of the Thai Police, but he was hell-bent on convincing me that Rajan had escaped by jumping from his balcony into a trash-bin. I refused to buy his version and told him that the truth was different. He went a step further and asked me for my fax number and said he would send me the legal version of the story Rajan had narrated. A day later, I received a copy of an official statement, which quoted Rajan’s trash-bin escape theory produced in the Bangkok court. The fax had been sent from a fax machine in a five-star hotel in Karachi.
Just to further confirm what I already knew, I asked him in my interview why he had been in Bangkok between 11 and 13 September.
“How did you know?” he asked in response. Then he went on to provide some more details about their plan to kill Chhota Rajan in Bangkok, a conversation I have detailed in the chapter titled “Bedlam in Bangkok”.
When I wrote my story, however, it was based on the information given to me by my source in Bangkok and related how Rajan had been given safe passage and had escaped to Cambodia across the Thai border in a car. Shakeel called me when the story got published in the web edition of India Today in November 2000. I had been given wrong information, he insisted.
He claimed that a high-ranking police source in Bangkok had told him that Rajan had been shifted to another government hospital for safety purposes. He admonished me, saying, “How can a journalist like you write wrong stories? You should have been more responsible and verified the facts before publishing it!” The news of Chhota Rajan’s dramatic escape from the Samitivej Hospital broke in the next couple of days and proved my story to be right.
Excerpted with permission from Godfathers of Crime: Face-to-face with India’s Most Wanted, Sheela Raval, Hachette.