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National

Karim Lala dead

By Mahesh Vijapurkar

MUMBAI FEB. 19. Karim Lala, the old-time don of Mumbai who even spawned Bollywood characters, died last night at the age of 90. Much before the hi-tech world of criminals came to hold sway, this person of Afghan origin had called it a day and become a recluse. To many police officials, he is part of a lore "that appears unreal now.''

His peers — some powerful in their own domains, Haji Mastan in the dockyards, Yousuf Patel who moved into construction, and Varadharaja Mudaliar in the Central city region — had passed away much earlier and he had often told his friends that "things have changed forever. Our days are never going to be seen again.''

Those days, before the trio of Mastan, Patel and Lala bowed to Jayaprakash Narayan and gave up crime, the turnover from crime was minuscule compared to what it is now, the range of crime was simpler and so were the means employed to have their way: bribery. They had divided the area and followed a code of conduct and "set store,'' as a police official said, "by their honour.''

Lala — his full name was Abdul Karim Khan Sher Khan — had migrated to Mumbai after dropping out of school and frowned upon drugs as he felt that they destroyed families and individuals slowly, though enormous profits were to be had by smuggling and retailing them. Police officials recall the "less ostentatious life, use of muscle, at most knife and often, mere threats.''

His forte was peacemaking, not only among businessmen and property owners — " there was always a price to be paid, either on the spot or a rain cheque taken — but also amongst other gangsters. He brokered peace when a rash of violence broke out in the 1970s between rival gangs of people younger to Mastan, Vardhabhai and Lala.

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