Table for two Metroplus

Hitting back

Hussain Zaidi at Mist in New Delhi’s The Park. Photo: R.V. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

Arriving straight from the airport author S. Hussain Zaidi, hardly betrays any sign of jet lag at Mist in The Park. The former journalist widely known for investigative, crime and terror reporting is in news for his first work of fiction “Mumbai Avengers” published by Harper Collins. It focuses on an operation planned in retribution for 26/11 terror attack in India – a topic widely debated in drawing rooms and coffee houses and something which a majority of us have imagined and dreamt of.

The author’s note describes the book as a “sentiment, a dream and ambition, especially in the post-26/11 scenario” while adding that the upper hand of our cunning neighbours in proxy war and our government’s inaction irks him. “Despite our pleadings and warnings not to foment terrorism and encourage war against India and furnishing concrete evidence about the misdeeds perpetrated, Pakistan has never given us justice. Why do we tolerate that? On the contrary our motto should be: ‘You touch us with a feather and we will use a hammer’,” says Zaidi. Visibly pained he adds, “Ashok Kamte, the additional commissioner, Vijay Salaskar, the senior police inspector and Hemant Karkare, of Mumbai’s anti-terrorist squad, who were my friends, besides many others, died in 26/11. I still feel agitated and pained and what hurts is the lack of justice.”

What made him move to fiction after writing “Black Friday”, “Mafia Queens of Mumbai”, “Dongri to Dubai” and “Byculla to Bangkok” all non-fiction zeroing on the Mumbai’s criminal world? “Kabir Khan, the director was discussing with me story ideas for his next project when I suggested a Mossad-type operation to hunt down the main players of the 26/11 attack as no justice was coming forth from Pakistan. Sajid Nadiadwala willing to produce the film suggested that being a controversial subject it would be better to write a novel and later adapt for a cinematic version. That’s how it came into being.” Denying finding this shift difficult he quips: Talwar tez to ho hi gayi thi to koi dikkat nahi hui (Having sharpened my writing skills, I did not have any problem).” He clarifies that he did not write the story keeping in mind the filmmaking aspect.

Anurag Kashyap adapted Zaidi’s “Black Friday” into a film by the same name while Shootout at Wadala by Sanjay Gupta was adapted from “Dongri to Dubai”. What attracts Bollywood to his books? “Bollywood is obsessed with the Mumbai underworld. With virtually no material available, my novels, which are authentic, based on hard facts, exclusive and innovative provide enough material for cinematic adaptation.” Zaidi does find fault with films glorifying villain, mafia and criminals. “They should not create an aura around them. Their awe and clout is due to men and weapons.”

The hotel staff arrives with the aromatic Lucknawi gosht biryani with brinjal salan and boondi raita. “My parents are from Lucknow. My mother cooked excellent Lucknawi cuisine and having tasted it from childhood I too love it. Maa ke banaye huye khaana ka jo swad lag gaya woh abhi bhi hai.” He goes on to list kofta, gilawat kabab, gole kabab, nihari, dal gosht among others as his favourite. There is a vivid description in “Mumbai Avengers” about the royal marmara raan. “I am aware of this dish and worked hard on its description in the book,” says Zaidi.

Having lived in Mumbai for many years Zaidi is fond of street food the city offers. “The city is well known for these. I enjoy seekh kabab and nan chaap available at Mohammad Ali Road. Besides there is pav bhaji, aloo puri, bhelpuri, pani puri, etc – all mouth watering.”

On knowing that I am a Tamilian, the writer shares that so too is his wife. Despite his avid preference for non-vegetarian dishes, Zaidi confesses liking avial and appam. “Married for 20 years I enjoy southern delicacies. She is very innovative and has perfected a soup made from drum sticks. By adding kotmeer and tamarind she gives the coconut chutney a tasty twist. Her innovative streak extends to sweets, like anjeer copra ladoos,” he says with pride. He reveals that she learnt making non-vegetarian food despite being a vegetarian herself. “Many a time I feel bad about it. Earlier she had to make it for just me. Now my two sons have joined me having developed taste for meat dishes,” adding “it makes us majority,” he wits.

“Mumbai Avengers” stands out for its vivid description of different locations and intelligence agencies. Zaida says it is all absolutely authentic. “The account of ISI hiring and training terrorists; the Chinese intelligence indulging in cyber war and Central Intelligence Agency having thousands of Mumbai cabbies on their rolls, are all true. Several other facts about Mossad, British and other intelligence organizations have been culled from a number of books I read besides my research. I have visited majority of the locations in the book except some.” He goes on to appreciate and express his thanks to police officials Pradeep Sawant, Vijay Singh and Brijesh Singh. “They were all very helpful and without their help this book would not have been possible. Brijesh helped me devise the different methods for eliminating those behind the 26/11 killings,” the author confesses.

Nearing the end of our meeting, on being asked if we can ever expect peace with our neighbour in future, the writer categorically states: “No. They do not want it and they keep the Kashmir issue burning.” He expresses his dismay at the lack of action on the part of the Government and not adopting a hardline. He ascribes this to appeasement of a community. “There is no need for this. Irrespective of faith, crime and criminal should be meted the same treatment –– harsh and punitive.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 9:27:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/hitting-back/article7154687.ece

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