I had heard a lot about S. Hussain Zaidi’s writing but had never read anything by the man. I do not know why. Perhaps, there was always this perception that maybe the writing will not live up to my expectations as a reader or maybe I would not enjoy knowing about the Bombay Underworld and about the other world, so to say. But I was proved wrong the minute I picked up, “My Name is Abu Salem”, the latest by journalist and writer, S. Hussain Zaidi.
Going by the title, the book is about the life of Abu Salem and let me tell you that while it does scare you as a reader to know what kind of people exist in the world, it also makes you hate the man a lot more. I mean, I can never imagine having any empathy for a man who killed people at will, who had not the slightest remorse at how he behaved and to top it considered himself to be the lord and master of everyone influential who did and did not come his way.
Zaidi’s writing style makes the book one breezy read and also makes you think about the situations (right time, right person) in which Salem grew to become an underworld don – a boy from a small town of Azamgarh to becoming one of Mumbai’s most feared Don, the one who only wanted fame, name and glory and perhaps still does.
For most part of the book, I just kept wondering: How people lead such lives? Salem had bedded a beauty-queen who then became a film-star, he had every woman he could and wanted, he never cared about his wife Sameera and his son Amir and of course the core of it all – the crimes committed by him and his men. In all of this, I could not stop thinking of the effect a man has and the control he commands. Abu Salem’s personality went beyond who he was and maybe that was another factor that added to his aura.
There are times while reading the book, you do feel that Zaidi is not revealing or telling all, but I think it has to do only with about whom he is writing. At the same time, he is just skimming through some parts, like Salem’s formative years. Zaidi does mention the main parts and there is a lot of information which otherwise no reader would know, like Sameera’s interview transcription on what was it like being Salem’s wife for ten years or Monica Bedi’s confusion when it came to him or for that matter the way Bollywood and the construction industry perceived him.
The book obviously ends open-endedly because no one knows what will happen next in Salem’s life, given that he was sent from Portugal to India and that is how the Indian Government was able to nab him. And in more than one way, that is how the “downfall of the Don” began. “My Name is Abu Salem” is a fast-paced read with a style of writing that does not once bore you or make you leave the book.