The sense behind the don

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The sense behind the don

Even before Khalid had begun Dawood's training, the latter was already adroit at handling switchblades

The sharp knife in Dawood's hand moved with amazing swiftness, grazing Khalid's left triceps. Khalid's timely defence had saved him by a whisker. The knife's sharp point had managed to tear into his T-shirt sleeve, causing a scratch. Instead of showing anger or irritation, Khalid looked at Dawood with admiration and approval. Bahut khoob, Dawood, tum bahut jaldi seekh gaye (Very well done, Dawood, you have learnt very quickly).'

It was barely the fifth day since Dawood had begun training with Khalid, but his protégé was already surpassing the mentor's expectations. Khalid was impressed because, as he recalled, he himself had taken quite a while to master the knife despite having a good teacher like Bashu. He was a man of strength and believed that unless he had a strong grip of the weapon, his learning was superficial.

Khalid took several weeks to master the forward and reverse grips of the knife, eventually settling for the forward grip... Even before Khalid had begun Dawood's training, the latter was already adroit at handling switchblades Once Dawood mastered the art of knife fighting, Khalid began imparting lessons on unarmed close combat.

The idea was to fight and defeat a group of thugs, if cor-A VERSE BOTH CLASSIC AND nered, single-handedly. Khalid referred to it as survival technique', while Dawood called it a hero fight'. Since you don't have much body mass, the only asset you have is your agility and nimble movement, which heavyset people normally don't have,' Khalid told Dawood. What would you do if you are faced with a man like me? He could crush you with his strength.' Despite Dawood being in awe of Khalid, he shot back, Nahin, bhai, aapko challenge nahin karoonga, lekin mai bhi halwa nahin hoon (No, brother, I will not dare to challenge you, but rest assured, when push comes to shove, I will be no cakewalk).' Khalid nodded. The boy's aplomb never ceased to amaze him.

He taught him many things. One of them was how to break the crushing embrace of an adversary, if held tightly from behind... Dawood was Khalid's first sincere pupil ever since he had left his home town of Harda in Madhya Pradesh. He liked that Dawood was absorbing everything he said, like a sponge. He knew the boy held great promise. He possessed a fire and drive rarely seen in other boys of his age. Dawood was savouring and relishing the lessons. For the lanky, scrawny Dawood, this was a dream come true. He always wanted to be a real toughie. He wanted to be invincible, a boy who could fend off several opponents in one go.

What was the most challenging aspect about writing Dawood's Mentor?

Khalid Pehelwan, the subject of my work and Dawood's mentor, had largely shifted into incognito mode by choice. Tracking down such a powerful man, specially when he did not want to be found, was the biggest challenge. Khalid could have been in Mumbai, London or Dubai. When I finally met him, getting him to open up about Dawood turned out to be another big challenge.

When did the idea of this book occur to you?

When I was writing Dongri to Dubai, I often wondered how Dawood Ibrahim, a class VII dropout, managed to build a crime empire that spanned across the globe and which ran into millions of dollars. Definitely, someone had mentored him in the ruthlessness of his actions and in the larger understandings of the business. So, I started working on this novel in 2015 to narrate the
story of the man who had trained Dawood Ibrahim.

You are writing about underworld kingpin Dawood Ibrahim. Did you ever feel threatened?

Neither Dawood nor his men have ever threatened me. My objectivity has ensured that I haven't run into trouble with the Mumbai police either. A ganglord will threaten a journalist only if the scribe has a partisan agenda to run. If the journalist is judicious, no harm will come his way.

How do you manage to bring the mafia to life for your readers?

I don't glamourise the mafia but merely present the facts. The villains are evil and dark, and I am only narrating their tale without any touch of glamour. Staying true to the story has helped bring the mafia to life in my books. Do you ever deviate to make the plot interesting? I have never written anything other than factual events in my book. I may put in a dialogue, like a customary greeting Salaam Alaikum between two muslim men. I may give a creative streak to a scene where it is raining but beyond that I never indulge my imagination.

Which is the toughest of the three being a crime reporter, a novelist or writing non-fiction?

Every form of storytelling is a different ballgame like a T20 or a Test match. A writer has to adapt to the format. In non-fiction, your story may not have a conclusion but with novels you can have a resolution, an emotional payoff for the reader. I am a journalist by passion but I write fiction because you come across so many stories which you cannot write as non-fiction. Hence you have to rely on methods of faction (facts in fiction format) to tell the story. My last two fiction were derivatives inspired from several true incidents like huge stash of left RDX after the 1993 serial blasts and Mossad like revenge for the 26/11 attack.

What else are you doing?

I mentor aspiring writers who are dedicated to the craft and willing to hone their skills. Blue Salt, my imprint with Penguin Random House scouts for new talent. Film maker Neeraj Pandey and actor Emraan Hashmi made their debut as writers with the imprint. Similarly IPS officers like former Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar, Maharashtra state's cyber chief, Brijesh Singh and former DIG of BSF Amit Lodha wrote their first books with us.