Book Review: My Name is Abu Salem
The one thing that keeps me reading Hussain Zaidi‘s books is the inimitable manner in which he becomes a fly on the wall of Mumbai‘s most dangerous criminals and fiercest cops alike. My Name is Abu Salem tracks the life and times of Abu Salem – the man whose crime career is perhaps best known for Gulshan Kumar‘s brutal murder and whose personal life is best known for his relationship with Monica Bedi.
As always, Zaidi is meticulous, detailing everything from Salem’s rise to his days on the run from the authorities. Sections on Monica Bedi’s sudden rise in Bollywood (aided by Salem’s weight in the film industry) and the gruesome Gulshan Kumar murder are especially good; it was almost as if I were watching a movie of the events. Bedi’s love story with Salem – no less a filmy story on its own – starting with an affair with Salem, followed by marriage and culminating in the relationship’s degradation in prison, makes for a fascinating read.
Gulshan Kumar’s murder though, right from the first bullet to the last, is perhaps the best section of the book. The book tracks how Kumar was chased, where & when he was shot, what he cried out, etc. It is sections like these that make Zaidi’s books the absolute gold standard in factual crime writing. You can only wonder how Zaidi came to know such minutest of details.
What makes Abu Salem’s story interesting is the way he is able to rise repeatedly like a phoenix from ashes. Even today, Salem and his lawyers work on exploiting legal loopholes that might eventually set him free. On the merit of the book being Salem’s life story in itself, it deserves to be read.
What goes against the book however, is the small parts that you will find slightly repetitive in case you have read all of Zaidi’s earlier works. Such as sections on Dawood, for instance, – the veritable star around which India’s solar system of crime has revolved. However, that is, most likely, an inevitability… in all likelihood, Hussain Zaidi needs to cater to first time readers and fiercely loyal readers (like me) alike.
My Name is Abu Salem is not Zaidi’s best book but it still has Zaidi at his best.
If Zaidi had not written Black Friday or Mafia Queens of Mumbai or Dongri to Dubai, the book would have probably been rated higher; however, it pales in comparison to these books on the sheer weight of the stories and characters in them. Salem is, frankly, no Dawood Ibrahim; but even if he isn’t the sun, the book makes him out to be an interesting enough planet – one that takes every fall in its stride and manages to rise from the dust, again and again.
To me, Black Friday or Mafia Queens of Mumbai will always be Zaidi’s best books but My name is Abu Salem stands on its own as a good enough read from Hussain Zaidi’s stable.
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