Born in pre-independence era in 1939 Gangubai Kathiawadi a young woman of Gujarat thought of leading a normal life. The real name of Gangubai Kathiawadi was Ganga Harjivandas Kathiawadi. When she was young Ganga aspired to become an actress. At the age of 16, she fell in love with her father’s accountant and after getting married with him, she fled to Mumbai. Gangubai, who fantasised big ideas, would not have even dreamt that her husband would cheat her and sell her to the brothel for just five hundred rupees. Those days, mafia don Karim Lala was very active in Mumbai. One member of Lala’s gang raped Gangubai. After which Gangubai met Karim Lala to demand justice and tied him rakhi and made him her brother. Being the sister of Karim Lala, Kamathipura’s command soon fell into the hands of Gangubai. It is said that no girl could enter her room without her consent.
The houses that housed the brothels were first developed by the British for the recreation of the British soldiers. The very fair delicate and beautiful, Gangubai wanted to become an actress. This was the time after the independence of India. In the ‘60s, she almost ruled Kamathipura, a neighborhood in Mumbai. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a large number of women and girls from continental Europe and Japan were trafficked into Kamathipura where they worked as prostitutes servicing British soldiers and local Indian men. Gradually, social stratification also took place: When the British left India, Indian sex workers took over. From brothel owner Gulab, she ended up joining hands with the underworld and eventually became one of the most influential women in India. When Gangubai was forced into prostitution at an early age, she came into contact with a notorious criminal who became her regular customer.
Gangubai was not just a sex worker, but later on she became social worker too. Many bigwigs, kingpins and politicians used to visit her kotha at that time. She became a highly influential personality. Taking advantage of this entire power, she started working for the rights of sex workers and orphans. She was a powerful woman in the 60s. She also peddled drugs and gave orders to commit murders. She was also known as the ‘Madam of Kamathipura’ for her connections with the underworld. She cared for such girls and took care of them like a mother. Many walls in Kamathipura still have her pictures hung on the wall. A unique personality has all powers like dealing with flesh trade, drugs, supari killing etc. Her human side was equally strong and caring. She was a guardian of the dons. She would give them shelter and also provide guidance whenever needed. Although she lived in the slums, but she was rich enough to buy an expensive car for herself. The ‘Madam of Kamathipura’ was the only brothel owner in ‘60s to own a black Bentley. Gangubai ruled over several brothels of Kamathipura. She is known for the efforts she took to improve the living conditions in Kamathipura. It is rumored that she even met Jawaharlal Nehru and spoke to him about the problems of sex workers. She happens to be one of the most remembered women in the history of Mumbai.
Mumbai has many such stories to tell, if the underworld was ruled by Haji Mastans and Dawood Ibrahims one cannot ignore the presence of gangster girls. From Haseena Parkar to Neeta Naik there are hundred such stories Mumbai has witnessed. Neeta Naik, made her London-educated husband Ashwin turn to the underworld and face its wrath. And when he was shot, she fled the country and ably ran his operations till she fell to her husband’s jealousy, but not before she managed to get elected as a Mumbai corporator. As resourceful as her is Arun Gawli’s wife, Asha who took over the reins of his underworld empire and ran it efficiently. Simultaneously, she did enough for the neighbourhood to get her husband elected to the Maharashtra Assembly even when he was in jail. Women, we know, are multi-taskers. Yet, it is really fascinating to read how these women slip into different roles so effortlessly and efficiently. Pappamani may have taken to dealing in drugs to keep her children fed and clothed, but she quickly brought in method and management ideas to the trade that benefited all and won her the sobriquet Mahalaxmi. Indeed, the lawyer hired to defend her finds, much to his chagrin, Mahalaxmi’s sidekicks, sans any formal education, were thorough with the nuances of drug crime-related laws and court procedures.
Monica Bedi, former matinee idol of the time gone by; got entangled in the underworld with Abu Salem; a one-time protégée of Dawood Ibrahim, now in Indian jail. Monica returned to show business after she served imprisonment but now she is not seen anywhere. Let’s talk about Mrs. Sujata Rajan Nikalje – wife of underworld Don Chhota Rajan who is languishing in Indian Jail. The two got married in Dubai when Chhota Rajan and Dawood Ibrahim were pals. The two best companions split over some communal feelings that divided Mumbai underworld on communal lines after the 1993 serial bomb blasts that rocked Mumbai city. Sujata came to limelight in the underworld operations when the Mumbai crime branch arrested her over a charge of extortion and money-laundering. Around a dozen of Don’s confidantes spent time behind bars in the same case. She is now being sought after by the enforcement agencies in a case of siphoning off funds. Most of these underworld mafia queens were either the girlfriend of mafias or the concubine while many of them even married women. But Gangubai was a different persona altogether.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Bollywood’s famous film director, announced a movie on her which is in the making. Gangu could not become actress but today she has become a topic of Cinema.
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