How dangerous men made funny nicknames for themselves.
The names Mumbai’s gun-toting gangsters are known by are sometimes as colorful as their personas.
Mumbai, INDIA / Red Newswire | Oct 28, 2015, 10.31 PM IST.
The names Mumbai’s gun-toting gangsters are known by are sometimes as colourful as their personas. They may be a fearsome and bloodthirsty lot, but they are defined by such unusual names that one can’t help but crack a smile. These nicknames are back in circulation after Chhota Rajan’s arrest.
The names have varied origins. For example, Chhota and Bada Rajan are names that arose out of relative seniority. Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje was given the nickname Chhota Rajan since he worked with Rajan Nair, alias Bada Rajan. Nikalje was a trusted lieutenant of Bada Rajan and took over the gang after Bada Rajan was killed. Chhota Rajan was also addressed as ‘Nana’ by his gang mates, with love. Then there are Salim Kurla, because he is from a particular area, and Salim Passport, because his trade is forging passports.
Police officers say gangsters’ names are derived from memorable incidents, habits, place of birth, personality and physical traits. Even Dawood Ibrahim has not been spared. His nickname Muchchad is a nod to his luxuriant moustache. Chhota Shakeel has wreaked his brand of havoc in Mumbai, but it’s doubtful whether his nickname, Pav Takla, would inspire the same level of dread. He’s bald from the front. But only his inner circle of friends are allowed to call him so. He is known as Chhota due to his short height.
There was a time in his life when London-based Iqbal Memon, alias Iqbal Mirchi, would sell delicious keema and spicy meat in south Mumbai. Later, he opened a grocery shop dealing in red chillies. That’s the reason he got the nickname Mirchi.
The police too are responsible for some of gangland’s unusual names. “For instance, Rafique Dabba would deliver homemade food to prisoners and so we called him Rafique Dabba,” said an officer. “The names actually help us remember who’s who in the underworld.
Nicknames, either given by gang mates, the police or assumed by the gangsters themselves, go into wider coinage than real names. In many cases, gang mates and even the police don’t know the real names of the gangsters since they are known only by their nicknames.
They say that rechristening gang members is the most practical solution in an ‘industry’ where more than one person shares the same name. There was a Shakeel from Dongri. The gang already had a Chhota Shakeel, and so he was simply called Shakeel Lambu because he was tall. Lambu was in charge of handling D-Company’s finances in Mumbai.
It’s a misconception that D-Company member Saleem Shaikh was named Salim Kutta because of his “growling voice”. Members of the underworld said Salim hailed from Kuttanelur in Thrissur district, Kerala, and was therefore called Kutta. Two other Salims, Salim Mazgaon and Salim Kurla, lived in Mazgaon and Kurla. Saleem Khan, an accused in the 1993 serial blasts, was a passport agent, and was duly called Saleem Passport. Abu Salem gang member Salim Haddi’s prominent Adam’s apple earned him the name Haddi (bone in Hindi). He was killed in an encounter.
As a school student, the man behind the 1993 blasts, Ibrahim Memon, had been injured in a cricket match. “But he helped the school win. He played his inning like a tiger and thence on was called Tiger Memon,” said a police officer.