Gangster on the Run: Puja Changoiwala's book delves into a hitman's reinvention as an ultramarathoner

Changoiwala's narrative takes readers through the hitman's arrest in 2007, his subsequent battle with alcoholism and schizophrenia and his journey as an athlete.

Puja Changoiwala September 29, 2020 16:00:02 IST
Gangster on the Run: Puja Changoiwala's book delves into a hitman's reinvention as an ultramarathoner

Puja Changoiwala's Gangster on the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal.

Puja Changoiwala's Gangster on the Run tells the story of Rahul Jadhav, a gangster, hitman and one of the most wanted extortionists of his time. But the award-winning journalist's latest work of nonfiction is also about the second innings of Jadhav's life, that of a reformed criminal who left behind the shadows of gangsterhood to become an ultramarathoner. Changoiwala's narrative takes readers through the hitman's arrest in 2007, his subsequent battle with alcoholism and schizophrenia and his journey as an athlete. A dedicated marathoner, Jadhav has by now covered nearly 10,000 kilometres. The journalist, who has has previously  authored The Front Page Murders: Inside the Serial Killings that Shocked India , writes a matter-of-fact, honest story filled with incidences and people that were part of Jadhav's life to give an insight into a criminal's rehabilitation into a civilian existence.

The excerpt that follows traces the former hitman's darker days, his evenings spent in a drunken stupor in one of Mumbai's bars and the toll his tantrums took on the sanity of his family and his own mind.

***

11 February 2014. 11.30 pm With a lit cigarette in one hand and a bottle of whisky in another, an inebriated Rahul walked along the railway tracks in Dombivli, looking for a spot where he could die in peace. A few metres ahead of the busy platform, he sat down on the tracks and uncorked his bottle. He went for a large sip, and pulled a long drag to dissolve the bitter taste. Hoping to find more courage in the spirit, he gulped another round. It was his third attempt at suicide in the past few weeks, and he wanted to be sure that this time, he did not disappoint death.

Until half an hour ago, Rahul had been sitting in his bar, Green Court. It was his birthday, and no one – his family, co-accused, bar mates, counsellors or rehab friends – had wished him. They probably did not remember. To Rahul, it meant alienation. Everyone’s life journey had separated from his own. Worse, all his dear ones seemed to have chosen the diversion. The former hitman burned with a cold fire, his many unrequited loves springing from his hate.

Lonely, Rahul’s thoughts took him to Aarti, his first and only real girlfriend. He hadn’t spoken to her in a decade. Hoping to find her presence online, he pulled out his phone, and typed her name in the search engine of a social networking site. Her profile popped up. She had added her husband’s last name, had a son, lived in Europe, and appeared happy. Looking at her picture, the gangster’s heart ached. It was the same honest smile, one that ventured deep into her big, brown eyes.

‘That kid could have been mine,’ Rahul thought to himself. ‘Only if I’d been man enough to do the right thing.’

Irked, he threw the handset to the floor, and smashed it under his feet. As bar patrons watched, he barked at the waiter: ‘Did you see what I just did? Why don’t you throw me out?’

The server did not respond. The gangster’s histrionics were a regular feature at the bar.

Rahul then picked up his whisky glass, and dropped it to the floor. As the sound of glass pieces echoed in the tiny space, he picked up two more glasses, and hurled them at the wall. ‘Here, now will you throw me out?’

The waiter stayed committed to his silence. His quietude told Rahul that his mother was right: No one wanted to indulge him. He was among the dregs of society.

‘Do you think people like it when you visit their homes? No. They’re disgusted by you. No one wants to be near you,’ she had said one morning when Rahul woke up after blacking out the previous night. His bar acquaintances had carried him home.

‘But when did I visit anyone?’

‘You do not know what you do after you get drunk.’ She was furious. ‘They come after you, pleading with us to send you somewhere far. Neighbours have told their kids to keep away from you. You’re a bad influence. Please, fix your life or leave us.’

Gangster on the Run Puja Changoiwalas book delves into a hitmans reinvention as an ultramarathoner

Puja Changoiwala is an award-winning journalist whose 2020 work narrates the story of a hitman who battled addiction and reformed himself to completely leave behind the dark shadows of the criminal world. Image via Twitter

His mother’s words ringing in his ears and Aarti’s happy face mocking his heart, Rahul picked up his bottle, and left for the railway tracks. It was the worst way to die: out in the cold, with no one looking for him. But he had made up his mind.

After a few minutes on the tracks, Rahul saw a train stop at Dombivli railway station. ‘Two minutes, and it’ll all be over,’ the erstwhile gangster thought and stood up. As the train left the platform, he gulped another sip. Nervous, he started jogging on the spot. The train slowly picked up pace, and in moments Rahul could hear the wheels in motion, feel the tracks tremble under his feet. The engine’s lights started blinding his vision, and he shut his eyes. With the train only a few feet away, his heart thumped furiously. Almost involuntarily, he opened his eyes and leapt off.

‘Fuck,’ he yelled in disappointment, lying on an adjoining track, his voice inaudible under the train’s ear-splitting horn. ‘Fuck!’

Certain that he’d have to let the next train crush him, Rahul sat up, and started recounting reasons that had brought him to the railway tracks that night. ‘There’s nothing to live for, you chut**a,’ he tried convincing his mind, which, without instruction, had decided to rescue him. ‘No one would care if you died.’

Thoughts of suicide had built up in Rahul’s mind soon after he started drinking again upon his return from Muktangan after his fifth stint. His brain turned into the most dangerous place in the world for him. It started mocking and tormenting him. ‘Five admissions and you still haven’t managed to kick your addictions. Five admissions, and you’re still a failure. You’re no Bhai-vhai, Bhiku. You’re just a big, ugly failure.’

Rahul had begun to realise that his life had been nothing but a relentless attack on his family’s sanity. His friends did not want to be with him, and relatives and neighbours still saw him as the long-haired hooligan who’d have two pistols tucked into his trousers at all times. He’d turned thirty-nine that day, but he hadn’t found love.

‘What girl would want to be with me?’ Rahul found himself thinking. ‘I’m not stable. I do not have a job. All I have is a terrifying past, one whose shadow just wouldn’t stop trailing my present.’

‘All these years of Bhaidom, I’ve been no better than a fraudulent street urchin,’ Rahul continued with the self-admonition after breaking for a sip of whisky, ‘When such men beg for money, they touch you, get uncomfortably close to your face. People pay out of irritation, not fear. The same is true with me. People don’t fear me. They hate me. And why wouldn’t they? What have I done to gain respect? Fuck being a Bhai, I’m not man enough to earn five rupees without a pistol in my hand. ‘

Motivated once again, Rahul sprung to his feet. A train was approaching in his direction two tracks away. He rushed to the track, and turned around. Maybe it would be easier if he didn’t look death in the eye. Once again, the tracks trembled, and once again, Rahul leapt off. Killing another man, he realized, was much easier than killing himself.

As Rahul sat on the railway tracks, counting more reasons to end his life, two railway guards rushed towards him. The driver of the previous train had probably informed the railway control, and the drunkard was asked to leave.

‘But I’m here to die,’ he tried to explain. ‘I won’t harm anyone, I promise.’

‘Not today,’ one of the guards snatched his bottle.

The above extract from Puja Changoiwala's Gangster on the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal  has been reproduced here with permission from HarperCollins India.

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