Rahul Jadhav took the name ‘Bhiku’ from the gangster in the 1998 cult classic, Satya – a man who was everything he once wanted to be. Jadhav went on to become one of the most-wanted gangsters of his time.
But today, the gunrunner is an ultra-marathoner who has covered nearly 10,000 kilometres – including a 2019 run from Gateway of India to India Gate – and wants to shatter the run record at the National Stadium. Independent journalist, Puja Changoiwala, has now chronicled his journey into a book, Gangster on the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal by HarperCollins India.
A recipient of the Red Ink Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism and Iceland Writers Award, Changoiwala wrote a crime novel, The Front Page Murders: Inside the Serial Killings that Shocked India, before her latest release. Puja Changoiwala was a speaker at Noir Literature Festival, 2019, in Delhi.
Why did you choose to chronicle Jadhav’s life?
A colleague told me about Jadhav’s transformation from an underworld hitman to an ultra-marathoner. At the outset, it piqued my curiosity, and I decided to profile him. As we sat for six hours, talking on the Marine Drive promenade in Mumbai, I knew I needed more than a news feature to tell his story. I have worked on several crime stories, but very few on survival and redemption. Jadhav’s is one such tale. I started working on it early 2018, soon after I met him.
Was it difficult procuring details from him?
We met a dozen times over the past two-and-a-half years. It takes a while for a source to develop faith in the writer. Once he was past these hesitations, Rahul revealed the gorier, intimate, and embarrassing details of his life.
Who else did you meet for the book?
Writing non-fiction is challenging; and if it isn’t, you’re probably doing it wrong. It involved digging out 10-year-old documents, tracing down crime branch personnel who were at office many years ago. I had to convince Jadhav’s family, friends, co-accused, fellow runners, staff at the bars he frequented, to revisit a past they had shunned to a dark corner of their minds. I spoke to officers who had arrested and investigated Jadhav, lawyers, encounter specialists and de-addiction counsellors, who helped with insights into the reign of extortion and the Mumbai underworld – from the early 80s till date.
What is the takeaway from this book?
Jadhav was a boy who lost his innocence to the Mumbai mafia; a painter who lost his art to a 9mm pistol; a dreamer who lost his ambition to cheap whiskey; a romantic who lost his love to dimly-lit brothels. He was an underworld hitman, an extortionist and an alcoholic. Today, he is a de-addiction counsellor and an ultra-marathoner. The biggest takeaway is believing in the power of the self and fighting for it.
What are your future plans?
I am currently writing my third book around the migrant crisis that followed the Covid-19 pandemic in India.
What do you think about Delhi in terms of crime, social justice?
Delhi is showing some worrying crime trends, if you consider the most recent data from the National Crime Records Bureau of India. Thefts, rapes and murders saw an increase in 2019, compared to figures from the previous year. Robberies, cyber crimes and economic offences are on the decline. But, the cases of body offences, especially against women and children, are rising.