Gangster On The Run, written by Puja Changoiwala, narrates the fascinating story of Rahul Ramakant Jadhav, a former gangster turned marathon runner.
In the opening chapter of ‘Gangster On The Run’, written by Puja Changoiwala, we are introduced to the central character of the story – Rahul Ramakant Jadhav. As a young boy living in Dombivili, near Mumbai, his dreams too were limited. He was aware that his father’s earnings weren’t good enough to afford luxuries that Rahul desired at that age, but he was, perhaps, too young to do anything about it. As he grew older, he began resenting his father because the latter was too honest. And the world isn’t too kind to those who are honest and are content with a simple life.
Long before he becomes an adult, Rahul grows determined that, one day, he will run far ahead of his father’s ambitions, if there were any. Perhaps, Rahul believed that the world has no place for people who prefer to keep their head down and accept life for what it is. And thus begins Rahul’s journey, where he first runs away from his family, and once he returns, he runs away from the path laid down by his family, and then, he runs as fast as he can to become ‘somebody’ in the underworld, and then he runs to evade the law, and then he tries to run away from his past.
This, however, is a true story and it will take you by surprise at every corner. If you end up thinking that it’s perhaps too dramatic or ‘filmy’, it’s also because Rahul’s life and how rise & downfall & rise goes hand-in-hand coincides with that of crime in Mumbai and its surrounding areas. But then, Rahul wasn’t a ‘bhai’ per se. He began as one of the hundreds of foot soldiers and worked his way up to become one of the most trusted men in a don’s (identified as Jaidev Reddy) gang. His job, predominantly, was sourcing information about their targets and making extortion calls. The more he got into it, the more ambitious he got, and he ended up getting involved directly in five shootouts, which landed him in jail years later.
Given the track record of Mumbai’s crime branch and the multiple encounters, top aides of gangsters, like Rahul once was, barely stand a chance to get a second chance at life. Perhaps, that’s what makes Rahul’s journey so engrossing. He outran the fate that he had written for himself over a span of more than 15 years, and lived to tell his tale.
Interestingly, the book is as much about Rahul’s criminal activities during the prime of his youth as it is about the devastating toll that his addiction to alcohol had taken on his personal life. Puja Changoiwala is a gifted storyteller and she balances these two aspects of Rahul’s life in the book remarkably well. I’m no expert in stories about the underworld and mafia, but then, there’s a writer’s gaze which you can see in the way stories are told. Every time you get a sense that Rahul is slipping further away into the darkness in his life, Puja also pushes us to look at him from the perspective of the multiple forces in his life – his family, friends, his boss, his broken heart, his zeal to be ‘somebody’ – who are either begging him to mend his ways or pushing him more into the dark side.
Quite early on in the story, you get a sense that Rahul wants to be ‘something’ in his life and whenever someone praises him or shows empathy, he beams with joy. This aspect keeps recurring throughout the story in the form of benevolent cops who encourage Rahul to cooperate while others trash him; or his acquaintances who help him because they respect his parents; the inmates in various jails when Rahul was under trial; the kindness of Shahid (the lawyer who fought for Rahul); or even the kindness shown by the staff at the de-addiction centre in Pune years later. Throughout her book, Puja humanises Rahul to an extent that you empathise with him. And his triumph towards the end feels so much more real and captivating.
Perhaps, if he hadn’t reformed himself, Rahul’s story might have ended up as a footnote in the annals of crime records. But life kept giving him more chances, and eventually, he outran his guilt and past, although he paid a heavy price in the process. But he kept running anyway. It gave him a sense of purpose and his accomplishments as an ultra-marathon runner inspired many more. And in running, he found joy and peace that he craved for. By surrendering himself to what life had in store for him, he also found a way to mend his broken spirit.
‘Gangster On The Run’, published by HarperCollins India, is a fascinating story and it kept me hooked throughout. Puja Changoiwala, who is an award-winning journalist, tells Rahul Jadhav’s story with so much sincerity that you won’t forget his journey anytime soon. It also coaxes us to ask ourselves – If a criminal reforms himself, shouldn’t we change our views about him and give him a second chance? A big thumbs up for this book.