As a crime journalist in India, I have reported several stories of crime and punishment over the past decade. Stories of survival and redemption, however, have been few. Rahul Jadhav’s is one such tale — an intensely human story of hope, of second chances.

A boy who lost his innocence to the Mumbai mafia; a painter who lost his art to the 9mm pistol; a dreamer who lost his ambition to cheap whiskey; a romantic who lost his love to dimly lit brothels; and a son who lost his ideals to hard cash — Jadhav was a gangster, an underworld hitman, an extortionist and an alcoholic. Today, he is a de-addiction counsellor and an ultra-marathoner.

I first met the former gangster in 2018 for a long-form news feature. I had heard about his reformation from a colleague and, honestly, did not believe it. I had heard of murderers turning their lives around; it is plausible, as most of them in our country are first-time killers, committing the crime over personal vendetta, or a moment of burning rage. Gangsters, however, tend to choose the world of organised crime. There is a certain consciousness that accompanies their circumstantial logic, and they largely live without regret, revelling in their don’s reign of terror and the power of pistols tucked in their backs.


Gangster on the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal / Puja Changoiwala / HarperCollins / Non-fiction / ₹399


I decided to meet Jadhav in a public place — the Marine Drive promenade in Mumbai. We sat by the sea, talking for six hours, discussing his crimes, inner demons and external motivations. That quarter of a day made me realise that the man was walking around with a book in his belly. I returned home and verified his claims with a multitude of sources — investigators, lawyers and his counsellors. Convinced of the legitimacy of his words, I asked him if I could pen his journey — from a gangster to marathoner. After considerable initial hesitance, he agreed. The result is my new non-fiction book, Gangsteron the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal.

Writing non-fiction is challenging; and if it isn’t, one is probably not doing it right. Although this isn’t my first true crime book, it was particularly daunting. It involved digging out 10-year-old documents, tracking down crime branch personnel who were in office decades ago, identifying officers who could help me recreate the underworld era — from the early 1980s to today, and convincing Jadhav’s family, friends and co-accused to revisit a past they had pushed to a dark corner of their minds. It took immense research and dozens of conversations before my sources agreed to share their time and their lives, and their invaluable recollections make this book whole.

As I sank deeper into his story, I learnt that the now 44-year-old Jadhav had a decade-long stint with the underworld. When the Mumbai crime branch arrested him in 2007, he had grown to be one of the most wanted gangsters of his time. Like innumerable youths in the 1990s, a 21-year-old Jadhav had joined Jaidev Reddy*, a notorious don in Mumbai, lured by the glimmer of quick money, the glamour of guns, and gluttony for expensive scotch, and even more expensive bar dancers. An ace extortionist, he enjoyed every luxury that organised crime afforded its proficient patrons around the turn of the 21st century. The indulgences turned him into an alcoholic and drug addict, but he did not mind the addictions. They made his shoot-outs easier.

It was through Jadhav’s story and subsequent interviews with hordes of investigators that I made an acquaintance with the inner workings of the underworld — their organised processes, the money, the blood and the reverence that kept foot soldiers tied to their ‘Bhais’. Jadhav joined the underworld as a hawala funds distributor, and soon grew to be an extortionist and hitman, shouting threats down the barrel of his gun. “Like most underworld henchmen at the time, I revered my don. I hoped to become his ‘Bhiku’, the star extortionist in the 1998 cult film Satya ,” Jadhav, who also assumed the name as his pseudonym in the underworld, says.

Capturing his don’s attention as a tech-literate criminal, running his extortion ring over Skype, Jadhav’s job was to threaten people at gunpoint. On days without hassle he would fire a couple of rounds in his victim’s office, usually shattering a glass pane or damaging other property. On other days, things could get out of hand. However, the law caught up with him in 2007. The Mumbai crime branch landed a tip-off about his whereabouts from a local informant. They arrested him and he was subsequently slapped with four counts of attempted murders, a case under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, and other charges.

After his arrest, Jadhav was reduced to a shadow of his former self, ravaged by alcoholism and drug abuse, which twisted his mind into a near-schizophrenic state. But he argued his own cases, won acquittals, and underwent several de-addiction programmes. Today, the former gunrunner is an ultra-marathoner, having participated in dozens of marathons — including a 2019 run from the Gateway of India, Mumbai, to India Gate, Delhi, and covered nearly 10,000 km. He aims to shatter the national stadium run record.

Jadhav committed his last crime 13 years ago, and now he spends every day trying to rewrite his story with his running. His is a story of grime and grit, of struggle and victory, of believing in the power of self — and I hope it leaves you with something to think about and thank about.

(*Name changed)


Author Puja Changoiwala


Puja Changoiwala is a Mumbai-based journalist and her new book ‘Gangster on the Run’ was published by HarperCollins in September