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‘Studious’ Yakub, ‘temperamental’ Tiger

The childhood and youth of the brothers Memon, from the accounts of friends and relatives.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Updated: July 29, 2015 6:03:43 pm
The Bismillah building in Mahim, where eldest brother Suleman and his mother Hanifa now live. (Source: Express photo by Pradip Das) The Bismillah building in Mahim, where eldest brother Suleman and his mother Hanifa now live. (Source: Express photo by Pradip Das)

Three decades ago, in the close-knit Memon community spread in parts of Dongri, Mahim and Borivali, everyone looked up to the eight-member family on the third floor of the Kadiya Building on Mohammad Ali Road. “In those days, educated Muslims were always acknowledged,” recalls Umar Qadri of Dongri, who was a teenager when the 1993 blasts hit Mumbai.

The six Memon bothers were all “sportsmen”. The eldest, Suleman Memon, was a “carrom champion” and cricket lover. The second, Mushtaq Ibrahim, also called “Tiger”, played cricket and is remembered for being respectful of elders as also for his short temper and guts. Yakub, now 52 and facing execution on July 30, is two years younger to Mushtaq. He is remembered as the most studious and talkative in the family.

Ayub, the next, was “outward and easygoing”, and Yusuf was “shy and reserved”. “He kept to himself,” says a cousin, hinting these were early symptoms of the schizophrenia Yusuf would later be diagnosed with. Essa Anjum is the youngest.

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Mushtaq earned the nickname “Tiger” for his father’s cricketing skills. “His father played in the Mumbai League. He was a fine batsman, swung his bat like a tiger. The name passed on to the son,” smiles Usman Memon, the brothers’ cousin.

Members of the community give varying accounts of how well-off the family used to be. Some say they lived in extreme poverty in the 1970s; a few say they managed a decent living. The Memons lived in a 200-square-foot room at ‘Kadiya Chali’ with the kitchen in one corner of the room.

The five-storey building, since demolished, had 12 matchbox rooms on each floor with a common toilet in the passage. It was inhabited mostly by Konkani Muslims, Memons and Dawoodi Bohras. Father Abdul Razzak, fondly called Rajju Mama, did odd jobs — with relatives and neighbours claiming he worked at Bombay Port Trust briefly, then moved to work in property business. The boys’ mother Hanifa ran the household.

Their childhood was made up of cricket, football and flying kites in the narrow lanes of Dongri. “They went to school, played in the evening, created a lot of ruckus at home,” recalls Zubeida Batliwala, who then lived on the first floor of the Kadiya Building.

She remembers “young, skinny Yakub Memon” always wiping his runny nose with the back of his hand. “Rajju Mama called me his daughter as he had only sons. He used to climb down the stairs and complain, ‘Zubeida dekh kitna hairaan kar rahe hai (Zubeida, see how much they trouble us)’. I had a loud voice and I used to go up and scold the boys. They called me ben (sister).” Her forehead creases and she searches her memory. “They lived in extreme poverty.”

Razzak’s brothers lived in rooms in the same building until it was demolished during the 1980s. The Memon family then moved to Mahim.

After 1985, their finances started to improve, with Tiger Memon’s alleged smuggling business thriving.

Today, the family is scattered with Mushtaq (neighbours avoid the name “Tiger”) and Ayub absconding, Yakub sentenced to death, and Essa and Yusuf jailed in Aurangabad. Suleman lives on the third floor of Bismillah Manzil in Mahim and looks after his mother, now bedridden. “We see him at the mosque. He keeps to himself,” says Anjum Batliwala, who knows the family.

On Suleman’s door, a note urges visitors to have faith in Allah. Another talks about good and bad deeds of people. In the building, through half-opened doors, residents are glued to TV — on the first and second floors, news of Yakub’s death sentence can be seen flashing. In the third-floor flat, the TV is switched off.

College and work

Yakub studied at Antonia D’Souza High School in Byculla and later at Burhani College, as did his elder brothers. All the brothers are graduates. Ghulam Hussain, Yakub’s childhood friend, studied with him. “We did three articleships together. He was two years my senior and helped me clear my M Com,” Hussain says.

As a child, Yakub and Hussain shared an interest in solving mathematical problems. Yakub ate sehri and iftaar at Hussain’s house when they were studying together. “He used to put butter in his tea and drink it, I never understood why,” laughs Hussain.

For cousin Usman, Yakub was “energetic, generous and like a son”. The two are separated by 15 years. “Yakub chose chartered accountancy. He was well respected for his qualifications.”

When the family shifted to Mahim, Yakub opened a firm with two friends, Chaitanya Mehta and Hussain. Additionally, at Hussain’s tuition class, he taught accountancy and mathematics. “Yakub also opened a family trust called Zuleikha. He gave books, uniforms and shoes to students,” Usman says. Hussain recounts how he and Yakub wuld personally visit and verify the houses of students who sought help from the trust.

Yakub married at age 28 in 1990. The bride, Rahin, was in her third year of BSc. Yakub encouraged her to continue studies after marriage. “She went to college and got her degree,” Usman says.

“He was a soft-spoken person. Whenever there was an argument, we used to say, ‘Yakub bhai aake solve karege (Yakub bhai will come and resolve the matter)’,” recounts Hussain. He says that even at Arthur Road Jail, officials would treat Yakub with respect.

On one of his visits to Yakub in jail, the latter reportedly told him, “We have struggled hard to clear CA. I can’t leave all that like this.”

The two had been together even after their marriages. They started a course in lecturership together, though Yakub could not continue.

On March 7, 1993, Hussain had met Yakub. Everything was “normal”. Five days later, 13 explosions in Mumbai would change everything.

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