He stands tall, his hands behind his back, surveying all that belongs to him. Five feet seven inches of pure muscle and menace. The look says warrior but the name is a grandmother’s term of endearment: Baba Ladla.
His real name is a pious Noor Mohammad but everyone else knows him as one of Lyari’s baddest boys and Rehman aka Dakait’s chief operational commander. He was born in Kalri and went to the government secondary boys school, a far cry from his current occupation.
As I approach him, word spread like a Chinese whisper. Men, women and children draw slightly closer, aware of being within the same radius as one of Karachi’s most-feared men.
He mutters in Balochi to get rid of the crowd, but it doesn’t budge. He draws his pistol and fires a shot in the air.
After exchanging some pleasantries, we start to talk about the police operation. “They opened indiscriminate fire and killed people who were not involved,” he says with disgust. “They misbehaved with the women and broke into our homes and destroyed them.” Perhaps the police thought that by aggravating the residents, they would turn against Lyari’s gangsters.
As incentive, the government announced Rs3 million for Baba Ladla’s arrest. “What would the SSP do if I announced Rs5 million for the person who brought him to me dead or alive?” sneers Baba Ladla while referring to CID SSP Chaudhry Aslam, the chain-smoking nemesis who has made a career out of Lyari.
“Chaudhry Aslam has no idea what can happen to him in five seconds here. If God wills it, then the SSP will no longer be a problem for us.”
Who is the last man standing is anyone’s guess. But suffice it to say that if anything happened to Baba Ladla, there would be no gangs. They say this because Baba Ladla steps up to do the job himself instead of letting his boys take the heat. He is not one to run or hide.
Frustration over finding a job brought Baba Ladla, 32, into the fold of Dakait’s gang. After he passed his class VIII exams in 1990, his uncle Hameed alias Chachu, who was a friend of the late Usman Ghani, a PPP leader, got him a clerical job at a bank on II Chundrigar Road.
“I did that daily wages job for almost two years but was fired,” he says. “Subsequently I applied for the post of a police constable and used to visit the Central Police Office daily for a year as some cops gave me the hope that I would get the job.”
When nothing panned out, hash helped keep the kitchen fires burning. He is the eldest of four brothers, three of who went to jail: Rashid in Karachi, Zahid in Gadani and Zakir in Landhi.
“Since I had joined the drug mafia, confrontation with the police became a regular affair and I was picked up several times,” he says. His father, Ghulam Hussain, who works as a labourer with a major corporation, hasn’t spoken to him for the past 10 years.
The police have registered over 50 murder, attempted murder, extortion and kidnapping cases against him. If you want to find him though, you’ll need his men to help. They will lead you through Gul Mohammad Lane, past the Baba Ladla Mobile Communication Shop and then deeper into the maze to stop near Afshani Gali. Along the way to the final destination of Panjeri Road teenagers turned into men walking around with guns slung over their shoulders. You pick your way over dug-up roads and fallen electricity poles – a war zone that works ironically in favour of the men. No armoured personnel carrier can make it through.
As I prepare to part ways with Baba Ladla, I try my luck and ask him to pull the trigger to show a little marksmanship. He says he will but I should go to the morcha, towards Cheel Chowk, and wait. I march off, giddy with having met the man.
But when I turn around, he has vanished.
WITH WRITING BY TOOBA MASOOD
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2012.