20- 20 VIEW OF 26/ 11
Before I begin this review, I have to admit that I am not a big fan of S Hussain Zaidi. His two previous books, Black Friday and Mafia Queens of Mumbai, started off well, but as you continued, the books became repetitive. However, Zaidi’s last two books, Dongri to Dubai and Headley And I, have convinced me to change my mind.
Headley And I, officially written by Rahul Bhatt and Zaidi, is a gripping account of what happened before the three- day terrorist attack on Mumbai that began on November 26, 2008. It wouldn’t be too presumptuous to assume most of the writing credit should go to Zaidi.
The book revolves around two characters, Rahul Bhatt and David Coleman Headley, and aims to solve the mystery of how these two men from completely different parts of the world came together. Headley And I also answers questions pertaining to the extent of involvement of this duo in the 26/ 11 attacks.
Pakistani- American Headley is believed to have conducted a recce in Mumbai and scouted for the targets of the 26/ 11 attack. He also passed on vital information about these locations to the masterminds of this terror operation in Pakistan. Until his friendship with Headley came to light, Bhatt was best known for being director Mahesh Bhatt’s son and a contestant in the popular reality television show Bigg Boss. Bhatt surfaced on Mumbai police’s radar when his name cropped up in Headley’s emails while Headley was being investigated as a probable suspect behind the attacks. Even though both men have had their fair share of media coverage in both American and Indian media, Headley And I still manages to surprise the reader because of the range of information the book provides about these men as well as the hand- in- glove relationship between terrorist outfit Lashkar- e- Taiba ( LeT) and Pakistani intelligence agency ISI. Using Headley’s statement, Headley And I also details how LeT brainwashes terrorists when preparing them to strike in India.
What makes Headley And I interesting is the manner in which Bhatt and Headley have narrated their stories. Their revelations provide the reader with salacious and riveting details, such as Bhatt’s problematic relationship with his father and how Bhatt’s deep- seated desire to have a father figure in his life made him vulnerable to Headley. In contrast to how Bhatt’s side of the story attempts to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, Headley’s candid account of how he became a double agent and his unabashed hatred for India and Indians is both compulsively readable and chilling. For instance, you can’t help but feel a sense of dread while reading Headley’s description of how lax the city’s security systems are. He points out that there were several, glaring, factual errors in his passports, but these were not noticed by the airport authorities when he came to India for the first time. Had the airport security been more alert and checked his papers properly, Headley would probably not have been able to enter the country.
Although there are some parts that feel repetitive, like those in which Bhatt’s father fixation is reiterated in an attempt to make the reader feel for him, Headley And I is mostly a page- turner. From a journalistic perspective, Headley And I is realistically told, well- informed and insightful. Zaidi has successfully covered the details of the case in the book’s 250- odd pages and provided an overview of the complicated networks at work in India, US and Pakistan that will keep an average reader’s attention. The book also doesn’t mince words when outlining Pakistan’s involvement with and their support of terror outfits that it nurtures by allowing them to operate in Pakistani territories.
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