Mucchad, Engineer, Machmach: Stories Behind Quirky Names Of Mumbai Gangsters

Recently, a special CBI court in Mumbai discharged underworld don Chhota Rajan, from a 1999 murder case due to lack of evidence. The witness upon whom the CBI relied had told the investigators that he heard one hitman say – “Nana se dushmani lene ka nateeja dekh “ (Look at the result of taking up enmity with Nana). The prosecution wasn’t able to establish that “Nana” which the witness referred to was Chhota Rajan. Although a court arrives at a judgement based on the evidence produced before it, it is also a fact that in the underworld gangsters have names which differ from what they are referred to by the police and the media.

Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan, Arun Gawli, Abu Salem and Amar Naik are some names that terrorised Mumbai in the decade of the 90s till the dawn of this century. There was a time when these names appeared on TV and in newspapers daily. But gangs have their own names for their members. Often, names are given based on a gangster’s appearance, his habits, or because of affection.

Dawood Ibrahim, the boss of D-Company, is known as “Mucchad” because of his thick moustache. His confidante Chhota Shakeel’s real name is Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh, but is called Chhota Shakeel because of his short height. Once there were two Shakeels in the D-Company. Interestingly, the other one was also Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh. Since he was over 6 feet tall, the gang called him Lambu Shakeel. With their height-based names, the gang members could distinguish between the two Shakeels during conversations. Lambu Shakeel was deported from Dubai in 2003, and died of a heart ailment in March 2019 in Mumbai. Chhota Shakeel is still absconding and is believed to be in Pakistan’s Karachi.

Dawood’s nemesis, Chhota Rajan’s real name, is Rajan Nikalje. He was referred to as Chhota (Small) because there was another gangster named Bada (Big) Rajan in the Mumbai underworld, who was Rajan Nikalje’s mentor. Although Rajan Nikalje is popularly known as Chhota Rajan, his gang members affectionately call him Nana (Maternal Grandfather). His wife Sujata Nikalje is known as Nani (Maternal Grandmother).

Similarly, underworld don Arun Gawli is referred to as Daddy by his gang members and his wife, Asha Gawli, is called Mummy. Arun Gawli’s brother Kishore, who was killed by the Dawood gang in 1989, was known as “Papa”. Gawli is presently serving a term of life imprisonment for the murder of a municipal corporator.

Another notorious gangster named Amar Naik was known as “Ravan” by his gang members because of his cruel ways of dealing with his enemies and those who refused to pay up after his extortion calls. Amar Naik was killed during an encounter with the police in August 1996. After Amar’s death, his younger brother Ashwin Naik took over the reins of the gang. He was called “Engineer” since he had studied civil engineering.

Underworld don Abu Salem’s real name is Abdul Qaiyum Ansari. Fahim Shaikh of D-company was known as Fahim Machmach because of his talkative nature. In August 2021, he died in Karachi after getting infected by Covid-19. In 2003, Sharad Shetty, a close aide of Dawood Ibrahim killed in Dubai, was known as “Bada Idli”.