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Throwing the cat among the pigeons

This is the sordid story of the drug Mephedrone’s rule over Mumbai and the ‘Baby’ who peddled it.
Last Updated : 03 June 2023, 20:30 IST

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There ain’t anything as big as true crime now. If scriptwriters know it, can authors be unaware? And when the crime in question is as astonishing as this, it does deserve to be told and former crime reporter Srinath Rao tells it well, for the most part.

This is the sordid story of the drug Mephedrone’s rule over Mumbai and the ‘Baby’ who peddled it and peddled it hard; so much so that it became the go-to drug in Mumbai’s pubs, schools and on its streets in the 2010s. With the street name ‘Meow Meow’ (a predictable derivation from M-Cat, the abbreviation researchers gave its chemical name), many considered Mephedrone ‘mild fun’ despite the drug being such a mind-wrecker. Its raging popularity was apparently because it was similar to cocaine but was more bang for your buck.

Rao starts off intriguingly with the origins of the drug from its discovery in 1929 by a French chemist to its journey to Israel where it was initially marketed as “100% natural and without chemicals” to its eventual ban and arrival in Mumbai. From here, he tells us how a seemingly destitute woman Shashikala Patankar or ‘Baby’, as she came to be known later, became a drug dealer, police informant and slumlord, all rolled into one.

The initial chapters are gripping with Rao using his journalistic skills to construct a narrative peopled by corrupt policemen, abusive husbands, greedy children and a woman stoic, calculating and brave. Unfortunately, as we plunge deeper into the story, Rao loses his hold over the proceedings. Too many names and characters, one too many tangents and digressions and a desire to say everything complicates an already messy tale, despite the captivating premise. Nevertheless, Meow Meow is sure to be snatched up by an OTT platform and a seasoned scriptwriter might well be able to trim it to purring perfection.

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Published 03 June 2023, 20:23 IST

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