J Dey: The specialist on encounters, underworld

At 6 feet 3 inches, Jyotirmoy N Dey was hard to miss and yet he could be the most inconspicuous person in a room, speaking sparsely and quietly. With his build and checked shirts, he'd often be mistaken for a policeman. Only, mid-level and senior policemen knew who he was, the man behind the byline "J Dey", who broke many a crime story.

Counted among the handful of journalists with extensive information networks within the underworld, Dey established himself as one of the foremost authorities among reporters on the working of the Mumbai gangsters, writing two books on the subject, Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers in 2010 and earlier, Khallas.

Dey, who worked with Hindustan Lever Ltd till 1994, was also a freelance photojournalist for some time. He joined The Indian Express in 1996, and soon gained access into the Customs Department, and later, into the underworld.

Among those who covered the "encounter killings" in the 1990s, he saw, and reported, first-hand the systematic decimation of Mumbai's underworld. Recently, he repeatedly wrote that the underworld was back in action in Mumbai, in new forms and with new interests in the globalised world.

"His biggest strength was his knack for bridging the gap with the lower-ranking policemen and getting information; he built sources from bottom to top," said S Hussain Zaidi, resident editor of The Asian Age in Mumbai and Dey's contemporary and colleague for many years at The Indian Express.

From 1996 to 2004, Dey was a consistent byline on the pages of The Indian Express, also writing a weekly column on the workings of the underworld, titled "Notes From The Underworld", in which he wrote about dons and their molls, the well-known gangsters as well as the lesser-known goons.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former policeman known as an "encounter specialist" said Dey's reports were so accurate that encounter reviews often depended on his reportage. "From the weapon that was used to the location to the impact of the killing, Dey would get every detail correct. The Special Branch of the police still has some of his reports," he said.

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