In the early 1990s, Penguin India asked me and a friend with underworld contacts to write a book on the history of the mafia in Bombay. In my naivete, I thought it was a project that could be done easily. Having done a few stories on the mob and its colourful and violent ways, I thought all I would have to do was string together some facts. In any case, the first part—from the 1900s to 1960—was part of press and police record. But when it came to more recent times, I ran into turbulence. I was told that to write a book, I would have to do more than work the telephone (which is what one did for newspaper stories). In fact, I would actually have to spend time with informants and interview the bhais to add pep to the book. And that, I was told, could involve running the risk of being arrested by the police for having underworld links. As a safeguard, I was told to get a letter from a senior police officer that I was on an assignment for a leading publishing house.
So, armed with a letter from David Davidar—then editor of Penguin—I set up an appointment with a top cop. He was not exactly cooperative. “Mr Pillai,” he said, “the Bombay police has not commissioned you to write this book. So why should we give you any letter, protection or guarantee you immunity from the law? If you get caught, you get caught. Consider it an occupational hazard.” I left the police headquarters and mulled over what I was told over a glass of beer. The long and short of it was that the book never happened. In fact, I had forgotten all about the incident, the memory was only revived after I read about the arrest of journalist Jigna Vora in the J. Dey murder case.