V.S. Naipaul and the Hindu gangsters of Bombay

Naipaul had concluded, or had been told, that the mafia in the city was made up of Muslims and Muslims alone… Mr Naipaul kept thinking I had brought him to meet a Muslim gang’: Extracted from Ajit Pillai’s book, Off the Record

NaipaulFacilitating a meeting for a celebrated writer like V.S. Naipaul with members of the Bombay mafia is not exactly a journalistic assignment. Some may consider it a welcome spin-off that comes with covering crime. Others would think of it as an evening wasted with a VIP friend or acquaintance of the editor. With so much interest in Bombay’s dark underbelly in the 80s, it was not unusual for writers and foreign journalists to drop anchor in the city and look for low-life correspondents to take them on a tour of the red-light district, introduce them to massage parlour owners, pushers, drug addicts and the underworld.

In the late 80s, I was with the Indian Post, a lively daily which quickly evaporated from public memory—Google reveals little about the paper and mistakes it for the Indian Postal Service! On one business-as-usual morning, my editor Vinod Mehta asked me to call V.S. Naipaul (he had not been knighted yet or awarded the Nobel Prize) who was put up at the Taj. As a young reporter, I was naturally overwhelmed. A chance to meet a writer of Mr Naipaul’s stature was a big occasion. I had heard much about him and even read A House for Mr Biswas, a dog-eared copy of which I had picked up from one of the many second-hand book stalls that lined the pavements near Flora Fountain.

I promptly called him and was told that he was researching for a book on India and I had to help by organizing a meeting between him and members of the underworld. Rather excited, I worked the phone and by lunch had fixed a rendezvous in the evening at a safe house in an upscale residential area near Shivaji Park in Dadar. I was supposed to meet Mr Naipaul in the lobby of the Taj. ‘Please don’t come up to my room. Call me from the reception and I will come down,’ he instructed me when I called him to confirm the appointment.

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