Sudhir Venkatesh is honest about the moral ambiguity of using mafia leader JT for information by letting him believe Sudhir is writing his biography Of witnessing questionable deals, shoot-outs or beatings. And the guilt of knowing he has moved on, while they (Stool Pigeon, C-Note, JT, Ms Bailey) are either struggling, in jail or dead.
"Black Americans are 'Americans', not pathological, not outside the bounds of civil society. They've been discriminated against for 400 years. You can't expect that legacy to simply be turned over in a few years. Sort of like the Dalits," he explains.
Is he an Obama fan? "I'm a fan of the NY Yankees baseball team," he counters. "I don't think Obama has experience, though he's one of the most intelligent, charismatic men I've ever met." How has gang politics changed over the years?
"Gangs around the world have become economic. Once they were made up of bored adolescents seeking rebellion. Today they are organised criminal entities. It says something about the losers in globalisation." Sudhir was once a rabid Grateful Dead fan.
Then one day his girlfriend told him it was either them or her. He chose her. His wardrobe went through dramatic phases, too. Back when he was known as "the India guy who hangs around gangs", Sudhir sported a ponytail. Tie&-dye t-shirts. By the end-90s, he was into suits.
These days, he poses for book jackets in black leather jackets. Politics brings out Sudhir's inner snark. "I grew up in Southern California with members of the American Republican Party So I had a lot of experience with organised crime." Did he like Maximum City's take on Mumbai's crime and real estate?
"Mehta's book is staggering in its simplicity and emotional honesty. One only writes one such book in a lifetime. I'm hoping he's reincarnated." What about films on the Mumbai mafia like
"There's only one thing I dislike more than the usual Bollywood fare. Rap music. I'd love to research the Bombay mafia. But they won't return my calls!" Not to worry His 15-year fixation with innercity ghettos and bodybags is at an end. Prostitutes have embraced his next project with open arms.
"My next book is about the rise of the New York sex trade. It's a personal services industry for the rich. You get a prostitute and a yoga trainer with one phone call." The missionary position, I suddenly recall, is uncannily like the Savasana, the yogic corpse pose.
Nandini Lal is a journalist based in Washington DC