by Sharmila Ramnani
Lara Malik is found dead in her house on her bed. There are empty strips of sleeping pills and an almost-empty glass of water besides her bed. It appears to be suicide. Being a sudden and unnatural death, Police officer Shilotri is assigned to this case.
Lara leaves behind a husband who is involved in an extra-marital affair and two minor children. Investigations show the possibility that the death is not suicide. So how did Lara die? Was it a cardiac failure? Or was it murder?
Officer Shilotri along with his team headed by Police Inspector Yadav, are on the trail to solve this case. It leads them to discover unpleasant facets of human behaviour and integrity, and finally, their discoveries lead them to the truth.
To find out, read ‘Sleep of Death’ which unfolds Police Officer Shilotri’s investigation and discovery of the murky truth behind Lara’s death.
Lunch was done. Lara decided to rest for a bit. She and her maid, Radha, usually were alone in the apartment during the day as her husband, Vikram, left for work early in the morning and returned late at night and her two children spent the day at school.
Lara was an attractive 30 year old woman. She was fair, had delicate features, golden brown eyes and thick wavy black hair which fell below her shoulders. She was slim and looked good in any kind of clothes. However, her favourite was blue jeans and a shirt. She found them to be comfortable especially while working around the house. Although Lara was educated and had a B.Ed. (Bachelors in Education) degree in teaching, she had chosen to remain home to look after the children. She was not a spendthrift and money was just not that important. Besides, the children’s requirements were comfortably taken care of by Vikram.
The maid, Radha, left for her afternoon break. She would return at tea-time. The kids would be back by 5 pm.
Radha had just turned 18 and had been in employment with Lara for the last five years. She was slim, dark with long hair which she usually oiled liberally and plaited. She had coal black eyes, a longish, straight nose and a thin straight mouth. She had big, white and even teeth, which would qualify for any toothpaste advertisement. She loved wearing garish clothes – salwars with a lot of jhari and long skirts with shiny borders. She always wore silver payals on her ankles. They usually announced her presence as they jingled when she walked. She loved wearing glass bangles of all colours. They jangled when she would fold clothes, wash the vessels, do the dusting and other household work.
Lara had looked after Radha almost like a sister. In spite of Radha not showing any interest in studying, Lara explained to her the need to be educated. She insisted that Radha complete her education up to the tenth grade, which Radha did by attending night school. That happened last year. Now Lara had made Radha take up a course in fashion designing. She knew Radha loved clothes and jewellery, and saw an opportunity for her to work as a clothes designer in future. She wanted to make sure that Radha did not remain a maid for the rest of her life.
Radha closed the door and set off for her meeting with the other maid servants. Every afternoon, all the maid servants working in Hermes Building would get together and gossip about their employers. She took the elevator down from the tenth floor where she worked. She headed for the parking lot and found that her friends had already arrived. She joined them and for the next two hours, they chatted, gossiped and sang the latest Bollywood songs. Occasionally, Tarabai, a maid servant in her fifties, who was the oldest among the lot, tried teaching the younger maids a few ‘truths’ about life. She would pronounce statements of wisdom and explain these statements to the other maid servants with a benign expression. Although the younger lot found her boring, they tolerated her due to her seniority. Today, Tarabai was in her element. When Radha reached, Tarabai was discussing about why a young girl should fast in order to get a ‘good’ husband. The other maids were listening distractedly. When they saw Radha, they cleverly used her arrival as a method of changing the subject.
Muktabai, a young maid servant in her twenties, addressed Radha, “Hey, Radha! Let’s sing some songs. You remember that Kishore Kumar song, chalte, chalte?”
Radha replied enthusiastically, “That’s my favourite song!”
They decided to play antakshari. There were five of them. They made two teams – three in one team and two in the other. They spent the rest of the afternoon singing and laughing.
Promptly at 4 pm, Radha bade farewell to her friends, headed back towards the elevator and pressed the button for the tenth floor. She walked towards flat number 106 and rang the doorbell. The door had a fancy nameplate, which read – Lara & Vikram Malik. She could hear the chimes loud and clear. However, there was no movement from inside. That surprised Radha. Lara usually opened the door promptly. Radha waited for a moment and then rang the bell again. Still no response. She thought that Lara probably was in the bathroom. She waited some more and then rang the bell again. Still no response.
Radha tried to recollect if Lara had told her about going out but she was sure that she had not. She started getting a little worried. She pulled out her cell phone and called Lara’s cell number. It connected. She heard the cell phone ring inside the apartment. Clearly Lara was inside. She never left without her cell phone.
Now Radha started getting worried. What had happened to Lara? Why wasn’t she opening the door? She got an idea. She went to the neighbour’s apartment and rang the bell. Mrs Prema, appearing sleepy, opened the door. Mrs Prema was in her fifties. She was very little, just 5 feet in height, had a narrow frame with hardly any flesh. She had straight hair, which had turned almost completely white. She kept her hair very short, which she found easy to manage; she couldn’t care less about her looks. She always wore loose fitting salwars.
In a gruff voice she asked, “Yes, Radha? What is it?”
“Memsahib, please can you give me the duplicate keys to Lara memsahib’s house? She is not opening the door. I tried calling her on her cell phone but I can hear it ringing inside the apartment. I’ve been waiting outside for the last ten minutes.”
Mrs Prema and Lara always spent some time together every day, chatting about mundane things like problems they faced with the facilities in the building, issues they had maintaining their homes, the children, the neighbours and the like. Mrs Prema, being a widow with no children, always treated Lara like a daughter. Mrs Prema was a Sindhi and cooked delicious Sindhi speciality dishes such as Sindhi Kadhi, Aloo Tikkis and Sai Bhaji. She would often make these exotic dishes for Lara and her children.
Prema knew Radha well and was aware of Lara’s trust in her. Without any hesitation, she replied, “Alright, Radha.”
Mrs Prema went back into her apartment to retrieve the duplicate key.
She returned with the key shortly and said, “Radha, let me come with you.”
“Theek hai, Memsahib.”
She accompanied Radha to the door of apartment 106. Radha slipped the key into the keyhole and turned the key. The door opened.
“Lara, memsahib. Where are you?” called Radha. No response. All was quiet.
The apartment door opened into the living room where there was the television on the right hand centre of the wall, a sofa set (a 3-seater and 2 single seaters) directly opposite the television. The room had large windows directly across the main door and a 4-seater dining table on the extreme right. Immediately near the dining table was the kitchen entrance. The apartment had two bed rooms. The master bedroom, where Lara slept, was to the left hand side of the dining area. The other bedroom, which was used by the kids, was on the right, opposite the master bedroom. Since Lara and her husband, Vikram’s fights, Vikram had been sleeping in the living room sofa-cum-bed. The apartment had two bathrooms. One was directly opposite the dining area, between the two bedrooms, and the other was in the master bedroom.
Radha quickly made her way to the master bedroom. Mrs Prema was following her behind. Radha found the door of the master bedroom slightly ajar. She knocked in deference and said, “Memsahib, can I come in?” She did not receive any response. She turned to look at the bathroom doors and found both the bathrooms unoccupied.
Mrs Prema said aloud, “Lara, are you there?” But she did not receive any answer, too.
Mrs Prema nudged Radha to enter the room. Reluctantly, Radha pushed open the door and peered in. She saw Lara on the bed with her eyes closed. She walked in and nudged Lara’s foot and said, “Wake up, Lara memsahib. It’s already tea time.” Meanwhile, Mrs Prema entered the room and saw Lara, too. She found something disturbing. She quickly reached for Lara’s wrist and felt for her pulse. There was none.
Mrs Prema’s heart started beating faster. She had a shocked look on her face. Radha was still trying to wake Lara. Mrs Prema slowly turned towards Radha and said, “Don’t bother.”
Radha looked at Mrs Prema, “What is wrong?”
Mrs Prema announced to Radha, “Lara is dead.”
Shock registered on Radha’s face. She froze. After a moment, she let out a blood-curling scream. Mrs Prema was more in control of herself. She took hold of Radha’s hand and gently pulled her out of the room.
“Radha, call Vikram… now.”
With trembling hands, Radha pulled out her cell phone from her kurti’s pocket and dialled Vikram’s cell.
“Sahib, she’s dead!” said Radha hysterically into the phone. Mrs Prema stood next to Radha holding her shoulders to steady her.
For a second, Vikram, who was in discussion with some of his colleagues, couldn’t figure out who was on the other end of the phone.
“Radha? What happened?”
“Sahib! Lara Memsahib is dead!” Radha broke down on the phone, sobbing hysterically.
Vikram was a 32 year old MBA working at DNB Bank. He was of medium height, wheat complexion, clean shaven with straight hair cut in a regular fashion. He had a pleasant face. The most attractive feature was his grey-green eyes. He was dressed in a black suit with a green tie. That was his regular attire, which was required in the corporate culture of the bank.
Vikram had joined the bank immediately after completing his MBA from an Ivy League university. He joined as a trainee and for a year, he was made to work sequentially in all the departments. After his confirmation, he was assigned to the marketing department where he initially started as a junior executive. Over the years, his hard work and superior marketing skills pulled a significant amount of business from corporates to the bank. He was promoted to senior executive after which he further rose to head the marketing team. He was able to achieve this in a short period of seven years since joining the bank.
When Radha’s announcement registered in his head, Vikram rushed out of the office and immediately headed for his car.
On reaching Hermes Building, Vikram parked his car on the footpath without thinking and rushed towards the elevator. On reaching the tenth floor, he saw his apartment’s front door open and a few neighbours standing around. Vikram rushed inside without acknowledging anybody and went straight into Lara’s room. On entering the room, he saw Lara lying inert on the bed. His eyes registered disbelief. Vikram saw empty strips of a sleeping pill next to Lara’s bed. He also noted the almost-empty glass of water. He immediately called the children’s school and informed the principal to send the kids to his friend Hemant’s house with Hemant’s son. He requested the principal to simply tell the kids that dad and mom had some work and would pick them up later.
Meanwhile, Mrs Prema had quietly slipped out of the apartment. She returned to her apartment and dialled 100. She heard the phone ring on the other end of the line. After three rings, the phone was answered and a voice said, “Police.”
Mrs Prema quietly said, “There is a death at Hermes Building. Please send the police immediately.” She quickly gave the address and hung up. She then returned to Lara’s apartment.
Police officer Shilotri (addressed as Officer Shilotri), who was in charge of the Colaba Police Station, was sitting at his desk looking out the large window, deep in thought. Shilotri, in his mid thirties, stood tall at six feet. He was well-built which was the result of religiously working out at the gym six days a week. He was clean shaven, had intense brown eyes and a well shaped face with regular features. He was very particular about his appearance, always neatly attired in his uniform, polished shoes and he wore his signature cologne – Brut. Women found him attractive looking especially in his uniform. His presence made their heads turn to give him a second glance when he walked by. However, so far, he had consciously refrained from any commitment because of the huge demands of his job. He had promised himself long ago that he would get married someday. But seeing marriages break up all around him, he had started rethinking his decision. He remembered the famous quote on marriage by Raymond Hull, a Canadian playwright, screenwriter and author who said, “All marriages are happy. It’s the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.” He was presently thinking about the future and his plan to buy his own house (he was residing in the police quarters) when suddenly, his phone rang, making him jump out of his skin.
“Shilotri, there is a death at Hermes Building. Please go across and take over.” It was his boss, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Karkare (addressed as Commissioner Karkare).
Shilotri replaced the receiver on the hook, picked up his cap and cell phone and walked out of his cabin. On his way out, he called, “Yadav, come along. Bring two men. We have a death case to attend to.”
He heard a voice from one of the cabins saying, “Yes, sir. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Shilotri hopped into his jeep and started the ignition. He saw Yadav and two of his men emerging from the police station and getting into Yadav’s jeep which was parked a few yards behind.
On the way, he made a call on his cell phone to Choudhary, his assistant.
“Hello? Choudhary, please find out details about the death in Hermes Building. Give me all the information.”
Within five minutes, his cell phone rang.
“Hello? Yes Choudhary. Okay, okay, okay…”
Shilotri disconnected with a satisfied look on his face. He had found out the address and the names of the family members and the dead person.
He made another call, this time to Executive Magistrate Salaskar, who had the authority to make inquests of cases of deaths which were reported to the Colaba Police Station. As per the rule book, Shilotri had to inform him about any case of death reported to his police station.
On reaching Hermes Building, Shilotri found a crowd collected outside the building compound.
He parked his jeep, got off and turned towards Yadav’s jeep, which was just turning into the compound.
He walked to Yadav’s jeep, which had come to a stop, poked his head into the driver’s window and spoke to Yadav, “Yadav, wait here till I call you.”
Yadav watched his boss turn around and walk into the building. Yadav had been working with Shilotri for the last three years and had deep respect for Shilotri’s intelligence and ability to solve cases. Yadav believed that he had a lot to learn from him. He tried to emulate Shilotri in all ways, including the way Shilotri looked and dressed. Yadav even imitated Shilotri’s gestures and facial expressions. Although Yadav was much shorter than Shilotri, he kept himself clean shaven and dressed neatly like Shilotri. He was dark skinned with black eyes and regular features. If Yadav wore plain clothes, he would easily disappear in a crowd.
Shilotri made his way to the elevators.
He reached the tenth floor and found the door of apartment number 106 open. There were people outside. They all looked shell-shocked.
Shilotri asked for Vikram and approached him. “Hello, Vikram. I’m Police officer Shilotri. I’ve been assigned to this case. Would you be in a position to answer some questions?”
Vikram gave Shilotri a vacant look. Nothing seemed to have registered in his mind. This soon changed to one of surprise. He didn’t seem to expect the police to visit. Perhaps he was wondering who summoned them. Then there was a glimmer of awareness and he replied, “Hello police officer. Please can you give me some time?”
Vikram appeared to be in a daze; Shilotri decided to let the questioning wait.
Shilotri then took his walky-talky and asked his team to come upstairs.
He went to the front door of the apartment and announced to the people outside, “I request you to please disperse. The police need space to conduct investigations.”
Quickly, bystanders, who included servants, neighbours et al, left the apartment quietly. They didn’t want to get involved with the police.
Yadav and his team came upstairs within minutes.
Shilotri issued instructions to Yadav, “Inspect the room thoroughly. Take finger prints and look for all evidence.”
“Yes, sir!” Yadav and his team of two inspectors went into the room with Lara’s dead body. They were required to have two residents of the building present while they conducted their investigation. Mrs Prema, Lara’s neighbour and Mr Shah, a resident living in the apartment directly above Lara’s on the eleventh floor, volunteered.
Meanwhile, Shilotri pulled out his cell phone and made a call to Coopers Hospital.
“Hello. I’m Police officer Shilotri speaking from the Colaba Police Station. There has been a death; we need the body to be sent to your hospital for post mortem. Please can you send an ambulance to Hermes Building, tenth floor, flat number 106, Strand Road right away?”
He received an answer from the other end. “Thank you.” He hung up.
Shilotri turned to Vikram who was sitting in the living room sofa with his head in his hands.
He then summoned Radha who was crying in the kitchen.
When the two of them were in the living room, Shilotri said, “Do not touch anything in the room. This is a police case. We have our investigators inspecting the room for all evidence. Till we don’t prove that it is a suicide and not a murder, you will not be permitted to enter the room. Am a clear?”
The two of them nodded without saying a word.
He then continued, “Vikram, we will need to conduct a post mortem on Lara’s body to find out the cause of death. This is the protocol.” Shilotri then pulled out a sheet of paper from his pocket and thrust it towards Vikram with a pen balanced on the paper. “This form requests you for permission to conduct a post mortem on the body to verify the reason for death.”
Vikram slowly looked up, took the form from Shilotri’s hand and signed it without a word. He knew he had no choice in this matter.
Soon the ambulance could be heard from the open window of the apartment. The helpers came quickly into the flat with a stretcher covered with a white sheet. Shilotri directed them to Lara’s room, “In there.” They entered the room, carefully lifted Lara’s body from the bed and transferred it to the stretcher. One of the helpers handed over some papers to Shilotri, which he quickly signed and returned to the helper. The helper retained one copy and gave the second one back to Shilotri. Quickly they moved out. Soon Vikram heard the ambulance siren, which slowly faded away taking his deceased wife to the hospital.
Shilotri announced, “Mrs Prema, please can you come outside?”
Mrs Prema emerged from Lara’s room where the investigation was in full progress.
She had an apprehensive look on her face. “Yes?”
“Mrs Prema, I’m Police office Shilotri. I understand you called 100 to intimate the police about this death.”
“Yes, officer, I did.”
“Mrs Prema, you will need to assist me in filing a First Information Report for Lara’s death. This is called an FIR in short.”
Mrs Prema appeared to have a questioning look on her face. Shilotri continued, “Just for your information, an FIR is a document that the police prepare on receiving information about a cognizable offence.”
Mrs Prema and Vikram, who was still seated on the sofa, were listening. Mrs Prema asked, “A cognizable offence? What does that mean, officer?”
“In simple words, Mrs Prema, it means an offence where a police officer can arrest a suspect without a warrant. Death is included here.”
Vikram swallowed. Shilotri noticed his throat moving. Then Vikram asked, “What happens then?”
“Once the FIR is prepared, the investigation begins.”
Shilotri turned towards Mrs Prema and asked, “Are you ready Mrs Prema?”
Shilotri reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper and his pen. When he unfolded the paper, Mrs Prema noticed that it was blank. He then placed it on the dining table and asked Mrs Prema, “Mrs Prema, please provide me with your name and address.”
Mrs Prema slowly replied, “Mrs Prema Samtani. Hermes Building, tenth floor, flat number 105, Strand Road, Mumbai 4.”
Shilotri was writing on the paper furiously. Once done, he looked up and said, “Please give me the date, time and location of the death.”
Mrs Prema looked at Shilotri as if he had asked a dumb question. “But officer, you know these details.”
“Mrs Prema, I do but you need to provide me this information as per protocol. Please don’t question me.”
“Sorry, officer. The date is 14 September 2008, the time would be around 4 pm and location is Hermes Building, tenth floor, flat number 106, Strand Road, Mumbai 4.”
Shilotri was scribbling on the paper. Mrs Prema waited for him to finish while Vikram was still seated on the sofa with his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor.
“Good. Now Mrs Prema, please relate the incident as it occurred.”
Mrs Prema took a deep breath and then began, “Officer, at around quarter past four, Radha, Lara’s maid, rang my door bell. When I opened the door, I saw that she looked a little worried. She said that Lara was not opening the door and requested me for the duplicate key, which Lara had given me for safekeeping. I retrieved the duplicate key and accompanied her to open the door. When we opened the door, Radha called to Lara but did not receive an answer. We then went into her room and found her lying in bed. When I checked her pulse, there was none. She was dead.”
Shilotri wrote her statement down meticulously, looking up occasionally to let Mrs Prema know that he was listening. He then asked, “Mrs Prema, can I take Radha as a witness?”
“Yes, officer, you can. In fact, she was the only one present besides me.”
The officer turned to Radha and asked, “Radha, do you confirm what Mrs Prema says?”
The officer then extended the paper towards Mrs Prema and said, “Please sign this, Mrs Prema. This will make the FIR official.”
Mrs Prema took the paper and the pen that Shilotri offered and signed the paper. She then handed it back to him.
At the hospital, Doctor Pande was awaiting the body. Soon he saw the helpers carrying the stretcher to the room adjoining his office. The nurse entered, “Sir, the body has arrived.”
The doctor immediately rose from his seat and entered the room. He saw the body of a fair woman with long, black wavy hair, in a state of stillness. On seeing the face, which had already started turning blue, he knew she was dead. He approached the body and lifted the hand to check the pulse. As he had suspected, there was none. He went back to his office and authorized the issue of the certificate of death.
The next step was the autopsy. The term ‘autopsy’, which is another word for ‘post mortem’ is used more frequently. Doctor Pande, being a pathologist, was qualified to conduct the autopsy himself.
Back in flat 106 at Hermes Building, Police officer Shilotri’s men were busy taking photographs and wiping all the objects for finger prints.
Shilotri took his leave and left the apartment. Before leaving, he suddenly turned around addressing Vikram directly, “Vikram, I want you to come to my office this evening without fail.”
Vikram simply nodded.
“Sahib, what about the kids?” It was Radha. She was still sobbing while speaking to Vikram.
Vikram looked up and suddenly his face changed expression. He seemed to have got some control back. He replied, “Radha, please call Hemant’s house and inform him… request him to keep the kids with him till I can go and get them.”
Radha turned to the phone and made the call.
Vikram rose lethargically, as if in a trance, and called his secretary, Nisha. “Hello, Nisha? M-my wife passed away… thank you… please inform Mr Kamat that I won’t return to office today. Yes, thank you.”
His mind was in a whirl. He then called Radha.
“Radha, please prepare dinner for the children. I’m leaving to fetch them from Hemant’s house. I’ll bring them home.”
“Theek hai, sahib.” Radha was now a little more in control of herself.
Mrs Prema, who was silently sitting, got up and took her leave. “Call me if you need me, Vikram.”
“Thanks Mrs Prema…”
Vikram picked up the car keys and left the apartment. He made his way to the car park and headed towards his white Mercedes. The car was a gift from Lara’s father to him at the time of their marriage twelve years ago. In spite of the years, the car was in excellent condition. Vikram loved it.
Soon he was heading towards Hemant’s home. The kids were waiting from him.
As soon as he reached Hemant’s house at Mahavir Apartments, he saw the children waiting for him in the balcony of Hemant’s apartment on the fifth floor. He parked his car and got out. He waved to them and headed for the elevator. On reaching the fifth floor, he found Hemant’s apartment door open and the kids waiting for him to emerge from the elevator. Hemant was behind the kids looking expectantly. Rishi, Vikram’s ten year old son, was tall, athletic and fair with brown eyes with wavy brown hair. He had taken after Lara in looks. He was calm by nature. He had a questioning look in his eyes. Rupa, Vikram’s six year old daughter, was standing next to Rishi. She looked lost. She was a very emotional child. She had a petite frame with a small face. She had long, straight hair with a fringe on her forehead. She had wheat-coloured complexion, which she had inherited from Vikram. Rupa looked like she was about to cry. Vikram quickly went towards her and hugged her. He then turned to Hemant and shook hands. Hemant had a sympathetic look on his face but he didn’t say anything. Based on Vikram’s instructions, he had not told the children anything. He had simply said that their dad and mom had some work and would fetch them later. While Rupa did not question him, Rishi did. He could not be fooled easily.
“Rishi, please collect your bag and Rupa’s too. Let’s leave.”
Without a word, Rishi went back into the apartment and emerged with their school bags.
“Vikram, do you want something to drink? Some water?” Hemant asked.
“No thanks, Hemant… I’ll talk to you later…”
“Bye… thanks a ton.”
Vikram held Rupa’s hand and Rishi followed. They stepped into the elevator.
Quietly, they descended downstairs.
Once in the car, Rishi, who was sitting behind, asked, “Dad, where’s mom? Isn’t she home? She didn’t tell us that she would be going out…”
Rupa, who was sitting besides Vikram, looked at him expectantly, waiting for his answer.
Vikram had not started the car. Slowly he turned behind towards Rishi, put his hand on Rishi’s head and held Rupa’s hand and said, “Lara is no more…”
There was a shocked silence in the car.
“No more?” Rishi asked.
“She took an overdose of sleeping pills.”
Rupa was crying. She became hysterical. Vikram took her in his arms trying to console her.
Rishi had a look of shock on his face but he didn’t say a word. No tears came from his eyes. Suddenly, he seemed to have shrunk in size.
Vikram took out his cell phone and called Doctor Mehta, their family physician. “Doctor, this is Vikram Malik here. Doctor, it’s an emergency. Please can you come to my apartment right away? Thank you.”
Vikram turned back to Rishi and said, “Rishi, please take Rupa behind with you and hold her.”
Rishi opened the car door, stepped out and came to the front. He opened Rupa’s door and gently took her by the shoulder and guided her to the back seat of the car. Rupa was crying inconsolably.
Vikram quickly drove back home.
When they reached, the doctor was already there. Vikram quickly explained the situation and the doctor gave Rupa a sedative. Rupa was lying on her bed. The sedative had already started working. Radha took out her shoes and put a blanket over her. Within five minutes, Rupa was asleep. Rishi sat besides his sister. His face was expressionless.
Vikram came into the children’s room and spoke to Rishi. “Son, I have to go to the police station. Please look after Rupa. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
Vikram addressed Radha, “Radha, please give the children dinner at 8. You finish dinner, too. Don’t wait for me.”
“Theek hai, sahib.”
Vikram left the apartment for the police station.
Back at the Colaba police station, Shilotri sat at his desk and pulled out a diary. On the cover was written, ‘Investigation Diary – Inspector Shilotri’.
He started flipping pages where there were recordings in his handwriting. He reached a blank page, took out his pen from his shirt pocket and started writing.
Investigation of death of Lara Malik
Date on which death reported: 14 September 2008
Reported time of death: 4 pm
Reached Hermes Building at 5 pm
Found husband Vikram Malik distraught
Maid servant, Radha, had discovered the body
Investigation of reason for death commenced by Inspector Yadav and his team
He looked up from the diary and his eyes turned towards the open window; a thought about death occurring to him. He remembered the famous quote by William Penn, an English philosopher, “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.”
Vikram entered Police officer Shilotri’s office hesitatingly.
“Hello Vikram. Sit down please.”
Shilotri noticed Vikram’s uncertain state and tried to make him comfortable.
“Would you like a glass of water?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Shilotri reached for the water jug standing to his right and a glass. He poured some water in the glass and placed it in front of Vikram.
Vikram took the glass and looked at it hesitantly, perhaps checking if it was clean; then he quickly lifted it up to his mouth and gulped the water down.
Shilotri asked, “Ready?”
Vikram nodded his assent.
“It appears that your wife has committed suicide. Why do you think she would do that?”
“I have no idea…”
Vikram reached for the water jug himself, poured some more water and took a sip.
Shilotri was observing him closely.
“Tell me about your relationship with your wife. Were you two on good terms?”
Vikram looked up startled at the question. “What has that got to do with this?”
Suddenly Shilotri banged the table with his hand and said, “Let me do the questioning. You simply answer. Am I clear?”
Vikram was startled. He realized the gravity of the situation he was in.
Reluctantly he responded, “Lara and I were not on good terms. We had been having differences over the last three years.”
“I… I’m having an affair…” Vikram was distinctly sweating. There was an extended pause.
Shilotri asked, “Who is the other woman?”
“Kajori… I met her two years ago at a business party.”
“What does she do?”
“She has her own business. She is a jewellery designer.”
“Where is she presently?”
“She has gone for a trip to Paris. There is a jewellery show which she is attending.”
“Give me her contact details.”
“Please don’t involve her in this… I beg you.”
Shilotri stared at Vikram for a minute and slowly said, “Do you realize that there is a life that has been lost? Do you realize the implications? And yet you don’t want to involve your girlfriend?”
Vikram’s face was getting red with anger. “Yes! I don’t want to involve her.”
Shilotri suddenly raised his voice saying, “That’s for me to decide. You got that? Now give me the contact details!” He pushed a piece of paper and pen across the table to Vikram.
Hesitantly, Vikram lifted the pen and started writing. Shilotri warned, “You know the implications of giving me incorrect details… imprisonment and a distinct possibility that you are involved with your wife’s death.”
Vikram looked up for a second and then quietly continued writing. Once done, he pushed the paper and pen across the table back to Shilotri.
“Did your wife know about your affair?”
“If she has committed suicide, could this be the reason?”
“No. Lara was aware about Kajori and me since it started. She and I used to have fights initially but she accepted the situation long ago.”
There was a pause. Then Shilotri said, “We will only know if your wife committed suicide or was murdered after the initial investigation results are out. But what do you think? Do you think she committed suicide?”
“Police officer, I really don’t know what to think. At this moment, I can’t even come to terms with the fact that she’s gone. I have the children to think of…”
Shilotri softened his stance towards Vikram and stated, “I understand. Vikram, you can leave now. I’ll get in touch with you after I get reports of the investigation.”
With that Shilotri and Vikram rose, shook hands and Vikram left Shilotri’s office. Before Vikram could exit, Shilotri said, “Vikram, you will not be permitted to leave the city till the completion of the investigation. I will be sending you the written order today. Is that clear?”
Vikram nodded his assent and quietly left walking with his head down.
As soon as Vikram left, Shilotri made a call to his assistant. “Choudhary, prepare and dispatch an order barring Vikram Malik from leaving the city till completion of the investigation of the death of his wife Lara Malik.”
With that, he hung up.
Shilotri opened his investigations diary to the page titled – Investigation of Lara Malik’s death. Below the recordings already made, he further wrote,
- Filed FIR
- Had initial interview with Vikram
- Sent written order barring Vikram from leaving city limits
Shilotri looked up and found a sparrow sitting on the window sill. It was chirping; the sound had so much happiness. He thought of Vikram and his mistress, Kajori, and wondered whether they were happy… what was happiness really? A quote by Albert Camus, a French philosopher came to Shilotri’s mind, “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”
After completing the inspection of Lara’s room, Inspector Yadav and his team brought all the evidence they had collected into the investigation cell. Constable Gore, one of Yadav’s team members, addressed Yadav, “Sir, should I send the hair samples to the lab for DNA?”
Yadav then turned towards constable Mhatre and said, “Mhatre, what is the status of fingerprints?”
“Sir, the work is in progress. I’ll report as soon as it’s done.”
Yadav turned his attention to the chemist bill in front of him. It was a bill for two strips of a sleeping pill and the doctor’s name who had recommended the pill was stated as Doctor Mehta. Fortunately, Doctor Mehta’s telephone number was written. The name of the medical store was ‘Mumbai Chemists’. The address and telephone number of the medical store was available on the bill, too. Yadav promptly announced that he was leaving to visit the medical store.
On reaching the medical store, he walked in and introduced himself to a salesman, “I’m inspector Yadav from the Colaba Police Station. May I speak to the owner of the store?”
The salesman looked distinctly flustered. He requested the inspector to wait and quickly retreated into the interior of the shop.
A minute later, a man wearing a white shirt and black trousers emerged with the salesman.
He approached Yadav and offered his hand, “I’m Mr Pandit.”
Yadav offered his hand too and repeated, “I’m inspector Yadav from the Colaba Police Station. Mr Pandit, there is a death of a Mrs Lara Malik who recently bought two strips of a sleeping pill from your shop. I need to ask you some questions on this.”
Mr Pandit appeared to have heard about the death and no surprise was apparent on his face. With a bland expression he said, “Sure, inspector.”
Yadav asked, “Mr Pandit, did Lara show you the doctor’s prescription for purchasing the sleeping pills?”
“Yes, she did.” Mr Pandit turned towards the salesman and said, “Sunil, the doctor’s prescription is lying on my table. It’s from Doctor Mehta. Please bring it here.”
The salesman, Sunil, promptly turned and walked back into the shop. He emerged shortly with a piece of paper in his hand and handed it over to Mr Pandit. Mr Pandit looked at it for a second and gave it to Yadav.
“May I get a copy of this, please?”
Mr Pandit replied, “Sure.”
Yadav thanked Mr Pandit and with copy in hand, left the medical store. His next destination was Doctor Mehta’s clinic. He got the address from the prescription. It was close to the medical store so Yadav decided to walk to the clinic.
On reaching the clinic, he found Doctor Mehta’s assistant at the desk. There was a seating area which was filled with patients waiting to meet the doctor. Inspector Yadav introduced himself to the assistant and requested her to announce his visit to the doctor. She promptly went inside the doctor’s cabin. She returned almost immediately and said, “The doctor is seeing a patient. He will call you once he’s done.” Yadav sat in the waiting area. Shortly, a man emerged from the doctor’s cabin. He was clearly a patient. Doctor Mehta, bald, fair, clean shaven, slightly built, wearing a white coat and black trousers, followed the patient out. He turned towards Yadav and said, “I’m Doctor Mehta. Please come in.” Yadav rose, shook hands and introduced himself, “I’m Inspector Yadav.” The waiting patients were observing this interaction with curiosity. He then followed the doctor inside.
The doctor gestured towards the chair opposite his desk. “Please have a seat.”
Both the men sat down.
“What can I do for you?”
“Doctor Mehta, I’ve come to speak to you about Lara Malik, one of your patients.”
“What about her?”
“Doctor, are you aware that she expired?”
Shock registered on the doctor’s face. “When? How?”
“Overdose of sleeping pills, doctor.”
Shock turned to an expression of horror on the doctor’s face. He didn’t respond.
Yadav continued, “Doctor, she had taken a prescription for sleeping pills for a fortnight from you. She purchased the pills from Mumbai Chemists and took them all together to her death.”
The doctor was listening.
“Doctor, I wanted to know your opinion of Lara. Why had you recommended sleeping pills to her?”
The doctor took a deep breath and responded, “Inspector, she came to me with the complaint that she had trouble sleeping. So I prescribed sleeping pills for a fortnight after which she was to visit me for a follow up.”
“Doctor, in your opinion, was she depressed?”
“No, not at all. In fact, she was cheerful. I’ve known Lara for many years now. Other than going through a short traumatic phase when her husband started seeing another woman, she has never been down. I knew her well. She used to confide in me…”
“Thank you, doctor. You have given us valuable inputs. Good day.”
“Good day, inspector.”
Yadav left the doctor’s cabin to head straight for the police station.
On reaching the police station, Yadav promptly made a call to the lab to find out when the post mortem report would be ready after which he decided to have his lunch.
While putting the first bite of food in his mouth, Yadav couldn’t help thinking about the proverb by the Roman poet Ovid, “Medicine sometimes snatches away health, sometimes gives it.”
There was a soft knock on his office door.
Yadav entered. “Sir, I have updates on Lara Malik’s death investigation.”
Shilotri asked, “Any finger prints found and matched?”
“No sir, surprisingly there are no fingerprints at all. The entire room, including the glass of water and the empty strips of the tablets have no fingerprints.”
Police officer Shilotri looked at Yadav in surprise.
“No fingerprints? Did you find gloves in the house?”
“Yadav, any idea where the sleeping pills came from?”
“Sir, we met Lara’s doctor who had prescribed the sleeping pills to her for insomnia. The doctor was positive that Lara was not depressed. The doctor gave the prescription ten days ago. As per the prescription, she was to consume just one pill every night. In fact, the prescription was for just a fortnight. Based on this, she should have bought two strips of the tablet containing ten pills each. This would add up to twenty pills.”
Shilotri was listening intently.
“It appears that she didn’t consume a single pill over the past ten days and then consumed all the twenty pills to her death…”
Shilotri nodded his head in agreement and asked, “Yadav, when will the post mortem report be due?”
“Tomorrow evening, sir.”
“Very well. Keep me informed.”
“Also, did you find anything out-of-the-ordinary in the room or in the house?”
“Sir, there is something I did not find.”
“Sir, there was no suicide note.”
After a pause, Shilotri slowly said, “Murder.”
Shilotri looked at the open page of his investigations diary titled ‘Investigation of Lara Malik’s death’. Below the recordings already made, he further wrote,
- Investigations show no finger prints
- Lara was prescribed sleeping pills for a fortnight
- Two strips of 10 pills each were purchased
- All 20 pills were consumed
- No suicide note
- Post mortem report due tomorrow
“Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man’s life.” This was Shilotri’s last thought, a quote by Daniel Webster, an American statesman, before he left for home. Now Shilotri was more convinced than ever that Lara’s death was not suicide.
Doctor Pande started preparations for the autopsy. His aim was to determine the cause of death. He knew this was a forensic autopsy. This kind of autopsy is done when death is sudden, usually in a criminal case. In other words, this autopsy was to be done to find out whether Lara committed suicide or was murdered. He had to do an external as well as an internal examination of the body.
Doctor Pande put on his lab coat, gloves and cap. He entered the lab to start the examination. All the equipment had been kept ready by his assistant. He first picked up the digital camera. He switched it on and took photographs of Lara’s body from all angles. Once done, he started examining the body and clothes for any material such as any residue of any substance, any paint marks, any tear marks on the clothes and other such things. Once done, he took samples of Lara’s hair, nails and other body parts. After this, the doctor undressed the body and examined it for any wounds. He wrote down a complete description of the body in his report. This included the gender, age, hair and eye colour, length of hair, birthmarks and other such things. He then made his assistant clean the body, weigh it and measure it.
The assistant got the body ready and finally placed it on a ‘body block’, which is used for autopsies. The ‘body block’ is placed on the autopsy table and the body is placed on top of it. The arms and legs fall backwards and the trunk is raised upward. This makes it easier for the doctor to cut open the body.
Doctor Pande took hold of a scalpel and made two incisions starting from the tips of both shoulders and ending at the navel. Once the cuts joined, he extended it to the pubic bone. He knew there would be no bleeding because of lack of blood pressure (blood pressure is the result of the functioning of the heart; in case of dead bodies, the heart no longer functions).
He then used a scalpel blade to saw through the ribs. Once this was done, he lifted up the chest plate to examine the heart and lungs. One by one, he started removing the organs for examination. Each organ was examined, weighed and tissue samples were extracted for further testing. Still the doctor found nothing. The next step was the brain autopsy. Doctor Pande made an incision from behind one ear across the crown of the head to the other ear. He then lifted the scalp and examined the brain. Once done, he instructed his assistant to reconstitute his body by sewing up the open parts and he left the room.
He pulled out his gloves, washed his hands and sat down to complete the post mortem report. Was this suicide or murder? Doctor Pande was almost certain about the answer.
The next day, Vikram woke with a splitting headache. He had not slept a wink the previous night. Vikram decided it would be best to send the kids to school to get their minds off the situation.
Vikram got the children ready and dropped them to school.
He then called Kajori to tell her to expect a call from the police. Vikram then made his way to his office. The morning dragged on. Vikram knew that the post mortem report was due in the evening.
At 4 pm, Vikram’s cell phone rang.
“Vikram, this is police officer Shilotri.”
Vikram felt the blood drain from his face.
His secretary, Nisha, who was sitting across his desk taking dictation, was surprised to see Vikram pale.
“The post mortem report is with me. Please come to the station right away.”
Without a word, Vikram disconnected the call.
Vikram promptly rose from his desk and said, “Nisha, I need to leave right away. I’ll complete this letter tomorrow.”
With that, he retrieved his car keys and his cell phone and made his way out of his office.
Shilotri was waiting expectantly for Vikram’s arrival.
Soon, there was a knock on his door.
Vikram walked in.
Without any formalities and rather abruptly, Shilotri said, “Sit down, Vikram.”
Vikram looked expectantly at Shilotri and tried to gauge the outcome of the post mortem report from Shilotri’s face but could not. Shilotri could judge the tension on his face.
“Vikram, the post mortem report states that there was a large amount of consumption of sleeping pills which led to coma and then death. If one only considered this, it would amount to suicide. However, the post mortem has revealed two very strange things – firstly, there are faint marks on the wrists which indicate some amount of force being put to pin the person down. Secondly, there is a bump on the back of the head which indicates that either the person fell on her head before consuming the pills or… someone has deliberated bumped her on the head.”
Vikram was listening intently. He did not comment.
Shilotri continued, “Also, Vikram, there are two other surprising revelations that our investigators found in the room. Firstly, there were no fingerprints in the room – neither on the glass of water nor on the empty tablet strips… nowhere. How did Lara handle the glass and the tablets without leaving her fingerprints? Most importantly, there was no suicide note, which is usually a clear indication of a death being a suicide. Vikram, I am inclined to believe that this is not suicide… but a murder…”
Vikram sat stunned. His expression was blank. There was no response from him.
Shilotri went on, “We are definitely going to get to the bottom of this, I assure you. I advise that if there is just about anything you know or want to say, you’d better do so now…”
Vikram’s reaction was sharp, “Officer, are you threatening me?”
“No, but I’m warning you that we will definitely find the culprit. To us, till that does not happen, everyone’s a suspect.”
With that Shilotri rose indicating the end of the interview.
“We don’t require the body any more. I’ll arrange for it to be sent back to your residence for the funeral.”
Vikram rose, offered a curt thank you to Shilotri and left.
After Vikram left, Shilotri sat down and his face took on a thoughtful look. Soon, there was a light in his eyes. He picked up the phone and asked his assistant, Choudhary, to come in.
When Choudhary entered his office, Shilotri said, “Choudhary, find out whether Lara has left a will, and if she has, find out the name of the lawyer who prepared the will and get a copy of the will.”
Choudhary nodded his assent and left.
Shilotri gathered all the documents pertaining to Lara’s death and sat down to prepare the panchnama. The panchnama, which is the inquest report, needs to cover the history of the case, the investigation report and the post mortem report and finally, officer Shilotri’s opinion based on his investigation and examination. The verdict was ‘murder – to be further investigated’.
Shilotri looked at the open page of his investigations diary titled ‘Investigation of Lara Malik’s death’. Below the recordings already made, he further wrote,
- Received post mortem and investigation reports
- Informed Vikram Malik
- Lara murdered
- Who did it? Why? Money?
- Asked Choudhary to find out about Lara’s will
In Shilotri’s mind, the linkage between money and evil was inevitable. He remembered what the Bible said about money being the root of all evil. But he chose to believe what George Bernard Shaw, the famous Irish playwright said about money, “Lack of money is the root of all evil.”
Constable Choudhary had been assistant to Officer Shilotri for three years now. He hardly ever got any interesting work to do. Most of the time, he was co-ordinating meetings for Shilotri, passing on instructions to Shilotri’s team on his behalf and doing other mundane work. So when Shilotri gave him this assignment, it got him excited. He jumped at it and decided to do his level best. Choudhary wracked his brains on how to get hold of information on Lara’s will. After a considerable amount of thinking, an idea occurred to him. He first made a call to Vikram and asked point blank if he was aware of Lara having made a will. Vikram responded in the negative. He claimed that he was not aware of any of Lara’s legal doings because of their estrangement. Choudhary then asked Vikram which bank Lara banked with. Vikram gave him the name of ‘BNN Bank’ and the bank’s branch address where Lara did her banking. It was very close to Hermes Building where the Maliks lived. Choudhary immediately got on to his motorbike and left the police station for the branch. There being sparse traffic, he reached quickly. He parked his motorbike right outside the entrance of the branch. He took all the liberties possible of being a police constable. His uniform got him respect and permission to do whatever he wanted. He remembered the American politician, Richard J. Daley’s humorous quote, “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” He climbed the front steps and encountered the security guard stationed at the door. The guard respectfully opened the door for Choudhary. Choudhary marched up to the enquiry desk and introduced himself. He then asked for the branch head. The girl, who was a bit frightened to see a cop visiting the bank, ushered him to a chair and offered him tea. He refused. She then quickly walked towards a cabin whose door carried the name plate, ‘Dilip Jha – Head of Branch.’ She pushed open the door and went inside. Within a few minutes, she opened the door and came out along with a well-dressed bald, slightly overweight man in his forties. He came forward and shook hands with Choudhary introducing himself. Choudhary reciprocated.
“What can I do for you, constable?” questioned Dilip Jha.
“Mr Jha, I have come in connection with the case of Lara Malik’s death. I understand she was a customer of your bank.”
Dilip Jha appeared to be aware of Lara’s fate. The media had covered this in the papers over the last few days. In fact, Shilotri had also been interviewed as the media got to know that he was handling the case.
“Yes, she was a customer. What would you like to know?”
“Mr Jha, did she hold a locker in your bank?”
“Constable, please have seat. I’ll just find out for you. I’ll need to check with my manager who handles bank lockers.”
“Thank you Mr Jha.”
Dilip Jha went back into his cabin and came out after a while. Choudhary saw a man walking quickly towards them from the other side of the bank. Dilip Jha waited for him to reach them and then introduced him to Choudhary. “Constable, this is Subodh Mitra, our manager who handles our bank’s lockers.”
Subodh Mitra and Choudhary shook hands. Then Dilip Jha continued, “He will help you with all the information you need.” He then turned to Subodh Mitra and said, “Subodh, please give the constable all the information he requires. Although we need to maintain secrecy about our customers’, where the police are concerned and especially in a death case, we are bound to give all the information required for them to solve the case. Am I clear?”
Subodh, who was listening deferentially replied, “Yes, sir.” With that, Dilip Jha took his leave and returned to his office.
Choudhary turned to Subodh and asked, “Mr Mitra, did Lara Malik hold a bank locker here?”
Subodh promptly replied, “Yes, she did.”
“May I get access to the locker?”
Subodh hesitated for a second and then replied, “Sir, each locker in the bank is locked with two keys – one is a master key retained by the bank and one is the customer’s key. When the customer needs access to the locker, he brings his key along. We then need to insert both the master key as well as the customer’s key to unlock the locker. As per bank regulations, the bank is not permitted to retain a duplicate of the customer’s key.” While speaking, he was pointing towards a locker where Choudhary saw two key holes which corresponded with what Subodh was explaining.
Choudhary then asked, “But what happens if the customer loses his key?”
“He will need to make an application with the bank to break the lock.”
“Then Subodh, please have the lock broken.”
“Sir, I will need a written request from your police station without which if the bank breaks the lock, we will be pulled up by the regulatory authorities.”
“No problem, Subodh.” Choudhary pulled out his cell phone and called Shilotri. Within the next half hour, the request reached the bank by fax. Shilotri knew that Choudhary was on to something important and didn’t question him on the phone. He simply got the letter written, signed it and sent it across.
Subodh took the fax and went into Dilip Jha’s cabin. He emerged a few minutes later with a satisfied look on his face.
“Sir, I’ve already placed a call to the company who handles the locks for our bank to come across to break the lock. They will be here any time now.”
As he was saying this, two men came into the branch and walked straight towards Subodh. Recognition was written on Subodh’s face when he saw them. “Here they are, now.”
Quickly the men broke the lock and left. Subodh opened the locker door and made way for Choudhary to peer in.
There was a silver box which Choudhary took out and placed on the side. Beneath, was a largish document. He took it out and opened it. It was titled, ‘This is the last will and testament of Lara Malik…’ Choudhary was elated. He requested Subodh to give him a copy of the document. Subodh took it and got a copy done from the copy machine in the bank. Choudhary thanked Subodh and Dilip Jha for their co-operation and left the bank.
Choudhary sat on his motorbike and before starting the engine, opened the will out of curiosity. He wanted to know who the beneficiary was. He read the relevant paragraphs. The beneficiaries where Lara’s children and there was a guardian named since the children were minors, whose name was Bryan Almeida. Bryan Almeida? Who was he?
At first Choudhary thought he would simply take the copy of the will to Shilotri and let him decide what was to be done. But on second thought, he realized that if he found out more information, he would possibly be rewarded and promoted by Shilotri. So he decided he would find out about this Bryan Almeida. But how could he do so? Again, he started wracking his grey cells. He then realized how easy it was. He simply had to call Vikram. He did so. “Vikram, this is constable Choudhary speaking. I’m sorry to bother you again. I want to know whether you know who Bryan Almeida is.”
“Yes, I do. Constable, he is my brother in law.”
“Vikram, please give me his address and telephone number.”
“Sure. Please take it down.”
Choudhary pulled out a paper and pen and quickly took down the details.
There was one more thing remaining – the name of the lawyer. Choudhary read the first few paragraphs of the will and found out the name. It was one Rajiv Shetty. Choudhary made a call to one of his lawyer friends to find out Rajiv Shetty’s contact information. Being in the same profession, it was easy for lawyers to find out contacts of their contemporaries. Within the next fifteen minutes Choudhary had Rajiv Shetty’s contact information with himself.
Now he was ready to meet Shilotri.
Shilotri was busy doing some paperwork in his office when there was a quiet knock on his door.
Choudhary entered with an excited look on his face.
“Sir, Lara has indeed left a will. The lawyer who prepared the will on her behalf is one Rajiv Shetty. Here is a copy of the will.”
Shilotri quickly took the copy and started scanning through it. Clearly, Lara had left all her wealth – her money and the flat, which was in her name, to her children. In case of her death before the children attain majority, the assets were to be in the custody of their guardian whom she had named as one Bryan Almeida. Shilotri looked up and said, “Choudhary, find out who is Bryan Almeida.”
Choudhary, with a proud look on his face, said, “Sir, I already did so. He is Lara’s brother. Lara’s surname was Almeida before her marriage.”
Shilotri said, “I want to meet him. Please call him to my office this evening.” He then added, “Well done, Choudhary.” Choudhary left Shilotri’s office with his head held high and a triumphant smile on his face.
Shilotri looked at the open page of his investigations diary titled ‘Investigation of Lara Malik’s death’. Below the recordings already made, he further wrote,
- Obtained copy of Lara’s will
- Beneficiaries are the children
- Guardian is one Bryan Almeida – Lara’s brother
- To meet Bryan Almeida
Shilotri never liked the concept of having to prepare a will. The mere thought of it depressed him. But he knew it was imperative for every individual who had financial responsibilities, on whom loved ones depended, to make a will. It truly helped to avoid fights among family members after the person’s death. This was on Shilotri’s mind when he closed his diary.
At 5 o’clock sharp, Bryan Almeida presented himself to Shilotri. He was tall, fair with thick brown hair cut in a conventional way. His eyes were golden-brown. His overall appearance was that of an attractive man. He was wearing a grey suit with a white shirt and a dark blue tie. It appeared as if he had come from a business meeting.
He entered Shilotri’s office with a confident step and a smile on his face.
He offered his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Bryan Almeida.”
Shilotri rose and shook hands with Bryan, “Hello. I’m Police officer Shilotri. Please have a seat.”
Bryan took off his coat and hung it around the back rest of the chair opposite Shilotri and sat down.
Shilotri said, “I’m sorry to hear about your sister, Bryan. It must have been a shock.”
Bryan did not respond. He simply nodded his head.
Shilotri was looking for signs of discomfort but didn’t find any.
After a pause, Bryan said, “We were very close…”
Shilotri decided to get to the point, “Bryan, we have got a copy of Lara’s will.”
Shilotri noticed a slight widening of Bryan’s eyes when he heard this.
“Bryan, how is it that Lara chose you as the guardian to her children when she has a husband?”
Bryan immediately responded, “Officer, Vikram and she have had differences and were estranged. They did not get along. She did not trust him with her wealth.”
“What made her trust you?”
Bryan’s face betrayed anger for a second but it vanished quickly and he responded, “Lara trusted me. Besides, I’m the only family she had. Our parents died many years ago. We have no other siblings.”
Shilotri was carefully listening and looking for clues. He then asked, “Did Lara approach you to be the guardian or did you suggest this to her?”
Bryan seemed a little taken aback. “Of course she approached me!”
Shilotri was watching Bryan closely. He continued, “Are you the sole signatory for withdrawal and use of the funds left by her for her children?”
Again Bryan’s face registered surprise at the question, “Yes…”
“What happens to the money in case of your demise before the children become adults?”
Bryan looked at Shilotri and answered, “My wife becomes the guardian by default.”
Shilotri was satisfied with Bryan’s answers. What he said made sense. With Vikram estranged, Lara had nobody else to fall back on besides her brother. But something was troubling him. There was something he felt he had missed out on.
Shilotri mentally decided to do a background check on Bryan.
“Thank you for coming, Bryan. You may leave for now. In case I have any more questions, I’ll call you. You will not be permitted to leave the city till completion of the investigation.”
Bryan rose and once again shook hands with Shilotri. “Fine. Thank you, officer.”
Without another word, he turned to leave.
As soon as Bryan left, Shilotri called Choudhary in.
“Choudhary, do a check on Bryan.”
“What sort of check, sir?”
“Whatever you can find out about his business, his money dealings, his financial position and so on.”
After a short pause, Shilotri said, “Choudhary, also find out about the lawyer, Rajiv Shetty, who has drafted Lara’s will.”
Shilotri then turned back to his paperwork. There were a number of cases piled up on his desk – fraud, rape, gang wars, etc. There seemed to be no end to the misdemeanours of man in the world.
- Interviewed Bryan Almeida
- Clean chit to him? Not sure.
- Requested for a background check on him.
Shilotri’s mind turned towards relationships between siblings, and he remembered a quote by Jean Baptiste Legouve, a French poet, “A brother is a friend given by Nature.” He wondered if this applied to Lara and Bryan. The thought made him uneasy.
Choudhary left Shilotri’s office with a spring in his step. He now had a new mission – to find out about Bryan Almeida, Lara’s brother and Rajiv Shetty, Lara’s lawyer. Suddenly he stood still. How would he do this? He decided to first tackle Bryan. His experience had taught him that usually finding out about a person’s financial position was the key to finding out his role in any crime. So he decided to check Bryan’s financial situation first. But how? Bryan lived on Carter Road in Bandra. Choudhary decided to visit all the banks with retail branches on Carter Road to find out if Bryan banked with any of them. His decision was based on the premise that usually a person did his banking with a bank close to his residence. He sat astride his bike and zoomed off. On reaching Carter Road, he found that there were three banks – NTT Bank, Premier Co-operative Bank and New City Bank. The first two banks yielded no results. He hit gold at New City Bank. The manager saw Choudhary’s uniform and identity and revealed the required information. Bryan had an account with the bank. The information he obtained made him quickly call Shilotri.
Inspector Yadav was in the investigation room staring into space with a thoughtful expression on his face when sub-inspector Gore entered. He had a report in his hands, which he was holding as if it were the most precious thing in the world. He addressed Yadav, “Sir, the DNA tests of the hair samples found in Lara’s room has been done. Here is the report.”
Yadav, in excitement, almost snatched the report from Gore’s hands.
The next morning, head inspector Yadav rushed into Shilotri’s cabin and announced, “Sir, we have made an interesting discovery…”
Shilotri appeared to be annoyed at being disturbed rudely but immediately gave his full attention to Yadav.
“Sir, there were a few strands of hair found in Lara’s room, which we had sent to the lab to check for the DNA.”
Shilotri waited because Yadav seemed to have something more to say.
“Sir, we wanted to check if the hair belonged to Lara. So we compared her DNA with that of the hair.”
Shilotri appeared to tense, “And?”
“Sir, it did not match…”
“Yadav, clearly it appears that there was someone in the room with Lara… I suggest you take hair samples of all members of her household and match them for DNA. Do this right away.”
- Hair samples found in Lara’s room are not hers
- Someone else in the room with Lara, who?
- DNA test of other family members to be done for a match with the hair samples
Science fascinated Shilotri. The advances made by science in crime investigation during his lifetime simply took his breath away. While it was true that advancements in science brought their own predicaments, but the benefits far outweighed them. Shilotri remembered a wonderful quote by Ray Bradbury, an American science fiction writer, which has deep implications, “Touch a scientist and you touch a child.”
Shilotri’s phone rang, “Sir, this is Choudhary. I’m calling from New City Bank. Bryan has a bank account here.”
There was a pause on the phone.
Shilotri asked, “What is the balance Choudhary? Any suspicious transactions?”
“Sir, he is deeply overdrawn.”
Shilotri digested this news and then asked, “What do you mean? To what extent?”
“Sir he owes the bank Rs 3.5 crore.”
There was no response from Shilotri. He disconnected the phone without saying a word to Choudhary. He immediately called Yadav and asked him to do a DNA test of Bryan’s and compare the DNA with the hair samples found in Lara’s room.
After an hour, Yadav called stating that Bryan was not to be found. He seemed to have disappeared. His house was locked. Shilotri then tried calling Bryan on his cell but the cell phone had been switched off too.
Shilotri phoned Yadav and asked him to do a manhunt for Bryan. All stations, the airports and the road exits from the city were to be alerted. Bryan’s photo, which had been taken at the time of his visit to the police station, was distributed to these exit points.
Sub-inspector Mhatre, who was the second member of Yadav’s investigation team, had taken Lara’s cell phone from the room at the time of her death. On going through all the SMS and voice messages, he had not found anything suspicious. There were the regular SMS to her children asking them what time they would be home, whether they had eaten, etc. There were no SMS to Vikram. However, there were no voice messages even though the voice call service had been activated. Mhatre thought of contacting the cell phone company to check for any voice messages that may have been stored on their servers.
He contacted the cell phone company and was told that they stored voice messages up to a week old. Mhatre decided to check out what was available with the cell phone company. The cell phone company transferred all the voice messages on a disc and gave them to Mhatre on him producing evidence of his authority.
Mhatre took the disc to the laboratory and slipped it into the CD player. The first message was from Vikram. It was curt simply informing Lara that he would not be returning home that night. No explanations were offered about where he would be. The second message was a woman’s voice (it seemed to be a friend) telling Lara to call to fix a lunch date. The third message was that of a male voice. “Lara, do as I tell you or you know what the consequences will be. This is my last warning.” And the call was disconnected. Mhatre listened to the message again trying to find out whose voice it was. He picked up the phone and asked Shilotri to grant him a quick meeting. He was immediately ushered into Shilotri’s cabin.
Mhatre carried the CD player and the disc with him and made Shilotri listen to the message. There was an expression of recollection on Shilotri’s face. He looked at the assistant and exclaimed, “We’ve got our man!”
Shilotri had a video recorder in his cabin hidden behind a vase of flowers. He quickly walked up to it and pulled out the recorder. He rewound it and found what he was looking for. He pressed the play button.
Bryan’s face appeared and he was saying, “Of course she approached me!”
Shilotri’s voice was heard, “Are you the sole signatory for withdrawal and use of the funds left by her for her children?”
Bryan’s reply, “Yes…”
Shilotri, “What happens to the money in case of your demise before the children become adults?”
Bryan: “My wife becomes the guardian by default.”
There was a sudden light in Mhatre’s eyes. “The message is from Bryan!”
- My suspicions appear to be accurate. It is Bryan who is the culprit.
- He is deeply in debt
- He made a threat call to Lara (voice matches with recordings taken at police station when he was summoned for questioning)
- Have asked for his DNA test with hair samples found in Lara’s room
- He has disappeared. Blocked all exits out of city.
People’s ability to lie so smoothly, just like Bryan had done, never ceased to amaze Shilotri. He recalled the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., “A lie cannot live.”
Shilotri immediately picked up the phone and called the head inspector, “Yadav, any news of Bryan’s whereabouts?”
“Sir, we have got news that he has been spotted at the toll naka on the expressway to Lonavla.”
“Yadav, you have to get him! He is our man! He is Lara’s killer!”
At the toll naka, Yadav’s men used their walky-talkies to contact the next toll naka and gave Bryan’s description to the money collectors there. A squad of policemen was deployed to capture Bryan.
Yadav accompanied the squad. He had seen Bryan during his visit to the police station to meet Shilotri and could recognize him right away.
On reaching the next toll naka, Yadav saw a white Mercedes approaching the naka. Immediately he spotted Bryan at the wheel. Seated next to him was a woman, most probably his wife. Before Yadav could initiate any action, Bryan had spotted the cops. He took a sharp u-turn and sped away from the naka. Yadav quickly pulled out his walky-talky and spoke into it. “He is heading back to your naka. Stay alert!”
He got into his jeep and quickly headed the same way as Bryan’s car. He accelerated to try catching up with Bryan. His jeep’s speedometer showed 100 km/hr. He knew it would be difficult to catch up with the Mercedes.
Suddenly his walky-talky came alive, “Sir, he got away!” He by-passed the toll naka towards the kaccha road. What should we do?”
Yadav said, “I’m on my way. I’ll take up the chase.”
Yadav saw his speedometer inching towards the 110 mark. He picked up his cell phone and made a call while keeping an eye on the road. “Cover the Bhatan Tunnel.”
Mhatre had finished his work at the laboratory and was heading towards the expressway with a police squad. He and his team were about to reach Bhatan Tunnel. He radioed all his team members who were behind him in two jeeps to speed up.
Within ten minutes they had reached the entrance of Bhatan Tunnel. Quickly he and his men jumped off their vehicles and started placing large rocks at the entrance of the tunnel. Meanwhile Yadav had radioed all the nakas to stop traffic from plying on the expressway.
In order to slow down the Mercedes, Yadav ordered the lights in the tunnel to be switched off.
Yadav could now see the Mercedes about 5 kilometres ahead. He knew they would reach Bhatan Tunnel in another five minutes.
He speeded up his jeep. Suddenly the tunnel was visible. It was pitch dark.
He saw the Mercedes swerve slightly and then again correct course and head towards the tunnel. Quickly it disappeared into the tunnel. Yadav reached the tunnel and stopped at the entrance. He knew Mhatre and his squad were at the other end. He could judge that the Mercedes was travelling at a minimum speed of about 120 km/hr.
Suddenly there was a loud bang and the sound of car tires squealing and brakes screeching. Yadav could see sparks and then all was quiet.
Yadav’s walky-talky vibrated. “Yes?”
“Sir, he hit the rocks we placed at the entrance. There is no movement in the car.”
“Is he alone? Is he conscious?”
“No sir, there is another person in the passenger seat. Both are unconscious.”
“Okay, I’ll call for the ambulance.”
Within fifteen minutes, two ambulances along with support police team came rushing to the spot.
The Mercedes had hit the rocks placed at the entrance of the tunnel; the bonnet of the car had been smashed and the windscreen was shattered.
Yadav parked his jeep behind the car and stepped out.
The ambulance helpers quickly got out and started opening the car doors which were jammed. None of the doors would open.
One of Mhatre’s squad team members retrieved a hammer from the jeep and started hitting the glass on the driver’s door to break it down. Once done, one of the helpers put his hand inside the car and unlocked the door and pulled it open. They then pulled out the driver who Yadav immediately recognized to be Bryan. He was dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt. He had a deep gash on his head and there was blood all over his clothes. He was unconscious. The ambulance helpers put him on a stretcher and shifted him into the ambulance.
Then they went back to the car and pulled out the person in the passenger seat. It was a woman dressed in a pair of pants and top. She had her hair cut short. Her arm was hanging down unnaturally and her head was titled in a crooked position. She was unconscious too. The helpers put her on the other stretcher and transferred her into the second ambulance.
Soon the ambulances were speeding towards MG Hospital. On reaching the hospital, both of them were rushed into ICU. Bryan’s wife was declared dead due to serious head injuries and a broken spine. Bryan was lucky. He had suffered minor injuries on his head due to impact with the wind screen glass. The doctors had to immediately operate on him to remove the glass pieces. The glass pieces were not wedged too deeply in the head and Bryan only suffered minor skull fractures.
Yadav pulled out his cell phone and pressed a speed dial number, “Sir, he has been found. We are at MG Hospital. He is in the operation theatre.”
Shilotri replied, “Well done. Take a sample of his hair as soon as you can and send it to our lab right away.”
Yadav approached the doctor in charge and said, “We need a sample of Mr Bryan’s hair. Please can you arrange for this right away?”
The doctor nodded and went into the operation theatre. Within ten minutes, Yadav had Bryan’s hair sample in a plastic bag. He immediately spoke on his walky-talky and summoned his second assistant Kelkar, to come to the ICU section of the hospital.
“Kelkar, take this hair sample to the lab right away.”
‘I’m happy with my achievement,’ Yadav thought to himself with a smile on his face. He knew he was now in a position to ask for a promotion due to his recent success.
The lab assistant took the hair sample from Kelkar, thanking him. Immediately, he went to the testing room and placed the hair sample under the scanner. After a few moments, he lifted his head and had a satisfied look on his face. He picked up the phone and dialled a number.
“Sir, it’s a match.”
Shilotri thanked the lab assistant and hung up. He was now sure about his hypothesis. Bryan was the murderer. His hair sample matched with the hair found on Lara’s body at the time of her death. But how should be prove it conclusively? Suddenly, an idea struck him. He picked up his cell phone and started towards the door. He had a destination to reach… and quickly.
He drove in deep thought. After an hour of driving, he saw the tall white building of MG Hospital. He parked his car and approached the reception. He asked for Bryan’s room. On reaching it, he found Yadav.
“Hello Yadav. Where is the doctor?”
“Hello sir. I’ll get him.”
Yadav rushed into the doctor’s cabin and emerged with him within a minute.
Shilotri immediately introduced himself, “Good morning, Doctor. I’m Police officer Shilotri.”
“Good morning, officer, I’m Doctor Nadkarni.”
Shilotri continued, “Doctor, I understand Bryan has been operated upon. What is his condition?”
“Bryan’s operation was successful. All the glass pieces have been removed. His condition is stable. He should be coming out of anaesthesia very soon now. However, unfortunately, he has lost his wife. She was already dead on reaching the hospital.”
“Doctor, I’m aware of that. I would like to question Bryan as soon as he’s conscious. I’ll wait here. Please call me as soon as he is awake.”
“Sure officer. Can I offer you a cup of tea?”
“That’s very kind of you. Thank you Doctor.”
Shortly, the doctor came out of his cabin and summoned Shilotri into the room where Bryan was resting. Bryan was staring vacantly at the ceiling of the room.
“Hello Bryan. How are you feeling?”
Bryan lifted his head with a start on hearing Shilotri’s voice. He got a shooting pain as a result and promptly dropped his head back on to the pillow.
He gave Shilotri an angry look and didn’t respond.
Shilotri then announced, “Bryan, you are under arrest for the murder of your sister, Lara Malik. You have the right to appoint a consul to defend your case in court.”
Shilotri could see the shock on Bryan’s face.
Shilotri then made a call to the district magistrate to inform him about the arrest. This was done as per protocol.
Bryan quickly recovered his composure and said defiantly, “Officer, you cannot arrest me without a warrant.”
Shilotri quietly responded, “Bryan, death is a cognizable offence where I have the complete right to make an arrest of the suspect without a warrant.”
Bryan tried again. “You cannot keep me in jail, officer. I’ll get bail.”
Shilotri again responded calmly, “No Bryan that is not possible. Being a death case, which is a cognizable offence, your arrest is non-bailable.” He then continued, “You may make one call to your lawyer.” Saying this, he turned around and called out to Yadav, who promptly came in. He was waiting for the summons at the entrance of the room.
“Yadav, please inform the doctor not to give Bryan a discharge card without our permission. Also inform him that we will be taking him into custody once he is released from the hospital. Please station one constable outside the room to ensure that Bryan does not try to escape. Also, allow Bryan one call to his lawyer. Understood?”
Then Shilotri turned around and threw the bombshell at Bryan. “Bryan, your wife is dead. She suffered a traumatic concussion on her head in the accident.”
Bryan looked at Shilotri in shock. His face became white as sheet.
With that, Shilotri left the room.
- Bryan met with accident while leaving town with wife trying to escape.
- Wife dead as a result of accident.
- Bryan arrested without warrant.
- Bryan permitted to call lawyer.
A thought occurred to Shilotri, ‘When a person takes away a life, it means almost nothing to him but when his freedom is taken away, he starts feeling the pain.’ Bryan would now understand the pain.
Back at the police station, Shilotri sat down at his desk. He had an important task in front of him. He had to prepare a report for the magistrate covering the entire investigation of Lara Malik’s death. He picked up a plain sheet of paper and a pen and started writing. He felt a minor sense of irritation about the fact that even in the modern times that we live in the judicial system in our country still didn’t use computers. Writing had become difficult because he was out of practice. That was the bane of computers. Also, it took more time. He kept his diary open where he had recorded events of the case as a reference point. He was aware that he would have to make his diary available to the magistrate for reference. The report took him an hour to prepare. He ended it by stating that being a warrant case (that is, a case relating to an offence punishable with death or life imprisonment), the case would have to be tried in the high court. He finished the report by signing it and putting his full name, designation and the police station he was heading below his signature. He then called Choudhary in and asked him to hand-deliver the report to the magistrate. He also asked Choudhary to follow up with the magistrate to make sure that he filed the report with the high court in order to obtain a date for the hearing.
- Prepared report covering the entire case of Lara Malik’s death
- Filed it with the magistrate
- To follow up with magistrate for filing with high court
- To obtain hearing date from high court
‘A brother has murdered his own sister for money,’ thought Shilotri, ‘what has the world come to?’
“Yadav, well done.” Police officer Shilotri shook hands with the head inspector. They were at Shilotri’s office.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Yadav, did you speak to the Bar Council of India?”
“Yes, sir. Rajiv Shetty’s licence to practice law has been revoked.”
“Good work, Yadav. And what about Bryan?”
“Sir, Bryan is recuperating at MG Hospital. He will be discharged within a few days. I’ve made arrangements to shift him to Kala Chowky jail.”
“Great. Thank you, Yadav. You may go.”
Shilotri left his office and exited from the police station. He was on his way to meet the public prosecutor, Advocate Nikam, who had been appointed by the state for Lara’s case. The public prosecutor’s office was in a shabby building in the fort area near the High Court. Shilotri parked his car in the ‘pay and park’ area and walked to the office. On reaching the office, he was greeted by the public prosecutor who introduced himself. Nikam was a tall, dark man wearing the advocate’s attire of white trousers, white shirt, black coat and a black lapel. He had sharp, intelligent eyes. After the introductions were done, the two of them sat down.
“Would you like some tea, officer?”
Tea and water was served and soon they started discussing the case.
Nikam addressed Shilotri, “Officer, I have gone through your report. I have some questions which will help me understand the case better and build up the case.”
Nikam and Shilotri discussed the case thoroughly from all angles. After nearly two hours, Shilotri took leave, thanking Nikam. “Nikam, if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
“Sure Officer. Good bye.”
Shilotri was sitting in his office thinking about life in general. On his way to office, he had encountered a dog which started following him wagging its tail. ‘How trusting dogs are,’ he thought, ‘But people are so untrustworthy especially where money is concerned. Money puts a person on a pedestal in society and the lack of it makes one simply insignificant. Values, morals and principles are no longer given any importance.’ The phone rang taking him out of his reverie.
“Good morning, officer. This is Nikam here.”
“Good morning, Nikam. Any news?”
“Yes. The date of the hearing has been fixed – 4th October, Monday.”
“Great. Let’s meet before to discuss and prepare. How about this evening at my office?”
“Sure officer. I’ll come over around 5.”
Shilotri hung up with a smile on his face. He was determined to get Bryan the fate he deserved. Even after all these years of being a police officer and experiencing all kinds of crimes being committed, he felt a deep sense of loss in death cases… a life lost for the selfish benefit of one person.
Nikam reached Shilotri’s office at the appointed time. “Hello Officer.”
“Hello Nikam. Please have a seat. Tea, coffee?”
Shilotri called the canteen boy and placed the order for two coffees.
Nikam waited for him to finish and said, “Officer, I’ve found out that Bryan has appointed Advocate Carvalho to defend him. Carvalho has a formidable reputation of winning almost all the cases he takes.”
“Nikam, let’s not worry about that. We need to do our best and make sure justice is served.”
“Yes Officer. I completely agree with you.”
“Officer, there’s another development, which will work in our favour.”
“What is it?”
“Justice Kumar will be overseeing our case. He has a good reputation of being a fair and unbiased judge.”
With that, Shilotri and Nikam discussed the intricacies of how they would conduct the case.
A crowd of spectators had already assembled in courtroom number 3 where Lara Malik’s hearing was to take place. Advocate Nikam and Advocate Carvalho took their seats on the advocates’ benches right in front of the Judge. Shilotri and Yadav were seated directly behind Nikam. Justice Kumar walked into the courtroom which immediately hushed down. The judge was tall, broad-built with a moustache and wheat complexion. He walked towards his seat on the judge’s podium and greeted aloud, “Good morning,” before taking his seat. He had a pleasant voice and a calm demeanour.
He banged his hammer on his table and announced, “We will be hearing case number 302 of death of Lara Malik where the plaintiff is the state and the defendant is Bryan Almeida. The plaintiff and defendant advocates may kindly approach my table.”
Immediately Nikam and Carvalho rose and walked up to the judge’s table. The judge said in a quiet voice, “Good morning, Gentlemen.” Both Nikam and Carvalho responded likewise. Advocate Carvalho was tall, fair with curly hair and a moustache. He was narrowly built. His shrewd eyes radiated with intelligence.
The judge continued, “I want no antics in my courtroom. Both of you should behave like gentlemen. Am I clear?”
“Yes, judge,” both the advocates said in unison.
The judge continued, “Who will give his opening statement first?”
Nikam and Carvalho looked at each other uncertainly. Then Nikam said, “Judge, please decide on our behalf.”
“I will toss a coin. Nikam, you are heads and Carvalho, tails, okay?”
The judge pulled out a coin from his pocket and tossed it. It fell with heads facing upwards. Immediately the judge said, “Nikam, you go first.”
With that both the advocates returned to their seats and the judge announced, “The court will commence proceedings. Advocate Nikam may kindly make his opening statement.”
Nikam rose once again and proceeded towards the judge’s dais and said, “Honourable Judge, I represent the state as plaintiff in the case of the death of Lara Malik. Lara Malik died on 17 September at her residence on her bed leaving behind her two children and husband. There were two empty strips of sleeping pills found next to her bed with an almost-empty glass of water. It appeared at first that Lara had committed suicide. The state would like to prove that it was not so. Lara was murdered in cold blood…”
“Objection, your honour. The plaintiff may not use such strong words without proof.” Advocate Carvalho had risen to the defence.
“Objection sustained.” The judge agreed with him. Nikam felt a slight tingle of disappointment but continued.
“I will reword my statement. The state would like to prove that Lara did not commit suicide and would like to find out the cause of death. Your honour, to do so, I would first like to prove that suicides are normally committed by persons who are going through depression or some other mental disease such as schizophrenia. This was not the case with Lara. I would then like to prove that if Lara did not suffer from any serious health issues which could have led to a sudden death such as a cardiac arrest. Finally, I would prove that if Lara did not commit suicide nor did she die due to a health issue, she was murdered.”
Advocate Carvalho once again rose, “Objection, your honour. I repeat my request to the plaintiff not use such strong words without proof.”
“Objection over-ruled. The plaintiff has to cover the option of death by murder in his argument in this case.”
Nikam smiled with satisfaction and continued, “Your honour, I have concluded my opening statement.” With that, Nikam walked back to his seat and sat down with a sigh of relief.
Justice Kumar then announced, “Advocate Carvalho may kindly make his opening statement.”
Advocate Carvalho rose slowly and reached the judge’s dais. He started, “Your honour, I represent Bryan Almeida as defendant in the case of the death of Lara Malik. Lara’s death has come as a shock to her brother, Bryan. He has always been protective of her…”
“Objection, your honour. Please request the defendant to stick to facts.”
“Sustained. Advocate Carvalho, please restrain from usage of verbal niceties.”
Carvalho had a scowl on his face but he continued in a calm voice, “Your honour, Bryan Almeida is the only living family Lara has left behind since she has no connection with her husband any more. She has made him guardian to her children, which clearly shows her trust in him. Besides, with her death, Bryan has gained nothing… in fact, he has only lost something valuable, his one and only sister. By the evidence, it is clear that Lara committed suicide, which is what I am going to prove. With that, I conclude my opening statement.”
There was a murmur from the audience in the courtroom. Justice Kumar banged his gravel on his table and announced, “Advocate Nikam, you may kindly present your first witness.”
Advocate Nikam rose to his feet and after a brief pause, said, “Your honour, my first witness is Doctor Mehta, MBBS, a well-known and well-respected family physician. Doctor Mehta has been Lara’s physician since she was a child.” With that Doctor Mehta, who was seated in one of the chairs in the courtroom, rose and walked towards the witness stand. He appeared to be calm and confident.
Once he was on the witness stand, Justice Kumar asked Doctor Mehta to take the oath to speak the truth. Doctor Mehta loudly and clearly stated his oath, “I do swear in the name of God that what I shall state shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Once done, Advocate Nikam approached the witness stand and started his questioning. “Doctor Mehta, since how many years have you been practicing as a physician?”
“Since the last 25 years.”
“How many patients do you normally see in a day?”
“How many of your patients have been consulting you consistently over a number of years?”
“Objection your honour.” Advocate Carvalho rose. “The questions are irrelevant and leading nowhere.”
“Advocate Nikam, what do you have to say in your defence?”
“Your honour, these questions are needed to prove Doctor Mehta’s competency in his practice as a physician.”
Advocate Carvalho sat down with a grumpy face.
Advocate Nikam turned to the doctor and said, “Doctor please answer my question.”
The doctor coolly said “Most of my patients have been consulting me consistently for a long time. In fact, during a normal day, the ratio of new patients to existing patients is 10:90. In other words, I see only about ten percent of new patients in a day. The rest are my existing patients.”
“Doctor, where Lara Malik is concerned, since how many years has she been consulting you?”
“I know Lara’s parents since the last 15 years. Lara was first brought to my clinic by her father when she was a teenager.”
“What is your opinion of Lara’s personality?”
“Objection your honour.” Advocate Carvalho rose again. “The doctor is a physician and not a psychiatrist. He is not qualified to judge a patient’s psyche. He can only judge a patient’s physical condition.”
Justice Kumar turned towards Advocate Nikam and said, “What is your rejoinder?”
“Your honour, I agree that Doctor Mehta is a family physician and is practicing as one and not as a psychiatrist. In fact, he too understands that and his response will confirm the same. I request you to kindly let him respond.”
Advocate Carvalho sat down and had a questioning look on his face.
“So doctor, you were saying?”
“Lara has always been a jovial person. In fact, she would usually crack a joke or two whenever she visited me. Her visits were always for minor problems such as a common cold or viral, fever, etc. In fact, the most serious thing she had consulted me for was when she had a bad case of hepatitis. This was before her marriage.”
“So, doctor, when and why did you prescribe sleeping pills for Lara?”
“Last month, Lara visited me with the complaint that she had trouble getting sleep. I checked her blood pressure, pulse and other vitals and found everything to be normal. I noticed that she also looked tired which I guessed was because of lack of sleep. I knew about Lara’s estrangement from her husband. In fact, she used to discuss this with me often especially during the time when she just got to know about his extra-marital affair.”
Vikram, who was in the courtroom, visibly cringed.
The doctor continued, “However, over time, she had completely overcome this issue and had moved on with her life. In fact, she was working with an NGO for children where she helped out as a volunteer. She was enjoying her work and was proud about it. She would always fill me in with the latest outings and happenings that took place at the NGO.”
Advocate Carvalho was listening intently. He appeared to be in deep thought while staring fixedly at the doctor.
The doctor continued, “When Lara told me about her insomnia problem, I decided to get her to consult a psychiatrist to ensure that it was not a psychological problem especially since I knew that she had gone through a traumatic phase due to her separation from her husband. So I got her to consult with Doctor Khanna, a well-known and reputed psychiatrist. She went for a couple of sessions after which Doctor Khanna sent me a report stating that Lara was in good mental health and I could safely recommend sleeping pills to her for a brief period of a fortnight. Based on Doctor Khanna’s recommendation, I gave her the prescription.” Then the doctor turned to the judge and said, “I have submitted Doctor Khanna’s report to Advocate Nikam.”
Advocate Nikam walked back to his desk, took some documents, walked back to Justice Kumar’s dais and handed over the documents to him. He then said, “This is the report received by Doctor Mehta from Doctor Khanna.”
Justice Kumar said, “Advocate Carvalho, you may please approach my table to inspect the document.”
Advocate Carvalho rose and walked up to the dais. He took the report from Justice Kumar and quickly scanned it. Then he returned the report to the Judge.
Advocate Nikam continued, “Your honour, history and medicine have proven that suicides are committed when a person is depressed. In fact, when the depression is intense and the person attempts suicide, he is said to be ‘suicidal’. It is a well-known fact that almost 90 percent of suicide cases are due to depression or other mental conditions.”
“I would like to conclude my assessment of Lara’s mental condition based on my questioning Doctor Mehta, as normal. I now leave the witness for cross-examination by the defendant’s counsel.”
Advocate Nikam walked back to his seat and sat down with a sigh. He suddenly felt exhaustion overwhelm him. He saw Advocate Carvalho rise and walk to the witness stand. For a brief period, he stared at Doctor Mehta and then said, “Doctor Mehta, you have stated that you have been practicing for the last 25 years, am I correct?”
Advocate Carvalho paused dramatically and then said (a little loudly), “Doctor Mehta, is it not true that a patient of yours by the name of Lynette Dubey filed a case against you on the grounds of incorrect medication prescribed by you to her for typhoid?”
Doctor Mehta’s face became a shade paler but he replied in a steady voice, “Yes, that’s true. However…”
“Doctor Mehta, please answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and that’s all. I’m not asking for any explanations.” Advocate Carvalho spoke in a very firm voice.
Doctor Mehta repeated, “Yes.”
“That’s all your honour. The witness is available to the plaintiff for cross examination.”
Carvalho sat down on his seat with a smirk on his face.
Advocate Nikam rose and addressed Doctor Mehta, “Doctor, who won the case of Lynette Dubey?”
“I won the case because her allegation was proven to be fraud.”
Advocate Nikam then turned to the judge and announced, “That’s all your honour.” With that, he quietly went back to his seat.
The judge then announced, “The court is adjourned for the day. We shall meet tomorrow at 10 am sharp.”
Advocate Nikam heaved a sigh of relief. He needed some rest and had to prepare for the next day. He went up to Shilotri and they shook hands. Both of them didn’t exchange a single word. It was not needed. They knew the proceedings had gone in their favour.
Justice Kumar appeared to be refreshed and ready for the day when he entered the courtroom the next day. As per protocol, the people stood up in respect and ‘good morning’ was wished around. Justice Kumar then said, “We will start the session of the case of the death of Lara Malik. Advocate Nikam may kindly start with his first witness for the day.”
Advocate Nikam rose and announced, “I would like to present on the witness box, Mrs Prema, Lara Malik’s neighbour and friend.”
Mrs Prema, who was in the courtroom, approached the witness stand, took the oath and set her face to indicate that she was ready. Advocate Nikam approached the witness stand and asked, “Mrs Prema, for how long do you know Lara Malik?”
“I have been living in Hermes Building for the last 30 years. I got to know Lara as soon as she started residing in Hermes Building after her marriage… that is about 12 years ago.”
“Were you close to Lara?”
“Yes, we were. She had confided in me when she and Vikram, her husband, started having differences. She also told me about Vikram’s girlfriend, Kajori. When it just happened, she was sad but she was an optimist. She got over it and was happy with her life.”
“Mrs Prema, have you ever seen Lara down or depressed other than the time that she went through her separation with her husband?”
“Your witness…” Advocate Nikam, saying this, turned to Advocate Carvalho and then returned to his seat.
Advocate Carvalho rose and slowly walked up to Mrs Prema. He asked, “Mrs Prema, I understand that you are a widow, am I correct?”
“Objection, your honour.” Advocate Nikam rose to his feet. “This question is irrelevant.”
Advocate Carvalho immediately responded without waiting for Justice Kumar to address him. “Your honour, it is relevant. I need to move ahead to prove it.”
“Objection overruled,” Justice Kumar made his declaration.
“Mrs Prema, please answer my question.”
“Yes, I am a widow.”
“I understand that when your husband expired, you went through a phase of depression and wanted to commit suicide?”
“Objection, your honour.” Again Advocate Nikam rose to his feet. “We are discussing about Lara Malik and not about Mrs Prema.”
Justice Kumar answered in irritation, “Advocate Nikam, please let Advocate Carvalho finish his questioning.”
Advocate Carvalho had a smirk on his face. He then turned back to Mrs Prema and said, “Please answer, Mrs Prema.”
Mrs Prema looked shrunken and answered hesitantly, “Yes…”
Advocate Carvalho turned to Justice Kumar and said, “That’s all your honour.”
Advocate Nikam rose and went to the witness stand and, turning to Mrs Prema, asked, “Mrs Prema, since you have gone through depression yourself, do you think you are in a better position to judge someone else experiencing a similar feeling?”
Mrs Prema’s face brightened and she replied, “Yes, I think so…”
“Objection, your honour. The witness is not a doctor. On what grounds is the plaintiff asking her whether she can act as one?”
Advocate Carvalho had a full smile on his face when he sat down.
Advocate Nikam said, “Okay, I’ll re-word my question. Mrs Prema, when you went through the phase of depression, did you speak to a close friend about it?”
“Yes, I did. I confided in a friend, who then insisted that I consult a psychiatrist.”
“Mrs Prema, you say Lara confided in you about her problems with her husband… am I correct?”
“Yes, she did.”
“Did she confide in you about feeling depressed, ever?”
“No, she didn’t.”
Advocate Nikam turned to Justice Kumar and said, “That’s all your honour.”
Justice Kumar then announced, “We will take a short break of fifteen minutes after which we will reassemble for the second session.”
There was a general shuffle of people leaving the courtroom and a solemn murmur of voices. Advocate Nikam turned to Shilotri and the two quietly left court for their break.
Fifteen minutes later, the court reassembled and the session started. Advocate Nikam announced Vikram to the witness stand.
Vikram rose slowly from his chair and self-consciously approached the witness stand. He looked tired but calm. He took the oath and waited for Nikam to start. Nikam turned to him and asked, “Vikram, since how many years have you been married to Lara?”
“How did your marriage progress?”
Vikram hesitated and then replied slowly, “The first few years were good but Lara and I started having our differences after the children were born. This became worse because we could not spend enough time with each other… she was busy looking after the kids and I was busy at work. We started drifting apart…”
Nikam prodded him, “So what happened then?”
“I…I started seeing another woman…”
There was a murmur in the courtroom.
Nikam asked, “When did this happen?”
“About three years back.”
“Did Lara know about it?”
“Initially she didn’t but she got to know…”
“She saw messages on my phone…”
Vikram looked extremely embarrassed.
“How did she react?”
“At first, she became aggressive. She even threatened to divorce and take custody of the kids. But later, we spoke about it and both of us agreed to continue living together under the same roof till the kids grew up.”
“Did Lara at any time bother you or your girl friend?”
Vikram was crimson by now and he hesitatingly said, “Her name is Kajori.”
“No, Lara never tried to contact Kajori nor did she bother me after we had discussed this.”
“Did Lara look depressed to you in the recent past before she expired?”
“Objection, your honour. As I said earlier, the witness is not a doctor and does not have the competency to decide about depression.” Advocate Carvalho looked furious.
“Objection sustained.” Justice Kumar gave his verdict.
“Okay, let me reframe my question,” Nikam continued unflustered. “Did the kids ever tell you that their mother was crying or sad?”
“Did your maid, Radha ever tell you so?”
“That’s all your honour. I leave the witness for cross examination by the defendant’s counsel.”
With that Advocate Nikam went back to his seat.
Advocate Carvalho rose and approached the witness stand. He started, “Vikram, how well did you know Lara?”
“What kind of a question…” Vikram was taken aback.
“Just answer the question.” Advocate Carvalho would not permit Vikram to complete his sentence.
“I knew her very well till we decided to separate.”
“Does that mean you would not be able to judge whether she was depressed in the recent past?”
“Objection, your honour. The counsel is putting words into the witness’ mouth.”
Advocate Carvalho continued, “Do you know what medication Lara was taking?”
“Are you aware whether Lara had seen a psychiatrist?”
“Do you have any idea about her personal health condition?”
“That’s all your honour. The witness is available to the plaintiff’s counsel for cross examination.”
Advocate Nikam rose and immediately questioned Vikram, “Vikram, would you be aware of how depressed people behave?”
“Yes… I guess. They are sad and morose; they cry…”
Advocate Nikam asked further, “Did Lara do any of these things when you were present?”
“That’s all your honour.”
Justice Kumar called the proceedings to a close for the day.
Advocate Nikam and Shilotri met briefly to discuss the progress. “What do you think?” Shilotri questioned Nikam.
“I am confident that our contention that Lara was not depressed will hold water with the judge.”
“Good. Now what?”
“Now is the critical part,” Nikam responded, “I need to put my case convincingly that Lara was murdered.”
Justice Kumar announced commencement of court proceedings a few minutes earlier than scheduled. He knew that today would be an important day in this case.
Advocate Nikam announced his next witness, Doctor Pande. Doctor Pande was experienced in being witness to a number of cases since he had been doing post mortems for a number of years. He was a fair, portly man with a bald pate and a round clean-shaven face.
After Doctor Pande had taken his oath, Nikam started his questioning. “Doctor Pande, I understand you are authorized by the police force to conduct post mortems in case of reported deaths?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Doctor Pande, have you done the post mortem in the case of Lara Malik’s death?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Please can you discuss your inference?”
Doctor Pande took a deep breath and started, “As per the post mortem rules, I did an external as well as internal examination of the body. In case of the external examination, I looked out for any marks, scars, etc. I found that Lara’s right hand’s wrist had marks, which indicates that someone had held her down or tied her up.”
There was a commotion in the courtroom on hearing this statement. Justice Kumar banged his gravel on the table and said, “The court may please remain quiet. I need some discipline for the proceedings to continue.”
Immediately, people hushed up and the doctor continued. “Lara’s internal examination showed that all organs were normal. In other words, none were diseased. Overall Lara was in good health at the time of her death. The examination of her brain showed that the excessive intake of the sleeping pills had resulted in an arrest to her respiratory system resulting in brain haemorrhage.”
Advocate Nikam, who appeared to be listening intently then asked, “Anything else, Doctor Pande?”
“Yes. What was most disquieting was that on the back of Lara’s head, there was a bump, which indicates that either she had fallen on her head or someone had hit her on her head.”
Again there was an uproar in court. Justice Kumar loudly banged his gravel and exclaimed, “Quiet please.”
When people calmed down, he addressed Advocate Nikam, “Please continue.”
“Anything else Doctor Pande?”
“No, that’s all.”
“Your witness,” said Advocate Nikam addressing Advocate Carvalho.
Advocate Carvalho looked distinctly pale but got up and purposefully strode towards the witness stand.
Advocate Carvalho looked at Doctor Pande and said, “Doctor Pande, am I correct when I state that you have been pulled up by the police authorities in an earlier case for incorrect post mortem results?”
“Doctor Pande, please answer without giving an explanations.”
Doctor Pande repeated hesitantly, “Yes.”
“When did this happen, Doctor Pande?”
“A few months back.”
“Can I state that you could also have made errors in Lara Malik’s case?”
“Objection, your honour. The counsel is putting words in the witness’ mouth.” Advocate Nikam looked upset.
Advocate Carvalho rephrased his question. “What is the average percentage of errors that could arise in post mortem analysis, Doctor?”
“About 50 percent.”
“That’s all your honour. Your witness.” Saying this Advocate Carvalho returned to his seat.
Advocate Nikam rose and quickly walked up to the witness stand and asked, “Doctor Pande, what was the outcome of the case where it was alleged that you have given an erroneous post mortem report?”
“The defendant had used some goons to replace the post mortem report that I had submitted with another one.”
Advocate Nikam deliberately turned to Advocate Carvalho and Justice Kumar as if to say, ‘I told you so.’
He turned back to Doctor Pande and said, “Doctor, in your years of practice as a post mortem specialist, what has been your success rate?”
“About 90 percent.”
“That’s all your honour.” Advocate Nikam returned to his seat.
Justice Kumar announced a break.
When the court resumed after the break, Advocate Nikam announced Inspector Yadav to come to the witness stand.
Advocate Nikam questioned Yadav, “Inspector Yadav, you are heading the investigation of the Lara Malik murder case, correct?”
“What did your investigation reveal?”
“Based on the initial investigation, it appeared that Lara Malik had consumed sleeping pills and committed suicide. We took for testing the strips of sleeping pills and the glass of water which was placed next to it, which appeared to have been used by Lara to consume the pills. We expected to find Lara’s fingerprints on the strips and the glass but were surprised to find that there were no fingerprints at all…”
Advocate Nikam deliberately stated, “No finger prints?”
“What else, Inspector Yadav?”
“We also did not find any suicide note.”
“What else, Inspector Yadav?”
“We also found that Lara had left a will bequeathing all her wealth to her two children. Since her children are minors, she had appointed her brother, Bryan Almeida as the guardian to her children. In case of her death before they attained majority, he would be responsible for managing the wealth and using it for the children till they attain majority.”
Advocate Nikam went to his desk, picked up a copy of Lara’s will and handed it over to Justice Kumar who then summoned Advocate Carvalho to inspect the copy.
Advocate Nikam then continued, “And?”
“We did a check on Bryan Almeida’s financial status to check whether he would use this as an opportunity to filch Lara’s money.”
“What did you discover?”
“We found Bryan to be deeply in debt…”
“Objection your honour. Bryan’s financial status has nothing to do with Lara’s death.” Advocate Carvalho was standing stiffly with a deep frown on his face.
Advocate Nikam immediately gave a rejoinder, “It does, your honour. Please permit me to continue my examination in order to reveal the connection.”
Advocate Carvalho sat down in defeat.
“Please continue, Inspector Yadav.”
“As I was saying, we found Bryan deeply in debt. He owes his bank Rs 3.5 crore.”
“What else, Inspector Yadav?”
“The lawyer who has drafted Lara’s will is Bryan Almeida’s brother in law, that is, his wife’s brother.”
The court once again erupted.
Justice Kumar banged his gravel and announced, “The court will be adjourned till tomorrow.”
The next day, Inspector Yadav was called again to the witness stand. Advocate Nikam commenced, “As we were saying yesterday, Inspector Yadav, you found out that Bryan Almeida’s brother in law had drafted Lara’s will, correct?”
“Inspector Yadav, is there anything else you found in the room where Lara was found dead?”
“Yes, sir. We found some strands of hair.”
“Did you have them tested?”
“What did you find?”
“We first checked whether the strands of hair belonged to Lara. But the DNA of the strands did not match Lara’s.”
“Does that indicate that the strands of hair belonged to someone else?”
“What did you do next?”
“We obtained DNA samples of the other members of Lara’s family – her husband and her children – and of her maid, Radha.”
“What did you find?”
“The DNA of the hair samples did not match those of any of the family members or Radha, the maid.”
“What did you do next?”
“We managed to obtain DNA samples of Lara’s brother, Bryan.”
“It was a match.”
There was a tremendous uproar in the courtroom.
“What does that mean, Inspector Yadav?”
“It’s obvious… Lara’s brother, Bryan, had been present in the room…”
“That’s all your honour. Your witness.” Advocate Nikam addressed Advocate Carvalho and returned to his seat.
Advocate Carvalho looked defeated. He simply rose and said, “No questions, your honour.”
Justice Kumar adjourned the court to the next day.
Advocate Nikam announced that he would like to play a sound clip in court. Justice Kumar permitted the same. Advocate Nikam played Bryan’s voice message on Lara’s cell phone and then played the sound clip recording Shilotri had obtained when Bryan had visited the police station for interrogation. After the voice recordings were played, Advocate Nikam announced, “The voice on the cell phone warning Lara of dire consequences, is the same as that of Bryan Almeida which is obvious from the match of his voice during interrogation at the police station.”
There was pin-drop silence in the courtroom.
Advocate Nikam then turned to Justice Kumar and announced, “I would now like to call Bryan Almeida to the witness stand.”
Bryan, who was in hand cuffs and was surrounded by cops, was seated in a corner seat. The cops urged him up and accompanied him to the witness stand. Bryan looked haggard and unkempt. His beard had grown because he did not have the facility to shave in prison. He was wearing the prison uniform. When he reached the witness stand, he was made to take the oath. Then Advocate Nikam turned towards him and said, “Bryan, why did you threaten Lara?”
Bryan said, “I didn’t threaten her.”
“Then what was the voice mail all about?”
“That wasn’t my voice.”
“Bryan, you have taken the oath to speak the truth in court.”
“I am telling the truth.” Bryan was getting agitated.
“Bryan, how come strands of your hair were in Lara’s room?”
“I don’t know.”
“Bryan, did you love your sister Lara?”
Bryan broke down and screamed, I hated her, I hated her… She took away all of papa’s money. She always scored over me with papa’s affection.” He was hyper-ventilating. “Yes, I killed her. I killed that bitch.” Saying that, he collapsed to the floor and fainted. The police constables quickly picked him up and took him out of the courtroom.
Advocate Nikam said a silent prayer of thanks. Advocate Carvalho put his head down on his desk. Shilotri had a smile on his face. Justice would be served. He remembered the wonderful quotation by Lois McMaster Bujold, an American science fiction author, “The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them.”
Justice Kumar announced his verdict in the court the next morning. Bryan Almeida was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Tihar Jail and was charged a fine of Rs 1 lakh. Bryan, who was made to attend court accompanied by constables, fainted on hearing the verdict.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Karkare awarded Inspector Shilotri and his team for the closure.
Shilotri, Yadav, Nikam, Mhatre, Choudhary and Kelkar celebrated with an elaborate dinner and drinks, which was sponsored by Shilotri. Shilotri raised his drink and said, “Cheers. Here’s to life.”
Radha left apartment 106 for her afternoon siesta. She quietly closed the door of the apartment and headed towards the parking lot to spend time with the other servants who worked in Hermes Building. At 4 pm, she promptly got up and went towards the elevator. She pressed the button for the tenth floor. The elevator doors opened and Radha emerged. She walked up to the door of apartment 106 and rang the bell. She could hear the bell chimes within.
The door opened. A beautiful lady opened the door and saw it was Radha. Radha said, “Kajori memsahib, should I make tea?”
“Yes, please, Radha.” Kajori opened the door wider to let Radha in.
“Theek hai, memsahib.”
“The kids will be back by five. Prepare some French fries for them.”
All is well…
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