Badhwar Park was quiet that night. Located near the southern tip of Mumbai, this area was home to several offices. It was abuzz with people during the working hours but as the day receded, the activity diminished, the place plunged into darkness and bore a deserted look.
Prakash made his way through the clutch of hutments. Prakash was returning home after a hard day of work. Prakash normally started his day as a fisherman. He would get up at 3 AM in the morning. He would sail in his small boat in the South Mumbai waters and return with a big catch of fish. He would then proceed to the nearby fish market and sell his catch to the fish retailers for a handsome price. By the afternoon hours, he would transition from a fisherman to a "pani puri" vendor. Prakash had a small stall of pani puri near the shores. His customers included all the office people who were returning from work and stopped by to calm their hungry stomachs. By 9 in the evening, Prakash would wind up his stall.
Prakash now entered the lane that took him to his house. He knew that his wife Supriya would be waiting for him. As he approached the house, he noticed that the house was dark. "What was Supriya doing in such darkness?" he wondered to himself. "Or was Supriya at home, at all? If she wasn't, where had she gone at this hour?" Prakash now arrived at the door and found that it was locked from inside. When Supriya went outside, she normally locked the door from outside. He rang the doorbell. Supriya did not answer. He waited for a few minutes but there was no answer. He rang the doorbell once again. Yet Supriya did not answer. "Supriya must be sleeping" he wondered."I should wake her up". He then banged on the door and yelled out her name for almost a minute. Yet there was no answer.
By now, Prakash was worried. His banging had attracted the attention of the people from neighboring houses. Some came up to him. One of them asked "Prakash, what is the matter?" Prakash replied "Supriya is not opening the door. I have been calling her name for last few minutes." Prakash banged on the door for another couple of times. A second man came up and said "Prakash, let's break upon the door". Prakash accepted the suggestion and stepped aside. All people stepped back by around five footsteps. This second gentleman prepared himself to force open the door. He was tall and burly with a good physique. He took a deep breath, walked back a step and came forward with force, lifting his right leg and hitting hard on the middle of the door. The door which was made of a thin layer of wood, easily gave away.
It was dark inside the room. At first, no one could see anything. As few seconds passed by, eyes got used to the darkness in the room. Prakash was able to make out the outline of the furniture, table and bed in the room. All of them were at their place except a small table. It was lying upside down in the middle of the room. Prakash fixed his look on the table and then looked up. He could see the outline of a human figure in the air. He scrambled to his left, reached out for the wall and to the switches. He pushed the switch and turned on the light.
He now saw what his mind had told him but his heart had refused to accept. His beloved wife was hanging by the ceiling fan. He was frozen. People, who accompanied him, loosened the cloth knot on the ceiling fan and slowly removed the body, laying it on the ground. A third gentleman put his fingers outside her nostrils. He could not feel any movement of air. "Prakash, she is no more" he said. Another gentleman called him "Prakash, there is a note." The gentleman walked over & handed him the note. Prakash opened the note with trembling hands. The note read:
"Life has been unfair to me. It has not given me what every lady yearns for. I am very depressed. I have borne this situation for many years but cannot do so any more. I am ending my life. No one should be held responsible."
An hour later, I walked into the room. The body had been kept on the ground. One constable was taking pictures of the body. One was checking the fingerprints. Yet another constable was looking around the house to see if there were any clues that could help us. Aditi was supervising the process.
"Aditi, what happened?"
"Sir, the lady is no more."
"How did it happen?"
"Sir, according to the eye witnesses, Prakash, the lady's husband, came home after work. He knocked on the door but received no answer. Hence he along with few others broke open the door & found her hanging from the ceiling fan"
"Did you discover a suicide note?"
"Yes sir, the lady has indicated that she was childless and hence she was upset and depressed"
"Send the body for post mortem examination"
"We have examined the house. There is no loss of valuables. The money and the jewelry in the cupboard are intact. Supriya was wearing few gold ornaments and they are untouched"
"Hmmm, it therefore does not seem to be case of burglary"
I turned over to Prakash. He was sitting on the ground near the body. He had pulled up his legs close to his heart and was staring at the body. He seemed to be grief stricken. I walked up to him.
"Prakash, ACP Savyasachi. I understand your grief but I have to ask you a few questions"
Prakash wiped his tears and said "Yes sir, please go ahead"
"You discovered the body"
"Yes sir, I came from work. I knocked on the door and called out her name. When she did not answer, I forced opened the door. I found her hanging"
"When was the last time you saw her alive?"
"In the afternoon"
"Did she tell you anything or did you feel anything odd about her behavior?"
"What did you do after that?"
"Sir, I went to the nearby chowk and started making preparations for the panipuri stall. I normally commence the stall by 4 in the afternoon"
"Were both of you leading a happy married life?"
"Yes sir. We were earning very well and happy with each other. We loved each other dearly"
"How many children do you have?"
"Your wife, in the note, says that she was depressed"
"We did not have kids even after 15 years of marriage. We did not consult a doctor because we felt that if the deficiency was identified with any of us, it would ruin our marriage."
"You suspect your wife could have had a relationship outside marriage"
For the first time, he looked at us and stared indignantly. "No sir, the chances are second to none"
I got up and walked around. There was nothing much I could do here. I went up to Aditi.
"Aditi, once you have the post mortem examination report, meet me in the office. Send the note to a handwriting expert and have it checked to confirm that the handwriting is that of the deceased lady. Also please speak to couple of people here and see if you can find anything about this couple"
"What do you think sir?"
"From whatever, I have seen right now, it seems to be an open and shut case of suicide"
Next morning, I was in my office. The day was a bit cooler than the previous one. It was about ten in the morning when Aditi walked in my office.
"Good morning, Sir"
"Good Morning, Aditi"
"Sir, the autopsy report has come. According to the report, the victim died due to asphyxiation. It says that there was constriction of blood vessels, leading to insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain."
"What does it say about the neck or the spinal cord?"
"There is damage to the spinal cord. However it is not severe"
"That is understandable. The fall that the victim took was about 2 feet. For the spinal cord to sustain severe damage, the fall has to be greater than 4-5 feet. If the fall is even greater, then the cord can break"
"That means that lady did hang herself. She was not manually strangulated & then tied to the rope"
"Usually, the injury to the spinal cord is the defining factor. However there is no way to determine if the hanging was by conceit"
"What is the time of the death?"
"The report says that death must have occurred between 1 and 2 PM"
"That virtually closes the case, isn't it?"
"Yes, I guess so"
"Has the handwriting report come?"
"It confirms that the handwriting is that of the deceased lady"
"Did you speak to the ladies in the vicinity?"
"Yes Sir. This lady attended a mini social club. In Marathi, we refer to it as "Bishi". They meet every month and contribute a certain amount. This amount is pooled together. A lucky draw is then taken out and the person who wins takes the amount home. The person's name is then removed from the draw. Apart from this game aspect, this is an occasion to get together and gossip."
I looked at her for some time and said "I know. My mom has been a member of one such club for the last 25 years. I have tried very hard to convince her that she can very well deposit the money in a bank or a fixed deposit and the bank will pay her a commodity called Interest. My mom pretends to hear it and still continues with the club"
"The ladies in the club say that the Supriya did show signs of being upset. The discussion about each other's kid continuously reminded her that she did not have them. Some kid coming first in examination, some kid going to picnic, some kid crying, some kid injured, these talk upset her a lot"
"Yet, none advised her of IVF technique or adoption of other kids"
I shook my head. "Strange are the ways of our society. If only, it listens to me"
I then looked at Aditi who was watching me intently. "Prepare a report of suicide to be submitted to the higher ups. You may also handover the body to her husband."
Aditi then got to work. She rummaged through the papers and removed the form that is used to file the report. She then filled it up and then filed along with it, the supporting the documents. Once the file was ready, she brought it to me for its approval.
I opened the file and began reading through it. I did a second check of the details on the main report. Everything was in order. Aditi was at her best. I flipped around to the second part which was the suicide note. I read it again. I flipped to the third part which was the autopsy report. I read the finger print expert's report. I examined the photographs.
"Aditi, Come here. I just want to double check that it is a suicide"
"Check all the pathology centers in the area. Find out if Prashant Singh or Supriya Singh has carried out any tests. If you locate such a pathology center, I want full details."
"I want full details of Prakash Singh. Activate our network. Try to find out if any of our informers have any information on him"
"I want the call details of Prakash. I also want his call location and call tracker. Try to get these to me as soon as possible"
I sat back on my chair. This case looked simple and straightforward. Yet there was lingering fear that it may not seem true. I sat thinking in my chair. Hours passed by. I got busy in my other cases. It was not afternoon until Aditi came up to me.
"Sir, Prakash Singh underwent a sperm count test at Vitriolic Pathological Laboratory. His sperm count was above the minimum required. In other words, it was Supriya who could not conceive."
I looked at Aditi and smiled. "Good work. This means that Prakash certainly gave a false statement."
"Does it prove anything? She knew that she could not conceive, was depressed and ended her life"
"No it doesn't, but why not tell us in his statement. Doesn't it make his case stronger?"
"Any news on his background"
"Yes Sir", she replied "One of our informers is active in the same region. According to him, Prakash is an honest and hardworking person. He is doing well as a fisherman and panipuri vendor. He is very popular and well respected among the other fishermen."
"His history is clear. He has no criminal records against him or no charges of any kind of suspension, expulsion or fraud and embezzlement. According to our informer, he had very good relations with his wife"
"Have his call records come?"
"Yes Sir, His call records have come and we have scrutinized them. Most of the calls were made to his friends, relatives and business partners, vendors. However, there was very high incidence of communication with one particular number. The number belongs to Savitabai, a fellow fisherwoman"
"Savitabai is in her mid thirties and beautiful. She was married to a local carpenter. However, differences arose in their marriage and domestic violence was reported. Her husband used to regularly beat her, abuse her and sometimes even rape her. After few years, it became intolerable and hence she walked out of the marriage"
"She makes her living by selling fishes in the nearby market. Prakash is her sourcer. Our informer tells us that she is of extremely good nature and lovable. She is on good terms with most in the locality"
"What is the location of his cell at the time of the murder?"
"At around 12'o clock, the location of his cell was the hutment area, as he stated in his statement. Then it traveled away from the hutment area towards the Gateway of India. It crossed the sea and reached the forests of Elephanta caves. It stayed steady at this place for over four hours and then moved back to the Gateway of India. It moved away from the Gateway of India and reached the Colaba location."
"Brilliant work, Appreciate it. Now do one last thing for me. Trace the location of this so called Savitabai at the time of the murder and also checks the vending stalls of the steamer. Check if anyone can identify Prakash."
Aditi got to work very swiftly. She made a few telephone calls from his desk. I observed a broad smile appear on her face. She had found something. Then she asked two of the deputy constables to accompany her. They were gone for more than 4 hours. I did not meet them that day. Next morning, I entered office at the usual time of 10'0 clock. She was waiting for me with her updates.
"The call location of Savitabai is very interesting. It shows the hutment area in the morning, till about 11.30 AM. It begins to move towards Gateway of India. It crosses the channel and enters the forests. It stays there till about 7 in the evening and then travels back to the hutment areas"
"I also questioned the person at the ticket window. He has been able to identify Prakash. He can remember Prakash because he argued with Prakash over certain matter. He says that Prakash made two trips to and fro to Elephanta. First trip was at 12 and second trip at around 2.30."
"Great Work, Aditi. Let us have a chat with our man."
We left the police station and travelled to the hutments. We arrived at our destination shortly. Prakash was about to leave for his pani puri stall. He looked at us and smiled."Good afternoon, all of you"
"Good afternoon, Prakash. If you are not getting late, we wanted to have a chat with you"
"Prakash, in the statement that you made to the police, you have said that you did not pursue any medical treatment because you feared it will wreak havoc in your marriage"
"Then, why did you conduct a sperm test at the Vitriolic Pathological Lab?"
Prakash was stunned. He began to shiver and sweat rolled down his cheek
"How did you know?" He stammered.
"We are Mumbai Police, not any circus. Now please answer my question, why did you break the protocol?"
"For the past six years, I had an affair with a colleague of mine. It involved physical relationship with her. During the course of the relationship, she conceived. Initially, I thought that she was betraying me but she insisted that it was my child that she carried. I wanted to verify her claims."
"Savitabai, isn't it"
Prakash closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. "Yes" he said
"How did you kill your wife without manually strangulating her?"
"The Badhwar Park slums organize an annual function which consists of plays, dance competitions, singing competitions and so on. This year, I had participated in a play. When I went home that day for lunch, I told Supriya, that one of the scenes was bothering me and I needed to practice. I asked her to help me"
"She readily agreed to help you"
"I pretended that in the scene to be enacted, the woman protagonist is about to commit suicide and the male protagonist is pleading with her not to. I asked her to enact the woman part and told her that I would do the man's role.
As the scene unfolds, the woman writes a suicide note, takes the stool, climbs up on it and inserts the noose around the neck. She did her part very well"
"When she inserted the noose around her neck, you dislodged the table and she was strangulated. Then you kept the table in such a way that police would infer that a suicide had been committed"
"You told her the contents of the suicide note"
"Why, Prakash, why kill her?"
"I could start a family. I wanted to start one. She was a good wife. I did not have a ground for divorce. Divorce for this deficiency would be debatable in court of law. It would also ruin my reputation in the society"
"Do you know that you can adopt an IVF technique or adopt a kid?"
"I wanted to start my family, extend my lineage, my lineage!!!"
"Do you think that you are the Maharaja of Jaipur to be so worried about your lineage?"
I shook my head and turned to the head constable Tukaram. "Please take him away. Arrest the woman as well."
Tukaram along with another constable led Prakash out of his house and into the police van. I looked around the house and at Supriya's photo. I felt sorry for her. She was a loyal wife. She trusted her husband, accepted their situation and lived as happily as she could. At the same time, her husband was an infidel. He entered into a relationship with a woman. He killed his wife, who trusted him and who never suspected him.
I turned around to find out that Aditi was looking at me questioningly.
"How did you figure out that it was murder and not suicide? This looked as simple suicide."
"One question always bothered me. If husband and wife accepted the situation and lived for 15 years, why on earth was Supriya disturbed so much now. I mean I understand that women yearn for kids and always resent their absence. However I could not fathom the reason why she should be so depressed to commit a suicide"
"It was about six months ago that Savitabai conceived. Though they aborted the child, he still realized that he could start a family of his own"
"My second flag came when I read the suicide note. As Prakash admitted now, he dictated the contents of the note. Unfortunately his knowledge of the fact that it was Supriya who was deficient, crept into the way he constructed the note. Therefore, he wrote as "Life has been unfair to me" rather than "Life has been unfair to us". I thought that either Supriya knew that she was deficient and she was genuinely depressed or it was Prakash who knew and murdered her. Therefore I asked you to check the pathological labs"
"Now consider the crime scene. Supriya bids adieu to Prakash. She locks the house from inside. She then takes the table, prepares the noose and then commits suicide. In such a case, the table and bolt should bear her fingerprints.
What actually happened was that Supriya enacted the scene and hung herself by deceit. Prakash positioned the stool in such a way that it could deceive us and it did. Then he bolted the house from inside and was about to flee from the window. He then realized "O Lord! My fingerprints will be discovered". He picked up a cloth and wiped them from the bolt and table.
He did not realize that bolt and table are things in common usage. His fingerprints would not have raised suspicion. Rather it was a complete absence of them that raised many doubts. If Supriya had indeed committed a suicide, she could not have had the chance to eliminate her fingerprints."
Aditi was impressed. "That is superior deductive reasoning". I shook my head and winked at her "An efficient use of my grey cells"