Excerpt | A problem like Maria

Excerpt | A problem like Maria
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First Published: Fri, Nov 25 2011. 08 36 PM IST

Starlet: Maria Susairaj was released from jail arlier this year. Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times.
Starlet: Maria Susairaj was released from jail arlier this year. Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times.
Updated: Fri, Nov 25 2011. 08 36 PM IST
Excerpt | Death in Mumbai
Mumbai police owes the legend of the force being second only to Scotland Yard, to an Englishman, Stephen Meredyth Edwardes, Mumbai’s police commissioner in 1909. Edwardes, having studied the workings of Scotland Yard at first hand, set up the Criminal Investigation Department, which later became the Mumbai Crime Branch. The Crime Branch, divided into twelve units along the length of the city for administrative reasons, has the authority to do a parallel probe on any case registered in any Mumbai police station.
Freed from the often time-consuming administrative work of a police station, Crime Branch cops, usually to be found in plain clothes, work exclusively as detectives and have distinguished themselves by solving some of the most talked about cases in recent history, including the Gulshan Kumar murder and the J.J. Hospital shootout case. The notorious serial killer Charles Sobhraj was also arrested in a Crime Branch operation.
Starlet: Maria Susairaj was released from jail arlier this year. Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times.
On May 13, four days after he ordered the probe, a group of Neeraj’s friends came to see Rakesh Maria to complain about the lag in investigation. Among them was a young woman who sat right across him. There was something about her eyes that bothered him.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Maria Susairaj, I am also a friend of Neeraj’s.’
‘I know, he disappeared from your house. You, lady,’ Rakesh Maria leaned forward, stared hard and, pointing a finger straight at Maria Susairaj said, ‘are my number one suspect.’
Amarnath Grover left Rakesh Maria’s office and began the traumatic process of looking for Neeraj. He visited railway tracks, hospitals, mortuaries, and one evening even went to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, foraging through parts of the forest spread over a hundred kilometres. Each trip began with dread and ended in momentary exultation: none of the bodies he was shown were his son’s.
The relief lasted but a few minutes. He asked the local cable channel to run a ticker scroll offering a one lakh rupee reward to anyone with information on Neeraj, and personally went to each of the shanties on the road leading to Dheeraj Solitaire, stacked up against each other like uneven teeth, with Neeraj’s picture to ask if anyone recalled having seen him. An urchin was lowered into the septic tanks of Maria’s building to check for a body.
Amarnath Grover and Satnam Arora had a hundred posters printed with Neeraj’s picture, with the word ‘MISSING’ in bold lettering. On a May afternoon of long shadows, Neeraj’s father went to Dheeraj Solitaire and painstakingly put them up—on walls, on pillars, on the gates of neighbouring buildings, under car wipers, on shop shutters, on telephone poles, as if turning the area into a shrine for his missing son. Wherever the eye travelled there was Neeraj looking down, smiling gently.
Death in Mumbai: By Meena Baghel.
That afternoon he saw Maria emerge from the building accompanied by her brother and sister; it was only the second time he had seen her. She looked around and then at him, standing there with the poster in one hand and a bottle of glue in the other, and got into an autorickshaw and rode past without saying anything.
There were also things about Ginni that he was just beginning to discover. As if by going missing, Ginni was offering an invitation to get to know him better. The girls. The smoking. The possibility of drugs. All the things that parents spend a lifetime living in denial of.
Maria had told the Malad police that Neeraj used ecstasy and crystal meth recreationally. At a friend’s behest a police officer was sent to the Osho commune at Pune to find out if Neeraj had checked himself in. Ginni’s credit card details were scanned—they revealed nothing.
They examined his bank account. The last withdrawal was for Rs 1,000 on May 5, two days before Ginni’s disappearance, and the last deposit had been the Rs 10,000 that he himself had sent his son. Amarnath Grover called up his wife in Kanpur, unable to keep the despair out of his voice. ‘Ginni bas gayab ho gaya hai’ (Our son has just disappeared). He took to waking up and heading straight to the Unit IX office on Hill Road in Bandra day after day, his anxious presence reminding the police that his son was still missing.
But all this while, without Amarnath Grover’s knowledge, Inspector Satish Raorane, the investigating officer in the case, and his team were working on their suspect. On May 17, her twenty-eighth birthday, Maria was called to the police station in Bandra and questioned for over ten hours.
Two days later, Amarnath Grover walked into the Unit IX office as usual. As he sat sipping chai and waiting for the officers in the corridor outside, he saw Satish Raorane emerge from one of the rooms. Before he could go up to him with his daily plea, Raorane walked up to him, smiling. ‘Mr Grover, please relax. I request you, don’t come here for the next few days. I will personally inform you of the developments.’
Buoyed, he immediately called Neelam. ‘The inspector told me to relax. I think they are getting some news of Ginni, why don’t you also come to Mumbai?’ He ignored Raorane’s advice but found the office of Unit IX mostly deserted over the next two days. ‘Where’s everybody?’ he asked the chaiwallah he had befriended. ‘Aap hi ke kaam se gaye hain’ (They are out for your work), he was informed.
Sailor: Emile Jerome, convicted of the crime. Photo: Hemant Padalkar/Hindustan Times.
It was the evening of May 21. Amarnath and Neelam Grover had just left the Unit IX office, looking at another restless night stretch ahead when Amarnath’s phone rang. It was Rakesh Maria. ‘Mr Grover, where are you?’
‘Just outside the Unit IX office in Bandra, sir.’
‘Why don’t you please go back, sit there for a while.’
Rakesh Maria had just finished briefing the media about the Neeraj Grover case. It was imperative to speak to Amarnath Grover before he switched on the television. None of his boys had the heart to speak to the old man, and the task fell to the boss. ‘Mr Grover, please go back to the Unit IX office. I am sorry but your son is dead. We have found out what happened.’
In the blur that followed there were moments of piercing clarity. Neeraj’s friends rushing over to get them home, the clutch of Neelam’s hand threatening to crack his knuckles, and the avid faces of television reporters, on channel after channel.
This, above all.
Sometime after Neelam Grover’s nightly conversation with Neeraj, and before her morning call to him, their son had been stabbed to death in Maria Susairaj’s flat, his body violated. The police claimed that Maria along with her fiancé, the naval officer Emile Jerome, had killed Ginni—after which they had dragged his body into the bathroom and hacked it up. ‘Into bits,’ said Rakesh Maria. Television reporters, citing their own sources, claimed it was into three hundred pieces.
Returning dazed to the flat their son had inhabited until a few days ago, Amarnath Grover and Neelam watched the reporters hyperventilate on screen. ‘Aur uske baad, they hacked the body into three hundred pieces, stuffed it into three large carry bags, and dumped them in the jungles off Manor and set them on fire.’ This end for their beautiful son?
‘Will we get something to do a cremation with?’ Amarnath Grover asked the policeman accompanying them to the Nagpada Police Hospital the next day, where he and Neelam had to give DNA samples, before going on to answer his own question, ‘After three hundred pieces what would be left?’
Later, back at the Malad police station, where Maria Susairaj and Emile Jerome had been brought before being taken to jail, the media was like a panting beast. Neelam Grover had spent the night surfing for news of Ginni’s death, astonished to see it being discussed so authoritatively. Motive? History? Consequence? Equations? They knew nothing. She knew nothing.
Through a small barred window in the room where she waited at the Malad police station, she saw Maria and Emile being brought in. Their faces were covered with black hoods. In the darkened room, the only illusion of light was their pale-coloured clothing, and they looked disembodied, but only until a policeman came in and switched on the tube light. For a moment, just a moment, Maria Susairaj lifted her hood and blinked.
Excerpted from Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel, published by Random House India, 248 pages, Rs 299. Death in Mumbai will be released in December.
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First Published: Fri, Nov 25 2011. 08 36 PM IST