Walk into the pretty bungalow—that Neena Haridas, Editor of Marie Claire, shares with her husband Vinod Nair and three excitable dogs in Palam Vihar—and you are immediately struck by the happy aesthetic mingling of tradition with contemporary. Sheer curtains, traditional brass lamps, a stunning series of photographs by Bharat Sikka, and a magnificent nettipattom (ornamental headgear worn by Kerala’s temple elephants) catch your eye. As you sink into the comfortable sofa, you are greeted by a cheerful pug; that is, apparently, fluent in Malayalam!
Mugs of coffee arrive, as Haridas plunges into an account of her adventures, in her six years at Gurgaon. The couple originally lived down the road, in another pretty bungalow. “I wanted space, and was keen on buying my own house by the time I was 30,” she says. Since that was an impossible dream to achieve in Delhi, they settled on Gurgaon. The house they bought was everything she had dreamt of. “Every blade of grass there was planted by me,” she says wistfully.
Then, one night, “We got back late after a Suneet Verma show; and found the house in darkness. The door was open, the dogs weren’t around; and an eerie silence enveloped the house. My husband jumped the gate, and found the lights wouldn’t come on. So he went around the back, to turn on the inverter,” says Haridas. She, in the meanwhile, had called out to the helper, a 60-year-old Tamil woman—who she finally found lying on the floor in the kitchen. “At first, I thought she had suffered a heart attack; but when I touched her, blood came away on my hands. That’s when I realised what had happened,” she said.
The other house help, Bharat, a young man from Orissa—who had been with the family for many years—had killed the old woman, and run away with all of Haridas’ jewellery.
“I still don’t understand why he had to kill the poor woman. He could have just locked her up,” she says; recounting how the inverter had been switched off, and the dogs locked up in the spare room. “The lady—I used to call her “Amma”—had been stabbed with our kitchen knife, and strangled with my pyjamas.” After the police stepped in and recorded the details, Haridas cleaned the blood splashed on the kitchen wall “because no one else would touch it”. She now believes the Haryana police did everything they could to confound the case. “It was obvious who had done it. The murder weapon was around; but the police said they couldn’t get any evidence, because the surface of the handle was not conducive to finger prints!” More bizarre stonewalling followed. “We knew Bharat’s family, every detail about his life; and we gave that information to the police,” she says. But the police team said they could not go to the man’s native area, because it was full of Naxals. Once a contact had even called her, with very specific information about the suspect’s whereabouts; but the police still managed to return empty-handed. It’s a scenario reminiscent of Aatish Taseer’s latest book Noon, where the police seem to be colluding with the burglars. “The whole problem with Gurgaon is not water or electricity, really; it’s policing,” says Haridas.
After the murder, the couple couldn’t face living in the same home; so they lived with her parents in Delhi for a year. “When such a thing happens, it changes you fundamentally. You can never be the same again. Even my dogs were effected. After that day, my boxer started to bite!” she says. Her attempts to catch the killer also brought her face to face with one of India’s more unpalatable truths: “A person’s life is worth only his social status.”
However, the story has a happy ending. Haridas and Nair sold the house to a Kashmiri family “for whom it has proved very lucky”; and moved into their current home, which was once rumoured to be haunted! Perhaps the resident ghost decided that the family had been through enough from human adversaries, to be perturbed by paranormal activity—for there have been no sightings.