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“Welcome to the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport”, announced the air hostess of Jet Airways in a modulated voice. Deshpande family’s Europe tour had concluded with a lot of wonderful memories of happy times spent together and a large collection of photographs. This came after a long wait of three years. Prasad and Nandini had planned this much awaited Europe tour for their daughter Reva and son Rohan, who had appeared for their 10th and 12th standard board examination respectively. Prasad and Nandini were married for twenty-one years. They had worked with the same company earlier. After marriage, Nandini had decided to become a full-time home maker. Being Sales VP with a reputed multinational organization, Prasad had travelled over twenty-five countries till date. These fifteen days ended unbelievably fast and they visited the much desired places in France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland.
Immigration and customs took almost an hour. Reaching home town and waiting in a queue at 3 in the morning was very tiring. Standing in the queue, Prasad started checking his emails. He had called driver Gajanan immediately on landing. Gajanan had been employed with them for last nine years, and he was used to these odd hours. Prasad would summon him multiple times for his international travels. He had accompanied the family for their long trips to Konkan. He had been busy the last whole year shuttling between Reva and Rohan’s tuition classes in addition to Prasad’s regular work.
Reva started getting restless as she had missed chatting with her friends over phone for last fifteen days. She was eager to share her minute by minute account with Pallavi, her close friend. Reva and Pallavi had been toppers of their class and both were expecting good ranks in the 10th Board examinations. Rohan did not waste a single moment. His Facebook status was immediately updated to “Rohan Deshpande Feeling refreshed at "Mumbai International Airport" with Reva Deshpande and 2 others”. His post received 100+ likes and 40+ comments in no time. Rohan was a bright student and the football captain of his college team. He aspired to be a doctor. After his board examinations, he was hopeful to have good score in NEET. Owing to her nature, Nandini started worrying about house chores. It was too early to call Sujata, her maid. Nandini had asked Sujata to clean the apartment a day before their arrival and was hoping she would have not forgotten. For Nandini, the journey had been very long and tiring, and she was in no mood to carry out a single task once home.
The clock stroke Five when Gajanan drove Prasad’s new Creta inside the society gate and helped them pull their luggage out. After helping them with the luggage up to the 9th floor, Gajanan left from there. They opened the latch and carried the bags inside the apartment. The Deshpandes owned a three bedroom flat in this plush society at Versova. Nandini observed that Sujata had followed her instructions and that made her feel relaxed. Everybody was sleepy and headed towards their bedrooms. Nandini took the latch key out of her purse to open the door of the master bedroom. Before she could turn the latch key, just with a small push, to her shock, the door opened wide. The scene inside made her blood run cold. It took few seconds for her to get composed and call loudly for Prasad. Hearing her panic, he ran towards the bedroom. He couldn’t believe his eyes either. Their wardrobes were wide open. All his clothes and Nandini’s sarees were lying on ground. Locker had been broken and was completely empty. Reva and Rohan too reached the bedroom. They were horrified and stood speechless.
Prasad questioned Nandini, “Did not you lock the door properly?” “I surely did, Prasad”, Nandini replied spontaneously, “Look, the latch is broken”. Now Prasad paid attention to the tampered latch of the bedroom. Prasad took out his mobile and dialed for Versova police station. Inspector Jadhav responded. Prasad narrated the incident in brief. Inspector Jadhav told him not to touch anything in the bedroom and just sit in the living room till his team arrived. Prasad took the family to the living room and apprised them about his discussion with Inspector Jadhav. All of them were tensed now. Someone had been inside their home in their absence. Nandini was feeling so vulnerable that she could not utter a word. Actually, nobody was in a mood to talk to each other.
Everybody was anxiously waiting for the police team now. It took thirty minutes for Inspector Jadhav to reach the site. The doorbell rang. Through the design of the safety door, Prasad noticed two Policemen standing outside the apartment. They heard the voice of Inspector Jadhav, “Mr. Prasad Deshpande?”. “Yes Sir, I called you”, Prasad came forward, and opened the safety door. Prasad took Inspector Jadhav and his assistant Suryavanshi to the bedroom. Police team observed the scene in the bedroom, made few notes, and came out to the living room along with Prasad. Inspector Jadhav seated on the sofa near TV unit and asked, “Okay, now tell me in detail what happened.”
Prasad narrated each detail from the moment they landed at Mumbai international airport up to their apartment. Nandini was very much disturbed as all her jewelry was missing. Calculations already started in her mind about the value of the missing items. She was primarily concerned about the diamond necklace Prasad had presented to her on their 20th wedding anniversary.
Jadhav now started probing into the details. He wanted more information about the members who visited them on a regular basis. Jadhav asked, “Mr. Deshpande, you mentioned that the main door was intact. But the bedroom door was broken. It means that the burglar had the main door keys and could enter your house easily. The person did not have bedroom or locker keys. How many sets of main door keys do you have and who are the people having them?” Nandini answered, “We have total four sets of keys. One each with the two of us, kids have one set and we keep one set of keys with Sujata, our maid. Her set does not have bedroom door key. And yes, before leaving for Europe, I had given my set of key to my sister, Maya. Just in case of any emergency, we deemed it fit to keep one set of key with a relative in Mumbai.”
Jadhav listened to Nandini carefully and asked further, “Any reason Sujata would visit your flat in last fifteen days?” Nandini was a little hesitant this time, “She works with us since last five years. I always ask her to water the plants when we are out of town. This time also I had asked her to water the plants every alternate day and I had also told her to clean the house before we reached home today. So she must have cleaned it yesterday or day before.” Jadhav took a long pause which disturbed Nandini more.
“Mr. and Mrs. Deshpande, what’s your profession?”, Jadhav asked. Prasad shared details of his company and Nandini mentioned that she was a homemaker. Jadhav also asked them about their daily schedule. Jadhav looked at Rohan and Reva. “Which school or college do you go to?” he enquired. For Reva and Rohan, shock of the incident has not yet worn off. They were still not in a state to open their mouth. Prasad had to comfort them to speak out. Jadhav prodded all four a little more to get more information about themselves and their routine activities.
Jadhav asked further, “Who visits your apartment regularly, of course other than Sujata?” Prasad replied, “Our driver, Gajanan; Our milkman, Suresh; Laundryman, Raju are outsiders who visit our apartment quite regularly”. Now Jadhav asked the most awaited question, “Do you have clear idea about what all things you had kept in your locker?” Nandini had her calculation ready. She spelled out list of jewelry along with approximate hard cash, totaling to approximately 6 lakhs rupees. Nandini specifically mentioned the diamond necklace which was close to her heart.
Jadhav now turned to his assistant, “Suryavanshi, I hope you have noted down the details.” Suryavanshi had done his job perfectly, as always. Suryavanshi had started working with Jadhav recently, but had more experience in terms of number of years. “Please talk to the neighbors. Check if they had seen any odd incident or person.” he added.
Inspector Jadhav thought for a while and said, “I want to meet all regular visitors including your maid, milkman, driver, laundryman. I will be here at 1 pm today. Please ensure all will be here that time. I will also get fingerprint experts along with me. Do not touch anything in the bedroom, not even bedroom door. And yes, you must visit Police Station first thing in the morning, between 8 to 9 to file an FIR. You can come alone; no family member is needed.” Suryavanshi did set up blockade to control the movement in and out of the bedroom. Jadhav had hopes to get fingerprints on the cupboard and locker, which he could match with the fingerprint records with Mumbai Police.
Jadhav started walking towards the main door, suddenly stopped, and turned back “Do you have CCTV installed in your society?” Prasad was the secretary of his society and it was his initiative to install CCTV in the society premises. He proudly nodded in affirmation. Jadhav enquired about the locations of CCTV cameras and asked to make last 15 days’ footage available.
Inspector Jadhav left along with Asst. Suryavanshi. Prasad closed the main door and tried to relax himself on the sofa in the living room. Nandini seated herself on one end of the big four-seater sofa. Reva sat on the antique settee which was 50 years old and still in perfection. Rohan quietly followed her and sat on the bean bag. Minutes passed like days. There was pin drop silence in the living room and finally Nandini spoke, “What do you think Prasad? What must have happened?” Prasad replied, “No clue at all”. Rohan was busy playing on his mobile. Without even looking at Prasad, he asked “Dad, what will happen now? Will they really get hold of the burglar?”
Reva was a big fan of mystery stories and obviously was inquisitive about everything “Will they really get fingerprints, Dad?”
Prasad did not have answers to their questions at this moment but was hopeful that the police would certainly find the offenders, “Let me visit the Police station in the morning. Hopefully police will get some breakthrough.” Prasad asked Nandini if she had any jewelry in the bank locker or was everything at home. Nandini remained silent and could not make eye contact with Prasad. Prasad had guessed it right, but was irritated with the silence. Nandini was very fond of jewelry. As the trends in the market changed, she loved to buy new ornaments or get her ornaments molded into some new piece. Prasad always insisted that jewelry not required regularly should be kept in the bank lockers. He was not at all comfortable in keeping all the jewelry at home. This had sparked fights between the couple before. Prasad did not want to fight at this moment so didn’t stretch the topic.
The entire family was still in disbelief. They had planned to reach Mumbai on Sunday morning so that they would rest for a day before routine start from Monday onwards. Both kids had plans of meeting their friends on Sunday, after two weeks. They were constantly in touch with their friends over social media, but sharing all the amazing experiences of the Europe tour in person was something they were looking forward to.
After some quiet moments, Nandini got up to prepare tea for all. Prasad also went to guest bedroom as he had to reach Police Station by 9 am. Rohan’s Facebook status was updated to “feeling worried” from “feeling refreshed”. He had narrated the incident as well. Facebook was the medium for Rohan to express his feelings. He used to wonder how his parents would have survived without social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. Reva started calling friends, but instead of sharing Europe tour fun, she started narrating the robbery incident. Prasad left for the Police Station well before 9 am. Nandini called the maid, laundryman, milkman and the driver as instructed by Inspector Jadhav. She asked all of them to come home by 12.00 noon. She wanted to talk to them before Police could start interrogation.
The doorbell rang. It was past noon. Nandini had been waiting for Prasad for quite some time. She was expecting Prasad to reach home by 11 am. Nandini opened the door and to her surprise, Prasad was accompanied by Inspector Jadhav and his team. When Prasad entered inside, he was shocked to see Maya, Nandini’s sister, Amar and Divya, their close friends, and Mr. Sharma and Mr. Tridevi, their neighbors. He had not informed anyone about this incident. He did not appreciate that Nandini called these members at this moment. Still, he did not utter a single word.
Jadhav directed his team to the bedroom. Both fingerprint experts took charge of the scene. They started collecting the specimen. Fingerprints would give many leads to the investigating team. The police team instructed the family to sit at one place. The bedroom and passage was dusted with fingerprint powder. There was continuous clicking sound of cameras.
Now Inspector Jadhav’s focus turned to the guests who had gathered there. He looked at Maya and asked “Are you friend of Deshpande family? And how did you come to know?” Maya replied “I am Maya, Nandini’s sister. Nandini called me around 10 this morning. She was very much in shock. I immediately rushed here.” Jadhav exclaimed “So you are the one who has the one set of keys” Maya nodded positively but felt uncomfortable with the question. Maya’s nervous face did not escape Jadhav’s sharp eyes. It was Trivedi and Sharma’s turn next. And then Amar and Divya had to face the interrogation. They answered all questions asked by the police team. Their statements were getting recorded. All of them mentioned that Nandini had called them that morning to narrate the incident and had asked them to come over. Prasad was getting increasingly awkward to hear each member present on the scene taking Nandini’s name.
By this time, Sujata, the maid, Gajanan, the driver, Raju, the laundryman and Suresh, the milkman had reached Deshpande’s flat. Everybody were nervous since Nandini had told them what had happened and asked to come over. They all had been wondering what kind of questions the police would ask and were nervous with fear that they might be arrested on suspicion.
Sujata was the first one to call forward. She had never faced police till date. Her interrogation was very important to Inspector Jadhav as she was a regular visitor to the flat in the absence of the Deshpande family. “Sir, I have been working with Nandini madam since the last 5 years. I used to come around 11 am every alternate day to water the plants. I never entered the bedroom in the last 15 days. I did not check if the bedroom door was locked or open. And did not notice anything suspicious as well”, Sujata answered all questions in one go. Jadhav asked further, “Where do you keep the keys at home?” Sujata thought for a while and replied, “I keep them along with our home keys” Jadhav was expecting this answer and was ready with the next question “So do you mean everybody at home had access to the key?” This was an awkward question for Sujata and with shaky voice she replied “Yes, Sir”
Gajanan, Raju and Suresh faced similar questions from Inspector Jadhav. Jadhav could figure out that all of them had clear idea about Deshpande family’s whereabouts. Jadhav asked all to leave, stating that they might be called again if he had further questions. Now it was Deshpande family and police team who were left at the apartment.
Jadhav decided to get more information from the Deshpandes, till the fingerprint experts completed their task. He made himself comfortable on sofa and asked the hosts to sit. All this while, Rohan and Reva were continuously on their mobile phones. Jadhav had been observing keenly, but remained silent. Both were not completely involved with what was going around them and their eyes were glued to the mobiles. Jadhav was sharp enough to guess what was happening. “Rohan and Reva, it seems you are too busy to pay attention to what I am speaking. Would you mind sharing what is so important than the burglary at your house? Hand over your mobile phones to me.” Both, Rohan and Reva, started feeling uneasy with Jadhav’s statement, and there was great reluctance to hand over the phone to Inspector Jadhav. Both hoped Jadhav will change his mind. Jadhav’s voice was shrewd this time “I want to see your phones.” They had no option but to relent.
Jadhav kept Reva’s phone on side table and started navigating through Rohan’s mobile. Rohan was using Samsung Note 5 handset. He had installed many Apps on his mobile, and most of those were related to social networking. Facebook page was open when Jadhav took Rohan’s phone in hand. Jadhav glanced through the friend’s list and the kind of news feed visible. Then he checked Rohan’s profile and wall. He could see at least 10 posts for each day stating where he was and what he had been up to. Rohan’s wall also had posts related to the Europe tour and recent burglary. Security settings showed that anybody could view his posts even if the person was not in friend list. He then checked WhatsApp status, messages, and settings. Now Reva’s phone came under scrutiny and it was no different in terms in social networking apps. Rohan and Reva both were restless throughout. Jadhav returned both handsets without asking any question and that puzzled them more.
Jadhav asked Prasad “Can we have a look at the CCTV footage?” Prasad replied, “Yes sure, the footage would be available in the Society office. We can visit anytime.” Jadhav recently had solved many cases based on the CCTV footage. It had been a key factor in criminal search since last few years. Both went to the Society office and after spending an hour there, returned home. Prasad promised to hand over a DVD with 15 days CCTV footage recording by end of the day. It would be a time consuming task to go through the complete footage, but could give a lead to solve the case.
Fingerprint team came out of bedroom after completing their investigation. Jadhav stood up and walked towards them. Ashish was leading the fingerprint team. Jadhav asked Ashish, “Any breakthrough?”. “No Sir”, Ashish replied. “We scanned complete area. Cupboard and Lockers have been cleaned after use. Not a single fingerprint could be traced. Found few fingerprints at other places, but I think those would be of the family members. We have taken their fingerprints already and would inform you if they match. Thieves must have used hand gloves or cleaned all marks before leaving. I am afraid we might not get any clue from this.” “Never mind”, said Jadhav while sitting on the sofa. Ashish and his team left the scene.
Jadhav took a pause, looked at all family members one by one. Everybody was a little uncomfortable with Jadhav’s look. Finally, Jadhav spoke “So Mr. and Mrs. Deshpande, any suspect in your mind?” Both thought for a while and nodded negatively. Jadhav was expecting this response. “This is case of sheer negligence”, Jadhav said. Everybody started listening carefully. He continued, “We feel the need to safeguard our families and ourselves against untoward incident, but our actions do not support our thoughts. There are so many simple things that you could have done to avoid this incident. These are very basic rules and all are supposed to follow.”
Jadhav’s tone was lowered but sharp, ‘First point, you keep one set keys with your maid and allow people to access your apartment in your absence. How sensible is that? I understand Sujata has been working with you since last 5 years and you find her very trustworthy. I am not questioning her loyalty, but we, as police, cannot rule anybody out from the list of suspects. What if she sends somebody else instead of her to do the job? What if she lost or made duplicate keys or any of her relative misused that?” he added. Nandini was not keen to hand over keys initially, but things changed over a period. Sujata also used to get her sister sometimes along with her as a helping hand. Neither Nandini nor Prasad were comfortable with this. Prasad had raised objection with Nandini and Nandini, in turn, had conveyed it to Sujata. But there was no conviction in communication and it did continue. Jadhav continued “We keep asking people to register maids with nearby police station and get the background check done. Though not mandatory, it is recommended considering your own safety. Such a simple process this is! But hardly anybody follows”, Jadhav took a pause, looked at Nandini and said, “Madam, you mentioned that you handed over keys to water the plants and clean the house before you come. We must define what is more important, safety or cleaning house or watering plants.” There was a wall of silence between Jadhav and Deshpande family.
Jadhav walked towards the French window and looked down at the main road. Being Sunday afternoon, the road was not crowded. Jadhav turned back and continued, “Second point. Almost everybody, not only your society members, but your relatives, friends, driver, laundryman, and milkman were aware about your whereabouts. Everybody knew you were out of India and would return today. This information could be passed on to unwanted people, intentionally or unintentionally. Simple example, while you tell them about your trip or they discuss among themselves, third person could overhear and misuse the information. Days have changed. You just cannot bring yourself to trust people though they are working for you for few years now.”
Jadhav now moved to the next point, “Right from the time I entered your house, both the kids were constantly on their mobiles. When I checked their mobiles, I realized that your information, which should have been private and confidential, was published on the social media. It was accessible to each and every person using those applications. Anybody can misuse the information of your whereabouts or what happened to you for wrongdoing.” He came back to the sofa and continued, “Mr. and Mrs. Deshpande, these kids of this age need continuous monitoring by their parents. There is nothing wrong in giving smart mobile phones to kids at such early age, but you both should monitor the activities. It is of no use scolding them after such unwanted incidents.” Jadhav looked at Rohan and Reva, “We have to admit the indispensability of social media for meeting family and friends, but it should be part of our life and not so much a part that we cannot live without. I am sure you must be sharing everything on social media including your photographs. Do you really know all your friends personally? Children, social media is literally invading our privacy. You should not share things publicly and moreover to friends whom you do not know one to one.”
Jadhav turned to Nandini and Prasad, “And lastly, about your jewelry and cash. Do not you think, keeping jewelry and cash at home in your absence is prone to high risk? This is not expected from educated people like you. It is always advised to keep minimum required valuables at home. You can always use bank lockers when you are not around.”
Jadhav stood up “We are trying to connect the dots. We will do our best to nab the burglars. But I do not want to give you false hope. At this moment, I do not have any breakthrough. CCTV isthe only hope now. We will wait for the complete footage, but I am afraid there are few locations not covered by the cameras. Besides, we do not know the exact day, so analyzing 15 days footage would take some time. I will keep you posted with the progress. I will call you at the police station if I get some lead or need more information.”
When Inspector Jadhav and Suryavanshi left, it was 5 pm in the evening. Everybody was drained and disturbed after the dramatic day. The most awaited and enjoyed trip had a disheartening end. They were getting goose bumps with the thought of what would have happened had they been at home at the time of robbery. They were going to live under shadow of fear after realizing their mistake of showing off or being casual, but it was an eye opener for all.
A month passed by and it was a pleasant Sunday evening with bright blue sky and cool breeze. Prasad was sitting at the corner table near the southern window looking down on the sea. This Juhu beach restaurant was his favorite place to hang out with friends for last 20 years now. He loved the antique and elegant interiors and would always suggest this place to his friends. Prasad had already ordered two beers and before he could come to the topic, he asked Vishal, his school friend whom he met few months back after almost 25 years, what he would like to have. Prompt came the reply, “Chicken Shashlik Sizzler”. Prasad smiled in agreement and called the waiter. Today was the day to celebrate their joint venture. They had just drawn curtain on the adventurous drama which they enacted so well.
Prasad tapped on the table and said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. I have been telling Nandini for many years now to be cautious. But she never took me seriously. Excessive use of mobiles and social media by Rohan and Reva was also disturbing. I was excited to meet you after 25 long years. When you told me that you have taken up acting as your profession, this plan started taking shape in my mind. Our plan was well thought through and executed, thanks to you and your friends. My family has now understood that they were compromising safety over the years. I could see significant and positive change in the behavior of all three” Vishal smiled and added, “And hope they are brainwashed enough now into breaking their bad habits. Nandini and children were really in shock, but I believe, this shock treatment was necessary.”
They raised glasses to their success “CHEERS !!!”