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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Your Friendly Neighborhood Detective

This is a fictional story contributed by Citizen Journalist urging importance of community vigilance  in neighborhoods.

Prelude:
I accidentally ran into an alternate occupation which I had I never dreamed. As a child, like a majority of kids, I had dreamed of being a truck/bus driver or wanted to be a policeman. But the events unfolded in the month of March actually found a hidden talent in myself. You can call this entire episode as Serendipity amid ides of March (only for those studying for verbal MCQ competitive tests).

It started with the housing society committee meeting held in August earlier year. I am part of managing committee. Our society is complex of 8 building each having 11 floors and each floor having 6 “luxurious flats with latest amenities and facilities” as published in ads and brochure published by the promoter” . Thus we were a village of 528 families. In first two three years of completion all flats got sold thanks to a new planned 80 ft wide road access and social establishments coming up. So we are one of the prestigious residential complex in the area. Committee meetings are stormy with various issues, personal grudges, egos and rules termed as society by laws which are unclear to most.

In that meeting, we had an agenda of granting NOC of sale of flat which was exactly one floor below that of mine. The current owner an IT professional had his GC filed in US for long term assignment. The buyer was a party from Mumbai. We deliberated with a letter to owner to pay transfer charges, and let us know details of new owner for records. The owner then provided the detailed paid and their registration documents were submitted for records. As per details provided by current owner, Mumbai based party had multiple business interests. This flat purchase was personal investment as and also they were planning to have a unit near Pune in future.

Marching Ahead


Then the year passed with Diwali, December and New year celebrations, followed by pleasant winter. Winter turned into hot days as we approached March. It was first week of March, after a long working day, I ventured into my terrace. Being odd even combination, I could see the terrace of flat below. Disadvantage being people above me could see ours. I saw a man smoking in the terrace of the flat. Also there was illumination in the hall. I thought I should sound it to other committee members . But as usual did not end up doing that thanks to daily hectic schedule and inertia. But then it was someone else’s flat so its up to that person to occupy it or otherwise.

A week passed, my 7 years old daughter was playing with her favorite mini toy in the hall. Due to odd even arrangement these days, our hall was exactly above the terrace of flat below . I don’t know how did she managed to drop her toy despite window having a grill onto the terrace below. She started crying asking for her toy. I checked terrace and flat below and there was a light glowing in the hall of that flat. I went downstairs and rang the bell. After long time and maybe checking out in eye-hole a guy half opened the door. Guy was almost 6 ft , had a stubble, and a physic which typically today's college crowd aims at. I thought the investor had rented out to students or working bachelors.
“Who are you’ he asked in polite Hindi.
I told him my name and said. “ I stay in flat exactly above yours. My daughter has dropped her toy from window into your terrace. Its her favorite toy so he is bit upset till she gets that. Can I get that toy from your terrace”
The Guy gave me an annoyed look and said “ Let me find it for you. Hold on and give me a second’. He hurried towards balcony. I could sense some discomfort in the haste in which he made it to his terrace door , opened the door. Meanwhile I stepped inside flat. Flat had few laptops lying on floor. A used plate and glass also on floor. Couple of mattress and pillows arranged .Few travel bags, charger wires, two cell phones as I observed in second glace. On the wall on my left there was a calendar and a sheet which had three dialogue boxes. As the guy came in with the toy, I read those dialogue boxes.

First one said: 14 th March Call 1 with a hand drawn image of cell phone,
Second with originally said 16th March Call2 again with picture of cell phone.
But 16th was stricken out by pen and 17th was written new.
Last dialogue box said 18th March Action with hand drawn picture of traditional Indian water gun. Each dialog box had few letters scribbled as in figure below. 
I thought it was bachelors way of organizing either academic /professional event or it had to be some personal activity involving either family , friends or someone special. The guy had the toy in his hand as he had closed the terrace door. He felt deep discomfort seeing me stepping inside the flat. He said: Oh so when did you come inside?  Here is your toy”. I tried to converse with him by asking his name and link with the owner or was he the owner. He royally ignored my question and said he had a call to make so wanted me to be excused in a polite manner. I was bit hurt but I blamed it on the new young generation and decided to scold my daughter asking her not to repeat such mistakes. But then those dates kept ringing in my mind. I checked that date. It was 13th March, Ides of march…

You may call it sixth sense or some people might term it as meddling in other’s affairs, I somehow got interested in the arrangement between owner who seemed to be senior guy with multiple successful business interests and this youngster . Also the dialogue boxes and his efforts to avoid any communication with me added to my curiosity. Next day which was 14th March, I returned from office and went to the terrace to see if lights were on in flat below. Light was on. After dinner, maybe at 10 pm I again checked to find that there was no lights on. I concluded that maybe that there was no one inside or the guy had slept which I found too early for youngsters these days.
Next day 15th March was hectic with a emergency call with client in US East Coast. I called my wife that I would be late. By the time I could leave office and reach my society it was around 10 30 pm. As I entered society and parked my vehicle in my garage slot, I saw the guy loitering in front of building exactly opposite to our building. I intentionally took longer detour to the elevator, so I could affront him visually if not verbally. As he saw me he immediately started walking away from that building towards the main gate of society and exited the society as if he was on night walk or to get some stuff from shops open opposite to society. I then approached the duty watchman and asked him whether he had made made entry of this guy in the Visitor In Out Register along with his mobile number. He said his day time colleague had told him that this guy was a  new resident and need not enter in visitor register. I asked him to show me the Resident Register where we had details of each member of flat occupant family. His record was not updated.

Next day on 16th ,  I asked daytime watchman what was the reason for the guy’s record not being  there. Watchman said they guy had shown them and submitted a letter from owner addressed to the committee mentioning name of guy who will be staying there. He had given that letter to the clerk in society office.

He then added something more interesting: “Sir this guy also had asked for society visitor register. He said he wanted to see and advise his friends to comply. He spent almost 10-15 mins going over almost past two months record. But then there was a new visitor, so I had to take it away from him “

 I then went to society office and asked the clerk if he handed that letter to secretary. Clerk told that secretary had asked him to file letter on record and after deliberation in next meeting we will add the guy on records. I asked him to show me the letter. The letter was on owners individual letterhead. It said that Mr Rajeev Singh will be staying in flat till further notice and further requesting all formalities to be completed. I asked clerk if society had  received maintenance cheque from owner. He said owner had paid for full year in advance and previous owner had paid all his dues.
On  16th and 17th I followed same vigilance on lights in the flat and went out for a walk, Again I saw the guy and sequence repeated as on 15 th. He just went off the main gate royally ignoring me on both occasions..

Next few days 18th and 19th were weekend days, I had to go out to Mumbai to attend a function hosted by a relative from my wife’s side. A very difficult task indeed maybe for all married men.

After surviving Monday morning blues on 20th , the day shaped out bit hectic with work  and had conference meeting late Monday night.

On 21st Morning at around 8 am, I got a call from the society office that there was emergency committee meeting at 9 am. Clerk said it was very urgent as mentioned by the Secretary and the chairman. I wanted to call them directly but decided I should directly join meeting instead. Most of the committee members very present. Also present was a police inspector present which surprised us all. The secretary informed all the no other agenda except the most pressing one we faced on that day. He then started by mentioning that Mr Solanki who happened to stay in building opposite to mine, was found missing since yesterday night and early today morning his wife had got a call extorting her to pay up huge amount to release Mr Solanki who was held captive by them. She informed her brother and elder brother in law who came rushing in. They all decided to approach police and local police station incharge came in to handle the case. He requested the inspector to take over. He said police has patrolling in the area and did not find anything or any one suspicious on the new wide DP road and adjacent areas. He asked if society had cctv cameras. We told that it was still in budgetary approval process. He said he had inquired the watchmen in typical police style. They said they had not seen Mr Solanki going out after 6 pm on 20th anywhere. Neither there were records of all visitors but no one had entered Mr Solanki’s flat as “to visit’ column. We will find about each visitor by visiting other flats which were mentioned by those visitors on 20th night.. His wife said he was in his study till 8 30 pm. Then he had his dinner at usual time of 9 pm. Mr Solanki used to go for postprandial walk everyday so he followed the routine. At around 10pm she got a text from Mr Solanki that he will be late as he had to visit his friend who was hospitalization in urgency. She waited for him till midnight but his cell was continuously switched off. She then got another message asking her to sleep as his friend was in surgery. The morning 6 am she received the extortion call. He asked secretary to circulate notice to all members if they knew anything about the incident. Meeting was over. After meeting I met inspector and told him about my observations about flat below. He asked me to keep a watch and update him on any development.

I came home disturbed after the meeting. I had read about such kidnapping incidents in newspapers and only on TV/movies . But something like this happening in your neighbourhood and involving people you know is shocking. Meanwhile I received an email from same client team whom we had first meeting on 20th which was day before Monday. They requested another meeting on 22ndt . I wanted to explain them that we had sorted all issues on meeting dated 20th. This somehow made me correlate with action date 20th marked on dialog box on sheet on wall of the flat below.

For next two days I kept closer watch on the flat. I also checked visitor register for 19th and 20th . There were 2 entries for flat below on 19th mentioned name as Akshay K+ 1 at 1 am,  Jiten A at 7 pm. Out timings were not entered by then as was the case with many of the entries.

I keep watch on the flat esp during next three four evenings. Light of one of the bedroom were always off, but next day after date of kidnap light of one bedroom was on for few hours each evening. That was strange and it was not a coincidence that there was light only after 20th. Suddenly I could relate his being loitering below Solanki’s building.

I called the inspector explaining my theory that Mr Solanki was kept hiding in that bedroom flat below. I asked him whether we can search the flat. He said he did not have enough evidence which will justify search warrant of flat. But he had an idea, He can go on enquiring in that flat with a pretext that inquiry is for all the flats.

Meanwhile there were more extortion calls . They tried to trace them each number was register in different villages around the town.
  
Next day I accompanied Police Inspector to the flat. Inspector knocked the door. The same guy opened. Guy was bit perplexed but kept his calm as I was observing him. Inspector told him that as a part of his investigation mentioning Mr Solanki’s kidnapping he was visiting every flat to see if anyone knew. The guy’s panic level increased but he somehow managed. I told him that I was accompanying Police on behalf of society committee. Police asked his name. He said “Rajeev Singh”. he was asked about his relationship with owner. He claimed his father and owner were friends and he allowed him to stay for his project here in Pune for 3-6 months. There was another person in the hall.He asked other person his name. He replied Akshay Katariya his friend. Meanwhile I asked Rajeev, if I could use toilet. He reluctantly agreed. I spent few minutes in toilet which had that locked bedroom door next to it. This was the bedroom which was lit up for few hours. As I came close to the room, I banged on that bedroom door, Rajeev guy came rushing in If looks could kill those eyes told me everything I needed. I explained that I lost my balance. Then we excused us.

I asked Mrs Solanki, if Mr Solanki had any business issues with anyone or specifically owner of the flat. She called his VP , he said no transaction by Flat Owners name or his companies. His VP told there were no complications in his business. Police after inquiries reported that family was clean. So family angle was ruled out.
  
He said he will try to contact owner of the flat in Mumbai to find out more on this thread.

I googled the owner name, then I tried Facebook. He had an Facebook account. He had only 10-12 friends. Maybe he was too busy and thus successful to be inactive on social media and maybe not that big to have social media cell. I checked on each friend’s wall. In one of the friend’s wall,  I saw photoo of same man Rajeev who stayed in flat below. I checked that friend’s profile. He lived in Mumbai and was in business.  

With this information I approached police inspector who led me to the police cyber cell. They verified the profile and confirmed details of that friend whose name was Hemant Kumar. They requested fb to search rajeev on Facebook based on photo we had on Hemant’s wall.

Inspector said even with this he would be unable to get a search warrant. I struck up with an idea. We could enter his house and request access to whole flat as a part of structural audit carried out to correct leakages and seepage before audit. And due to some opposition from few members the secretary had requested police to assist. There should be no mention on kidnapping inquiry.

I convinced my best friend to come up as civil contractor. I also asked him to get a thick syring filled with watre to make it genuine test We rung the doorbell. “Rajeev” opened the door but he refused us to inspect flat. I again explained him that monsoon was 3 months away and we need to be prepared  But he refused with pretext that he need to call owner for permission. Inspector then stepped in from the floor lobby and intervened in typical police style, The guy panicked and felt that his game was over. He was alone in the flat and there was no sign of his friend, He tried to make a dash to stairs and managed to reach elevator. But then police backup was waiting for him on ground floor. Police broke the bedroom door to find tied up Mr Solanki  with gag on his mouth,

Mr Solanki told that  he had no business and family issues he can think of. He did not know any of the kidnappers. What they were asking is too sign on agreement of land sales of his plot near Pune. Even on the phone threats they had threatened of dire consequence if he did not sign.
On date of  he went for walk when two people approached him and engaged him in conversation while suddenly someone from behind smelled him a handkerchief . When he woke up he was tied . Every day thrice they used to threaten him for sign. On two occasions they went physical but he did not budge. But they fed him, provision water and had tie to carry out body functions under supervision. Police took his detailed statement. He promised to cooperate with Police for further investigation. He thanked me for all efforts I had taken. Maybe police had told him about my role.

Epilogue:
Since Mr Solanki had no idea about the kidnappers motive to have his land. It was all left to the police for the necessary enquiry. Meanwhile Police had captured Rajeev’s colleagues  based on Rajeev’s typical police inquiry. They all were hiding in a village home near Pune. The name Rajeev he had mentioned was false. As eventually it turned out it the matter was more sinister than what it appeared to be which had to get involved Anti Terrorism team, Senior home and defense officers. They all were part of a terrorist organization. Mr Solanki owned a plot of land adjacent to one of the premier defense establishments. This plot was very convenient and peculiar to carry out disruptive activities inside the defense institution. They had found about Mr Solanki from public records regarding land ownership.  
They found address of Mr Solanki ie our society and flat no from those records.  They hacked flat owner,s Facebook account. Hemant which also was false name, added himself as friend and they uploaded  rajeev’s photo on Facebook wall of so called Hemant Kumar. They had done this to make them look as if they were friends with the owner to avoid suspicion if anybody went deep finding out. But that was their mistake. It was a minor key for solving the case. They managed to break the original lock and latch and replaced with new latch and lock. Thus they had their access to the flat. Police informed the flat owner about this episode who was shocked. He promised to come down immediately and finish further enquiries. Owner also visited his flat and replaced latch and lock. He did not forget to thank me for being vigilant.
On a lighter note it was later ,found that, the initials RS on the chart stood for Ranveer Singh AK stood for Akshay Kumar  and JA stood for John Abraham. These were their bollywoodistic code for their names.as given by so called Mr Raju Hirani  alias Hemant Kumar , the Director and the leader of the terror unit. 

My first foray as detective was successful. It was more about being vigilant about your neighborhood. Something bad could be happening right under your nose as that was in literal sense in above episode.
But then I would say “ Elementary my dear Watson”

Author runs a blog hhtp://nayakgiri.blogspot.com

All characters mentioned are fictitious and bear no resemblance with anyone living or dead


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