These three are the real-life Miss Marples of the Capital. They are swift, smart and know how to get their work done. For two of these detectives, becoming a private investigator was not on their mind from the very beginning. Bhavna Paliwal, for instance, worked in a newspaper and chanced upon the life of a detective quite suddenly. Taralika Lahiri, too, started out in a completely different profession - that of a school teacher. But fate had something completely different in store for her. Tanya Puri is the only one amongst them who grew up in the shadow of lies and deception, with a detective for a father. For her, it was a natural progression to join the profession - that too a few years ago. Paliwal, on the other hand, has been in the game for quite some time - more than 15 years. And Lahiri is the oldest one in the profession, having being pulled into this lifestyle in 1989. The three share tidbits from their adventurous lives, even revealing a few details of their most interesting cases, with MAIL TODAY in the following feature.
BHAVNA PALIWAL, DETECTIVE SINCE: 2000
BHAVNA Paliwal started out as an intern in a newspaper but soon realised that it was not what she wanted from her life. Paliwal, who hails from Agra, moved to Delhi with her elder brother for better prospects. She was deeply inspired by Kiran Bedi and her father, who was a social worker. From the beginning, Paliwal had the desire within her to make an impact in society.
This desire took her to a newspaper office, where she started out as an intern. Unfortunately, she did not find any satisfaction in her work. One day she chanced upon a newspaper ad seeking young female and male candidates for a detective agency. Having worked as a reporting intern, she knew the basics - how to source facts and talk to the right people - so she decided to give it a try.
Now, having spent quite a few years as a detective, Paliwal says that having a presence of mind is the key. One's talent lies in the ability to escape a particularly harrowing situation.
Sharing her very first assignment, where she was asked to find out the whereabouts of a girl, Paliwal says, "We were asked to meet her family and trace her location. My colleague and I disguised ourselves as salesgirls and reached the given address. The mother of the girl was talking to us about her daughter, and we were quite close to the information we wanted, when the girl's father - a retired IB officer - came into the picture."
He confronted the two of them, scaring them death. "He told us that he would let us go if he told him the truth," she adds, "I was almost caught. The confidence and the presence of mind came to our rescue. We did not reveal our true selves even though we felt that we were being interrogated. After escaping the situation, I never looked back."
To get information out of people, Paliwal says one has to get into the character and be ready to experience all sorts of circumstances. Sharing an anecdote she says, "For one particular case, I had to disguise myself as a maid. I rented a small space near the target and lived there with other women who worked as domestic helps. On other occasions, I had to dress as an NGO worker, a teacher an Anganwadi official."
While her life as a detective was full of such interesting interludes, for a long time Paliwal did not disclose her job profile to her family, fearing resistance from them. Her brother was the first one to figure out her profession when he saw her photo in a newspaper article.
Talking about the variety of cases she gets, Paliwal says, "Men are the most tortured ones. There was a time when women were actually the victims but now it is the reverse. We get a lot of cases where men are being conned by women or being cheated on by their partner. There has been a rise in cases of extramarital affairs. Apart from marital and postmarital cases, parents also approach to snoop on their children whom they suspect of substance abuse."
In most cases, she adds, things end in settlements. The parties prefer to sort things out instead of dragging them to the court. In the end, there is a sense of satisfaction to her job - the fact that she was able to help someone to get to the truth.
TANYA PURI, DETECTIVE SINCE: 2014
Tanya Puri is following her dad's footsteps. Photo: Mail Today
TANYA Puri's inspiration is none other than her own father, Baldev Puri, who is a veteran detective himself. As a child, Puri observed her father working on various cases. "The way he used to crack cases, and then tell me about them is something that I will cherish all my life," she says, adding, "My father used to give me imaginary situations and ask me to connect the dots. I considered that to be the best the way to spend my playtime."
Puri got her first real exposure into the world of spying when her father roped her in for a case while she was still in college. She was asked to snoop on a girl whose parents suspected her to be dating someone. That was just the beginning for the 24-year-old. Puri, who has a degree in mass communication, soon floated her own agency and hired several young female investigators.
Hired for their mental capabilities, these investigators are properly trained to handle all sorts of situations. Puri says, " I believe that safety comes first. Some investigators already know martial arts, and all of them are provided with bikes. It is all about the skill of not getting caught by those we are spying on. In any case, the investigators are trained well to handle any situation."
Two and a half years into the profession, Puri says that the profession is promising not just from a satisfaction point of view but monetary as well. "In this profession," she adds, "experience is money. With experience you make more money and less mistakes. This profession is all about making zero mistakes. You have to be sly in a way that people around you do not understand."
COMING to the extent to which a detective should get involved in a case, Puri says "We collect the evidence and provide it to our clients. What is shown in TV shows and movies, where a private detective is closely involved in a case and working in tandem with the police, is all myth. People have stereotyped the profession. We do not wear hats and long overcoats. The profession is all about blending in the environment around you."
Her father, who is the vice-president of Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, believes that the times have changed for the better. "Gone are the days," he says, "when people believed that women were not meant for jobs that required a lot of field work. We get several queries from young girls who want to become detectives. I tell them to first finish their graduation and then join us. Women sleuths have an edge over males, since they can have access to different places with more ease. The snooping business has a lot of scope for women, and over the years the demand for women detectives has also increased."
TARALIKA LAHIRI, DETECTIVE SINCE: 1989
Taralika Lahiri also works with detectives based outside India. Photo: Ramesh Sharma
TARALIKA Lahiri's journey as a detective has been a sweet transition, from a school teacher who taught English to a detective who solved cases. Born and brought up in Allahabad, Lahiri hails from a very simple family that believes in the strong foundation of education. Having done her masters in English literature, she moved to Delhi in 1986 after marriage.
She taught English in a school as a substitute teacher for a while but later found a job of an executive in a detective agency that dealt in security related gadgets, in 1989. The first case that came to her was related to embezzlement in one of the banks in Allahabad. She adds, "Since I was from Allahabad, my company thought I would be the right person for the assignment. I went there and worked on the case for about 10 days. When I submitted my report, my boss said he would appoint me as a full-time detective. And that was it. From a school teacher, I became a full time detective."
"When I came back home," Lahiri continues, "I told my husband about the offer. My husband was very receptive to the whole idea. He asked me to weigh pros and cons before making a decision. It is because of him that today I can travel overseas for assignments. My mother initially had a lot of problems. She did not like me coming home late. However, with time that changed too."
The 53-year-old detective has solved a variety of cases, ranging from busting a racket of making minors work in sports factory to murder investigations. She has also been abroad for her assignments, and says that it is very important to know the law of the land before you take such assignments. "A country like UAE is very tough on the snooping business. You are in a lot of trouble if you are caught," she adds.
Talking from the safety point of view, she says, "To solve one particular case, I had to change my car three times and walk for 5-6 km to ensure that my path could not be traced."
One particularly harrowing case, which was also covered in the news, came into her hands in 2014. An auto driver was reported to have killed his American wife before self-immolating, in Agra. Lahiri was intrinsically connected to the case, having being assigned to trace the same woman by her boyfriend in the US.
She adds, "I was contacted by her boyfriend who wanted to me trace her location. Using social media I started speaking to the woman and became friends with her. I went to meet her in Agra where I found that her husband was a young auto driver was not happy with her lifestyle. He told me that she used to go out at night with strange men and behaved unlike an Indian bride. After I came back, her boyfriend told me that he would be coming to India to meet the woman. A day before he was going to land, I read the news of her death. I was very shocked, and had to break this news to him at the airport."
Keeping all the intrigues of her profession aside, Lahiri only has once concern - that the profession be recognised by the government. "Like other countries," she says, "detectives in India should also be assigned a valid identity. Youngsters take a lot of interest and come to us with many queries but most of them do not join as their parents are against such a job."