New Delhi's Lady Detective
Bhavna Paliwal, 32, is a female private investigator and co-founder of the Tejas Detective Agency in New Delhi. Armed with a camera phone and a variety of disguises, she has rescued a kidnapped girl from a gang of flesh traders, exposed two-timing boyfriends and investigated the secret lives of countless husbands and wives. She describes life on the prowl.
When you think of career avenues for women in India, being a detective is not the first thing that springs to mind. But it’s definitely one of most exciting. Having been in the field for more than a decade, I can vouch for this.
I was working as a journalist on a small newspaper when I came across a job ad for a female investigator. I jumped at it, and landed at the agency the same day. To test my sleuthing skills the interviewer told me to check out the character of a married woman. I did a good job of it and was hired on the spot.
Life as a detective is a roller-coaster ride. Some days are exciting and fulfilling while others can be frustrating. One thing a sleuth has to possess is patience. Even if some cases look simple, they can take ages to solve and require tons of perseverance.
I once rescued a 13-year-old girl who had been abducted by a gang of notorious flesh traders in Orissa. I managed to crack the missing girl's case and then, accompanied by the Delhi police, raided their hideout to save her. In true Hollywood style I got to kick open the door of the house where the crooks were hiding the girl and, after a round of gunfire, the cops nabbed the culprits.
The best part of my job is that I get to change my looks with each new assignment. And I get to act. I have to worm information out of people – maids, drivers, cooks, peons, doctors. It’s the part of my job I love the most: getting into the skin of another character and pretending I’m somebody I’m not.
Lately, a lot of my time has been taken up by premarital and marital verifications. With all kinds of matrimonial frauds happening these days I’ve transformed myself into a wedding sleuth. Not that I mind, especially if it means saving women from tying the knot with scamsters.
More and more women are turning to private eyes. In India's larger metros especially, all-women agencies have mushroomed. This augurs well because I firmly believe that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
I remember once there was a pretty girl deeply in love with her fiancee. But when her parents asked me to investigate the boy’s background, after he had made some tall claims, he turned out to be a failed entrepreneur, already married with two kids. His game plan? To scoot after taking a fat dowry, as his business was floundering.
Then there was the case of a fashion designer who, when his girlfriend asked me to check on him, turned out to be gay. And another case in which a young computer engineer turned out to be a womaniser and an alcoholic.
As a woman detective I think I have an advantage over my male colleagues. People trust me and open up more easily, which isn’t the case with men. Also, as a woman it’s far easier to procure information from drivers and maids, people who are the repositories of crucial evidence for our cases.
An investigation could take from days to weeks. But at the end of it all, the most difficult part is breaking the news. It’s not easy to tell people in love that their partners are cheating on them or leading double lives. It’s heart-wrenching to see their worlds collapse around them.
Given that arranged marriages are the bedrock of Indian society, much of my work involves checking out the character of the prospective groom or bride. Parents want to be sure that the man they have chosen for their daughter is of sound character and not abusive.
I find that as dowries get fatter, more young men are lying about their qualifications or employment to hoodwink a bride. But while a girl’s parents are keen to ensure that her boyfriend is sound, the boys’ side, too, want to be sure that the bride-to-be has no skeletons in her cupboard.
But sadly, many of my clients are more anxious to be assured that the man or woman they are marrying has plenty of property, land and assets. In fact, some people are more concerned with bank balances than character or qualifications. It’s a sad reflection of our society today.
• Bhavna Paliwal was speaking to Neeta Lal in New Delhi.