"I was the first woman in India to get into this field," Rajani Pandit said. "People used to pass snide remarks and wonder if I chose to become a detective because I didn't get any other work. 'This is not a woman's job,' they would tell me." The 50-year-old is an acclaimed Mumbai-based private investigator and is also known as India's first woman private investigator.
Pandit was only 25 when she set up her agency, Rajani Pandit Detective Services, in 1991. Over the years, her agency has solved more than 75,000 cases and today she has a team of 20 people. Being a woman in a field dominated by men was never easy. Pandit had to face many challenges, even for such basic things as getting ad space in a newspaper.
But she was determined. Thanks to her impressive work, her agency slowly gained in popularity and now she has clients across India as well as in different parts of the world.
The first case she solved wasn't one that had been formally handed to her. She just became curious about changes in one of her college friend's behaviour.
"I was never scared of anything," Pandit explained. "I knew from the start that the one thing we are all afraid of is death. And that can come in any way. You can die while sitting in the living room if the ceiling falls... so there is actually nothing to be scared of."
She was in college when she first became interested in investigation. "I realized that if you look around carefully, you will find many problems and mysteries in many houses," she said. "Problems that people can't solve themselves and need external help with. But they don't have any evidence and don't know where to go. That's when an investigator comes into the picture."
The first case she solved wasn't one that had been formally handed to her. She just became curious about changes in one of her college friend's behaviour. After keeping an eye on her for some time, Pandit discovered that she was getting involved in some illicit activities that her parents weren't aware of. Moreover, some untrustworthy men were taking advantage of her friend. Rajani informed her friend's parents and helped her get back on her feet. It was this girl's father who first asked Pandit if she was a detective and if she had thought of becoming one.
For Pandit, one of the most memorable cases she solved was the one in which she had to live in a stranger's house as a servant for six months. At the end of this period, a murderer was arrested.
Born and brought up in a middle-class family in Thane, Pandit studied Marathi literature at Ruparel College and then worked in a temporary job for three months before setting up her detective agency. While her father didn't support her decision in the beginning, her mother was always by her side. "My father said that this is not a suitable field for women," Pandit recalled. "But my mom knew I had been very stubborn since I was young. She just said that I should be allowed to do whatever I want to do."
For Pandit, one of the most memorable cases she solved was the one in which she had to live in a stranger's house as a servant for six months. At the end of this period, a murderer was arrested. "There were reports that a woman had hired someone to kill her husband because she was involved in an extra-marital affair. She later killed her son too because he was suspicious about her. The police suspected that this woman's lover was the murderer, but they could not find him. That was when I was asked to intervene," she recalls.
She began keeping an eye on the suspect's house but the man used to come home only at night and she could not find out much about him. So Pandit decided she had to find a way to enter the house. She spoke to the domestic help, pretending to be someone in desperate need of work. The next day, she was able to enter the suspect's house as a servant. "After I had worked in that house for some time, the woman fainted one day. I gave her medicines and called the doctor. She was very happy with my work and decided to keep me there as a caretaker," she said. Finally, when the lover came, the two had a big fight and the woman asked him not to return there because she feared people were spying on them.
Pandit has taken on many roles to solve cases, including that of a maidservant, a blind woman, a pregnant woman, and a street vendor.
Pandit knew that if he went away this time, he might never be caught. She had to find a way to inform the police but people didn't have mobile phones back then. So, she went into the kitchen and dropped a knife on her feet. Seeing blood, the woman asked her to go to the doctor downstairs. She hurried out, informed the police, and the suspect was arrested within 20 minutes.
In another case, a woman colleague of Pandit's was concerned because someone had begun stealing jewellery from her place. The mother of three sons, one of whom had recently been married, the woman suspected her daughter-in-law but didn't want to say anything until she was sure. Pandit volunteered to help and began keeping a watch on her house. She found that after everyone used to leave the house, one of her sons would steal the jewellery and take it to his friend's house.
Pandit has taken on many roles to solve cases, including that of a maidservant, a blind woman, a pregnant woman, and a street vendor. She will do whatever it takes to solve a case. The most common cases she has solved involves couples who don't trust each other, cases of extra-marital affairs, and finding details about a girl or a boy before a marriage match is arranged. "I also try and support people through their tough times, give them courage, and inspire them to move forward. This way, I am able to do some social service as well," Pandit said, smiling.
"I also try and support people through their tough times, give them courage, and inspire them to move forward. This way, I am able to do some social service as well," Pandit said.
She feels that a detective's work today has become a lot easier because of the availability of modern equipment such as better recorders, bugs, and spy cameras.
"If you want to do something, you should do it. There should be no shame in doing any work you are passionate about. Self-confidence, courage, and stubbornness — these are the things that take you a long way. With these, women can do anything that they set their minds to," Pandit said, summing things up.
This story is part of #BossWomen - A video series on stories extraordinary Indian women, brought to you by The Better India & History Channel.