I (Rajani Pandit) had read some years ago, ‘A detective is born, not made’. And this proved exactly right in my way. Intelligence is what a person cannot get by learning, but by life. No great teacher can teach you to think smart, act accordingly and solve the case. All naturally. Each day you get a new case; and in many of them, you have to play a dual role – like a teacher and student both. Decision making as per the circumstance is very essential in the making of a detective.
Legends are people who go above and beyond the call of duty. They are usually experts or advocates, or providers of voices and platforms for those with neither. That said, they are also ordinary people who identify with a cause or a passion and live their whole life dedicated to it.
One such living legend is a lady called Rajani Pandit. Regarded as Maharashtra’s (and in all likelihood, India’s) first female detective, she has solved a whopping 80,000 cases in her lifetime! Born in 1962 to a middle-class family in Palghar, in the district of Thane, Maharashtra, Rajani spent her childhood engrossed in mystery books and spy novels. Shantaram Pandit, her father, worked at the police department in Palghar, so it won’t be a stretch to assume that this could have been a factor that encouraged her to pursue this career path.
Her quest for solving cases began at a very young age. On her own steam, she investigated the local markets to find the source of cheap counterfeit goods that were being circulated. Her operation was a success. It was in college, where she got serious about detective work. While studying Marathi literature in a Mumbai college, out of concern for a classmate who was involved in prostitution, she started investigating as her friend’s behaviour was telling. She feared that her classmate was being preyed on or taken advantage of by other people. Pandit reached out to her parents to let them know, but when that was not enough for them to do something about it. She went ahead and got photographic evidence, enabling her father to take necessary action.
‘This is not a woman’s job,’ they would tell me
At first, Rajani Pandit’s father was a bit sceptical about her career choice, but she had her mother’s full support. She got a job as an office clerk after graduating, but this was short-lived in the best way possible. A colleague needed her help, as she had discovered money was missing from the family accounts. She had reason to believe that it was her daughter-in-law behind this but had no evidence to support her suspicions. Pandit kept a tab on all family members and their routines and eventually discovered that it was the youngest son who was responsible for the theft. As this was her first paid job, Rajani was inspired to use her skills more regularly.
According to Pandit, she was encouraged by her classmate’s family while in college. They were grateful for her help and suggested she become a full-time detective. On doing research, she discovered there was no qualification required to become one. The only ingredients were hard work, concentration, in-depth knowledge, and a dedication to see the case through. In 1991, Rajani started her own agency called Rajani Pandit Detective Services, also known as Rajani Investigation Bureau. The office was set up in Mahim, Mumbai and twenty years later, it had 30 detectives and easily about 20 cases each month.
Being a woman, it is no surprise that she faced some obstacles thanks to her gender. Back in 1986, a newspaper rejected advertising her detective agency, simply because they could not fathom why a woman would opt for a career in private investigations. During an interview in 1998, while discussing cases her firm had handled, Pandit said fear was not a word in her dictionary. She had dealt with domestic issues, missing people, murders, political investigations, corporate espionage all over India and abroad. Sometimes she was required to go under disguise in roles such as a maid, a pregnant mother, a blind woman, among others.
Rajani Pandit has had quite an exciting life, with some cases proving more difficult than others. In one case, she did undercover work as a maid in someone’s home for six months – a woman rumoured to have been involved in the deaths of both her husband and son. Rajani almost got caught once as she had a tape recorder with her. The woman stopped her from leaving the house. Committed to her detective duties, Rajani stayed on in the house. One day, the lady’s accomplice in the murders came to meet her, prompting Rajani to intentionally injure herself with a knife on her foot, so that she could justify leaving the house to get it bandaged. The moment she stepped out, she ran to the nearest phone booth, contacted her clients and requested them to come to the house with the police. Both suspects got arrested the same day.
In another case, Pandit investigated two business executives from a big company and pretended to be a lunatic on Juhu Beach. An MNC had enlisted her to find out if these men were involved in a financial scam. She was successful in her efforts by overhearing their conversation. The Mumbai Police has benefited from her skillset and dedications, sometimes working with her to solve a case. Rajani has remained single, as she loves her job and does not want to have to choose between marriage and her work. She is far more interested in contributing and helping society by investigating the unseen facets of a person’s life.
To forge a new career path, to excel in it and to remain so dedicated to it even after so many years, is what makes Rajani Pandit a fantastic example of a living legend. She has written two books – Face Behind Face and Mayajal, both have won awards. She has also been honoured as a woman achiever by Doordarshan, who gave her the Hirkani award. A documentary film has been made about her, appropriately titled Lady James Bond. Even a feature film that will focus on her investigations is set to release in the near feature. It is called Kutttrapayirchi, and we are looking forward to watching it.