‘Madam, I’ll tell you what I know,’ he said, pushing his spectacles up, ‘but promise me that you won’t reveal my name to anyone. You know the actor in that Shah Rukh Khan film, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi? The one who is King Khan’s friend D.K. in that film?’ he asked. His voice now held excitement… ‘Anyway, the friend in that film, that actor’s name is Anuj Tikku. He owns all the first floor flats; there are three of them. And the man who was murdered is his old father. I hear his paying guests did it. They are untraceable.’
The mastermind of the plot was Vijay Palande. While Palande hatched the murder conspiracy, his two accomplices – Dhananjay Shinde and Manoj Gajakosh – executed the crime. The killers wanted possession of Anuj’s 15,000-square-feet apartment at Lokhandwala’s Samartha Angan Housing Society. They were also eyeing other properties of the Tikkus.
Palande didn’t fit any pattern. There was nothing in his behavior, mannerisms or conduct that would make anyone think he was a murderer, forget a serial killer. Unlike other prisoners, he was educated, sophisticated and was teaching himself law. Palande, like Ted Bundy, has humanized serial killers for his country. He has shocked us by breaking the biggest myth around such killers. He has shown us that such murderers, unlike popular notions, can be sophisticated, socially respectable people, that they are close to us. ‘Potla kar denge’, the bastard used to say, meaning ‘maar ke, kaat ke, potle mei daal ke vanish kar denge body ko’.
We believe that Simrin was being used as bait by Palande. She has acted in a few B-grade, rather obscene films. When I asked Anuj Tikku what he thought about Simrin, he said, ‘She was a crass version of Pulp Fiction‘s Uma Thurman – like a gun moll, but not a classy one. She would dress provocatively, would snort cocaine’.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, ‘He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.’ ‘”She”, to us, is journalism,’ a senior journalist once said to me. ‘You think that if you don’t look straight at it, you’ll remain unaffected, that those little tales you write about each day – of hope, betrayal, victory, loss – won’t make you laugh or cry. But even if you do look away, you’re breathing every bit of them, every moment. And like the sun, all those stories, all those people, they’re all with you, in you.’
If a man can have sex in front of his dying father, with the 85 year old parent lying in a corner of the same room, to my mind, there is something terribly strange about him, if not wrong. Simrin appeared to be helplessly in love with Palande.
He does have costly tastes – he only sips premium Bombay Sapphire gin, wears Ralph Lauren, has a fetish for expensive cars, luxurious apartments, often travels abroad, has seen most of Europe, and has two beautiful women to support. During one of our interactions at the court, Palande told me that while in jail, what he missed the most was traveling. ‘I love travelling,’ he said to me. ‘I’ve seen most of the world, except for Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, North and South Korea. The day I walk free, I’ll go to Austria and set up a new base. I had a restaurant in Barcelona, another one in Berlin. But now it’s all finished. You know how foreigners are. The moment you’re not there, you’re gone. Also, here, they’ve portrayed me as a contract killer, a serial killer. What sane person is going to sit and do business with me now? They say I’m very unpredictable; I can kill for a car; I killed for a flat. Forget about the flat, yaar.’
Lodged in Maharashtra’s Thane Central jail, Vijay Palande is now an undertrial. In late 2015, he reportedly ranked second among 98 inmates in a prison exam on Gandhian principles. Simrin is currently out on bail.
Anuj gave up on his Bollywood dreams. He now writes a travel blog. His latest: “Why the World is Fascinated with Tombs and Macabre Sites.”
– Puja Changoiwala, The Front Page Murders (Hachette, 2016).