THE SUPER SLEUTH
BHAVNA PALIWAL Detective
Chasing suspects on desolate stretches, across cavernous malls and seedy hotels may appear to be an odd pursuit to most. But 38-year-old Bhavna Paliwal, one of the best-known women detectives in the Capital, says her profession isn’t just exciting, it is immensely satisfying.
For the last 13 years, from an inconspicuous office in North Delhi’s Netaji Subhash Place commercial complex, Paliwal has been running the Tejas Detective Agency. “If through my work I can allay the anxieties of people, I am doing the society some good.’’
Indiscretions by wayward wives or errant husbands form a chunk of Paliwal’s work. If it isn’t spouses spying on their bitter halves, it is parents fixing their children’s weddings who want to be sure of the match’s character. “Wasn’t it Jane Austen who wrote, ‘Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance’?” asks Paliwal. “As detectives, we ask people not to leave it to chance,” she guffaws.
Paliwal says the proliferation of social media is fuelling an environment of suspicion. She cites a case where a 35-year-old teacher became friends with a 28-year-old. “After striking a friendship on Facebook, she became intimate with the NRI when he was visiting India. Her suspicious husband approached us. After monitoring her movements we directed him to the coffee shop where she was chatting with her young lover.”
Paliwal’s interest in the world of detectives was kindled during her childhood. Her father, a farmer in Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, died when she was just six. Her mother had to shoulder the responsibility of raising Bhavna and three siblings. But even in school, young Bhavna loved to devour Hindi pulp fiction written
We can't do continuous surveillance. In our country, a woman standing at a site for a few hours will have to field queries
by Surender Mohan Pathak. “That is where I first developed a curiosity about detectives,” she says.
Having completed her BA in Humanities from Agra University, young Bhavna moved to Delhi.
It was here that she responded to an advertisement from the Times Detective Agency and was hired. As a 22-year-old rookie sleuth, Paliwal’s first big test came during a routine check to confirm a girl’s marital history. She gained entry into the girl’s home posing as a salesgirl. “I befriended the lady of the house and began chatting with her about her family. She revealed their daughter was married to a small-town businessman before things went awry. At this point her husband forbade her from spilling the beans. He sternly asked who had sent me. The man said he understood psychology since he had himself retired from the Intelligence Bureau!”
For a few nervous moments, Paliwal thought she’d been caught. But she kept her cool. “I insisted I was a salesgirl selling shampoo and showed him some documents to back it up. It was a close shave.”
Over the years, Paliwal has become more cautious. “A detective can’t afford to stick out. We conduct background checks and blend in with the environment.”
Having navigated the world of detectives for more than 15 years, Paliwal says being a woman detective has its positives. “Women clients are much more transparent with us about their problems.”
On the flip side, there are certain disadvantages a woman detective faces in India. “We cannot do continuous surveillance. In our country, a man standing at a site for more than a few hours won’t raise eyebrows. But if a woman is standing somewhere for long, she should be prepared to field awkward queries.”
She charges at least ` 35,000 for pre-marriage checks, ` 1 lakh onward for extra-marital probes and ` 10,000 upward for checking credentials of employees.
Still, dealing with deceit and adultery day in and day out hasn’t shaken Paliwal’s faith in the institution of marriage. “I don’t take my work home. I am married and my husband is not a detective. My work has taught me a crucial lesson: Have faith in your partner but don’t have blind faith.”