India’s first woman private detective is right out of a pulp fiction novel

India’s first woman private detective is right out of a pulp fiction novel

Dressed simply in a cotton salwaar kameez, (a long tunic with loose-fitting trousers), with her hair braided back, and minimal jewellery, 53-year-old Rajani Pandit looks like any other Maharashtrian housewife from the old suburbs of Mumbai city. When you walk into her little office in an apartment building in the heart of the bustling city, however, you are made aware that Pandit is no ordinary woman.

The walls of the mid-sized apartment that serves as the headquarters for the Rajani Investigative Bureau are adorned with certificates, photos and cut outs from newspaper and magazines featuring India’s very own Nancy Drew. With a career spanning over four decades, Pandit’s life has been one long pulp-fiction novel.

“I suppose I always had an inquisitive personality, one that often got me in trouble,” Pandit says. Her earliest “case,” she recalls, was when at the age of 11 she “investigated” a gift to her family from a relative that turned out to be a knock-off of a popular local brand.

“The producer was pleased that I found the shop selling imitation merchandise of his products, but the relative who gifted us the cheap counterfeit was furious!” she remembers with amusement.

But it was many years before she would consider the idea of pursuing a career as an investigator. In fact, the story of what inspired her passions as a detective is a rather cringe-worthy account of an interfering busybody.

“I was in college in the early 1980s, where I suspected that one of my classmates had a questionable character,” she narrates. Pandit’s classmate, much to her shock and displeasure, indulged in smoking, drinking and “hanging with bad boys.”

Pandit did what she thought was the responsible thing and informed the girl’s parents. “They did not believe me. But I was concerned because I was afraid that the girl was being taken advantage of by the boys,” she reasoned. Pandit, not one to give up easily, took matters into her own hands and started to follow the wayward teen after classes.

“I used the daily allowance my parents gave to track them after classes and map their usual hangouts and activities. I even took photos of her with the boys. I then took this evidence to the girl’s father, who later accompanied me to catch his daughter red-handed,” she explains, with a hint of unironic pride in her younger self.

Pandit’s unsolicited “investigation” left the parents of the girl she was “investigating” very confused. Upset and baffled, the girl’s father asked her, “Kya aap jasoos hain? [Are you a spy?]”

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