The Tandoor Murder

by Maxwell Pereira

Publisher: Westland Books

Price: Rs 599

Pages: 290

There have been scores of books that have been written on actual crime incidents. Yet what makes the Tandoor Murder saga stand out is that it is one book which captures, in great length, the intricacies of criminal investigation, while at the same time provides an immensely captivating and descriptive account of places and characters which find mention in its 290 pages, divided into 22 chapters. Maxwell Pereira, in a panoramic sweep, has recorded in elaborate and complex detail the bone-chilling story of a abominable and monstrous crime that shook the nation’s conscience, and as the cover states, “brought a government to its knees”. He, in fact, to use a criminal investigation Urdu phrase of Nishan Dehi, has frame by frame re-enacted and recreated the gruesome murder of young Naina Sahni, who after being shot dead by her politician husband Sushil Sharma, was hastily bundled up for being incinerated in a tandoor (a clay oven) at an open air restaurant attached to a New Delhi hotel; this in a desperate bid to destroy evidence of her unimaginable savage end. Had it not been for the vigilant alertness of Constable Abdul Nazeer Kunju of Connaught Place police, who was on patrol duty in the vicinity and the timely alarm raised by Anaro Devi, a vegetable vendor, the crime would have gone undetected. It would have been a dead matter and not a soul would have known how a vivacious and ambitious lady, holding a pilot’s licence and working towards carving out a successful life in Australia was a victim of the jealousy of her insecure husband, an upcoming politician, who was once the president of the Delhi Pradesh Youth Congress.

Maxwell, with the help of notes he had diligently jotted down and the newspaper clippings he meticulously and methodically maintained, has brought to life each of the characters in a racy narrative, which makes the book compulsively gripping. The book, in several ways, is distinctively unique and unmatched, as it is a guide to young crime reporters and even police probationers desirous of understanding the convoluted and twisted nuances and overtones of how crime detection takes place.

In what appears to be an extremely simple solution in the discernment and uncovering of a crime, it is the painstaking efforts of officers and men who make it possible to bring to book culprits, however powerful they may be. The Tandoor Murder serves as an introduction to several terms such as Panchnama and Roznamcha that are an integral part of police working, while highlighting how detectives sometimes have to quite often spend sleepless nights in connecting the dots and pre-empting moves made by suspects who through their choreographically devious ways manage to often out-manoeuvre and outwit the law enforcement officers using procedural loopholes to steer clear of the law with the assistance of shrewd lawyers armed with legal acrobatics that can turn any case on its head.

While the hardback is about one of the most sensational and graphic murders to have taken place in the national capital, the author also familiarises the reader with the various locales that are featured in the recount. As an illustration, there may not be many people, who despite residing in Delhi may know what DIZ (Delhi Imperial Zone) stands for. Maxwell has taken great pains to fill the reader with minute details of the locales so as to connect with them and make them experience a visual feel and texture of the narration.

There is little doubt that had he not been a police officer, Maxwell would have been a journalist with an eye delineating and tracing stories down to the last letter. Having seen him from close quarters, both while covering the crime beat in the capital, and subsequently while overseeing the overall local coverage for two prominent newspapers, the Hindustan Times and the Times of India, I can readily testify that he had the rare ability of capturing every small detail of unspeakably sickening crimes that took place over the years, when he served in various positions in the police force.

In this particular book, he has brought to life the actual manner in which some of the best known officers of the national capital functioned, ranging from Inspector Niranjan Singh, the main IO of the case, to the then DCP, New Delhi, Aditya Arya and the Commissioner Nikhil Kumar. He has also touched on their personality traits up to a point, without distracting from the content of the book, which reflects the anatomy of a killer on the one hand, and the never-say-die spirit of the police officers on the other. It vividly brings to the fore how seamlessly evidences can be manipulated and how autopsy examinations can be doctored and tampered with—this to highlight the pitfalls and obstacles in taking forth the investigations towards its logical end.

His vast interest in following international crime trends is also noticeable as he underlines certain striking similarities and unmatched parallels between the O.J. Simpson case trial that was taking place in the United States in July-August 1995, visibly co-relating it to the Tandoor case so as to drive home the point of crafty lawyers engaged to viciously counter rigorous police investigations.

The Tandoor Murder Case provides a commanding, scenic view of a police officer at his best.