What Would You Do For A Flat In Mumbai?
Just a few days before the Vijay Palande case made the morning newspaper more juicy than any crime series on TV, someone was explaining to me how affordable a BMW has become. “See,” said this unofficial salesman for one of the most expensive brands in the world, “the thing is, if you put down Rs10 lakh and take a loan for about Rs20 lakh, you’ll have a small EMI of about Rs20,000.” Possibly at the sight of my eyes goggling while I choked on my drink, he added reassuringly, “It’s quite easy.” If only this man had met Palande instead of me, perhaps Karan Kakkad would be alive today.
It turns out that Palande, who may well turn out to be our most fascinating criminal since Charles Sobhraj, killed Kakkad for his BMW, some debit cards and “ornaments” worth Rs50 lakh. This wasn’t the first time that Palande’s love for fancy cars had pushed him to crime. Earlier, he’d convinced a businessman called Gurudutt Jairam to buy a Mercedes because Palande said it would help Jairam lure high-end customers into the fitness centre that Palande and Jairam were going to set up in Mumbai. Jairam bought the Mercedes and then was forced by Palande to give it up. Clearly, if someone is willing to threaten and murder people for Mercedes and BMW cars, servicing a car loan isn’t quite as “easy” as my acquaintance believes.
The fact of the matter is that development in Mumbai has happened with the singular aim of making the rich richer and more comfortable, and at the cost of the less privileged. While the BMW showrooms pop up and the Bandra-Worli SeaLink is the site of traffic jams, there is nothing being done for the everyman. Public transport is nightmarishly overcrowded. The concept of a middle-class neighbourhood is fast disappearing. Inflation has resulted in Rs100 feeling almost like small change. Mumbai was never an easy city but until the recent past, it did accommodate those who didn’t earn or inherit fortunes. Now, to live independently in a decently-developed locality between Bandra and Juhu, you need to earn approximately Rs1 lakh a month. Even with this salary, you wouldn’t have much by way of savings after you’ve paid the rent for your 1BHK and budgeted for regular expenses like groceries, travel, maids’ salaries and so on.
Yet people do come bustling into this city every day. From the rich to the middle class to the poor, they all descend upon Mumbai with the hope that they will make a living; a comfortable, successful living. Some manage, others struggle, a few give in and then there are people like Palande who was a waiter at a Copper Chimney restaurant before he turned to murdering people for their flats and cars. Mumbai has had the reputation of being a reasonably safe city, which didn’t mean that there was no crime but that there was a criminal subculture that regular citizens glimpsed only occasionally in their everyday lives.
Palande’s story is a sign that there are serious faultlines in the security that was a trademark of Mumbai. It’s now the city with dollar signs in its eyes and a graveyard of broken dreams. As the gap between the rich and the poor turns into a death valley rather than a divide, it isn’t surprising that the strugglers are turning to crime. After all, if it will take approximately 300 years to pay off a home loan, why not risk life imprisonment and kill for it? It probably felt worth the risk to Palande because if he could get away with it, he’d have the house of his dreams at no cost whereas legally, he probably wouldn’t even qualify for the home loan he’d need to buy the same property. Also, as my EMI-paying husband observed, now that Palande has been caught, he’d be living in a jail cell at the government’s expense. Either way, his real estate situation isn’t costing him anything. Just think how few people who live in Mumbai can say the same.
As a character, Palande is morbidly fascinating. In the late 1990s, he killed Anup Das and his father Swaraj Ranjan for a flat in Juhu. (Palande was found guilty and arrested for this double murder. After jumping parole and being re-imprisoned in 2003, he was officially released in 2009, well before he’d served the duration of his original sentence. Once out of prison, he did what every intelligent murderer would do: he went to a plastic surgeon.) Now he has been charged with the murders of Karan Kakkad, whose BMW he coveted, and Arun Kumar Tikku, whom he killed because he wanted his flat in Oshiwara. Even if you are ready to kill all surviving relatives of the homeowner, it must be said that this doesn’t seem the most practical way to acquire real estate. However, when a man is willing to kill people rather than apply for a home loan, you have some idea of how difficult it is to buy a house in Mumbai. And this is for a flat in the suburbs. Home and car owners in South Mumbai, beware.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently a consulting copy editor at Elle magazine.Tags: Arun Kumar Tikku, Karan Kakkad, Real Estate, The Definite Article, Vijay Palande