Tandoor murder case: How Sushil Sharma killed his wife Naina Sahni and disposed off her body in a restaurant

[Book extract] The rising flames from the makeshift pyre leap high and the billowing smoke is visible in the night sky over the restaurant.

 |  12-minute read |   28-03-2018
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The monsoon’s advance signals a primal battle between the forces of nature – fire and water. The moist winds bring promise of comfort and blunt the heat, but summer will not release its grip on the land so easily.

Delhi is steaming. Those who can afford to, take shelter behind desert air coolers which, while a boon in the scorching dry heat of April and May, offer less relief in the sultry months of July and August.

Still, the whirring of cooler fans in apartment windows – complemented by the distant rumbling of traffic and punctuated by the odd raucous dialogue from behind closed doors – is the soundtrack of this Sunday evening in Mandir Marg. The streets are all but deserted; everyone is going about their lives, finishing the day’s chores, making dinner or simply relaxing with the only affordable pastime in those days – television.

At apartment 8/2A, DIZ Sector-II, Mandir Marg, Ravi Naina has retreated to her bedroom and the comfort of her air conditioner. She is perhaps the only one in the apartment block enjoying such a luxury. Naina pours herself a drink – her favourite, a Bloody Mary made with the usual vodka, but with tomato soup in place of tomato juice – and settles down for the evening.

She is contemplating a future far away, and there is no place for her husband in her plans. Intelligent, ambitious and strikingly attractive, Naina has managed to graduate from university, obtain a pilot’s licence, hold a position in the Congress party and run a successful boutique – all before reaching thirty. Her relationships with men, however, are a different story and have been less than fulfilling: two attempts to find lasting love have left her disillusioned. At least one man, her first serious love, still supports her dreams. Now, she hopes to make a life for herself alone in Australia and she has enlisted his help to achieve this. It is a brave step, emigrating to a land far removed from Delhi but one where her talents and charm might serve her well.

At about seven in the evening, Naina dials Jagdish Taneja at the video library in the neighbourhood and asks him to deliver two cassettes. She then rings up her confidant and former lover, Matloob Karim, at his residence. She asks him whether he has visited Ram Swaroop, the travel consultant in Jor Bagh, to collect her visa for Australia. Matloob tells her he will in a day or two, and with that they end the conversation.

Naina’s live-in partner, paramour, lover and unofficial husband Sushil Sharma drives into the apartment complex at around 8.15pm, parks his car and lets himself into the apartment. There is no loving welcome from Naina, but she quietly offers him a drink. The simmering tension between the two is palpable, even as Sushil pours the drink and both partake in their favourite tipple. There isn’t much exchange of conversation – not for the moment, anyway.

naina_032718061408.jpgFile photo of Naina Sahni

Sushil is tense. For some time now, he has doubted Naina’s fidelity, and he may have reason for doing so. The consummate politician that he is, he senses keenly the changed tenor of their relationship, and he can feel her drawing away from him. That his political fortunes have recently ebbed is also gnawing at him. While the fact that he has forsaken her by refusing to acknowledge their relationship publicly eludes him, Sushil is roiling inside that his Naina is forsaking him just when he needs her support the most.

He is stung, too, by her displays of arrogance and rebelliousness, which have become all too frequent of late. A couple of months ago, she had raised her hand at him, and he still dwells grimly on it, his mind dark and clouded with jealousy. As their relationship has deteriorated, he has maintained surveillance on her. Whether real or imagined, Sushil sees signs of Naina’s betrayal everywhere.

At 8.30pm, Pradeep Sharma, the video shop attendant, arrives and delivers the two cassettes. Pradeep sees Naina and Sushil together in the house, but notices nothing untoward. As the videowala departs, Sushil goes to the telephone in the outer room of their small flat. Bringing the receiver to his ear, he presses the redial button and listens silently. A man answers with a “hello” at the other end. Sushil immediately recognises Matloob Karim’s voice. His heart chills and then hardens as he replaces the receiver.

Seething, he strides into the bedroom and confronts Naina. Why, he asks, is she still carrying on with Matloob? Why has she not shunned him and put an end to their relationship? Naina replies curtly that it is none of his business. He has absolutely no right to interfere in her private life, she says acidly.

Naina’s retort adds fuel to Sushil’s burning anger, which is fast growing to levels beyond his control. He feels anguished, his thoughts are straying towards the irrational – as they have so many times in the past, when he has entertained a desire to be rid of her. His mind has time and again toyed with various scenarios, juggling and weighing the different possibilities, the avenues and means by which he can eliminate her.

He observes Naina and finds her in a suitably inebriated state. The liquor that has emboldened his agitated mind has merely stupefied hers. A dark inner voice, the kind that a man in his senses recoils from, goads him to act: Now is the time to do it.

tandoor_032718061423.jpgThe Tandoor Murderby Maxwell Pereira; Westland Publications Private Limited

Quietly he goes to the chest of drawers, opens one, takes out his revolver and inspects it, then loads it with four cartridges. In cold blood, without a second thought, he turns around and aims at Naina’s head, firing three times at point-blank range. Two of the bullets find their mark in Naina’s head and neck. The third bullet misses and hits the plywood by the air conditioner. Naina falls, bleeding profusely. She writhes in pain on the bed for a moment, and is still. She dies almost instantaneously.

The drone and rattle of desert coolers and the assortment of sounds within the flats – of ordinary family life and favourite Sunday television soap operas – continue unabated even after Naina’s killing. The noise of the discharging pistol and the bullet ricocheting against the bedroom wall is lost in the din of colony life; not one neighbour hears the fatal shots. Though the inhabitants of the four-storeyed tenements live cheek by jowl, everyone remains oblivious to the end of a promising young life in their midst – at least until the police descend on the apartment block in force and newspapers break the story a day later.

Sushil gathers his wits about him. He calms his nerves by drinking cold water from the fridge. His mind is racing, contemplating the next move: how to dispose of Naina’s body.

The first thought that comes to his mind is to dump the body into the river Yamuna. That, he feels, should be easy. And then he can make good his escape. Escape? Where to? Well, that’s secondary – first things first!

He looks around him and acts hurriedly, making a desperate attempt to remove all signs of the killing. He bundles up the body in the same bed sheet on which Naina had fallen and then wraps it in the plastic sheet that covers the dining table. He washes the room to clean it of the splattered blood, and changes his own bloodstained clothes. Peering outside, he satisfies himself that there is no one around and that nobody has been alarmed by the sound of gunfire.

He scurries downstairs and backs his Maruti close to the staircase, then runs back to the apartment. He drags the bundle with the dead body through the flat to the main door, the connecting first-floor corridor, and then down the stairs to the ground floor. Folding down the rear seat of his 800cc white Maruti car, he hoists the bundle into the dickey.

Sushil’s silken white kurta pyjama is badly stained. Blood had spattered on it the moment he shot Naina. He has smeared it further while hauling her corpse through the apartment, down the stairs and into the car. He hurries upstairs to the apartment and changes into another white kurta pyjama. Back in the car in no time, he drives away. It is now past 9.30pm on Sunday, July 2, 1995.

Whether by divine dispensation or coincidence, Jagdev Singh, a neighbour from the next block, witnesses Sushil loading the bundle into the dickey. Amba Dass, a head constable patrolling in the area, sees Sushil driving away in his car. Neither man thinks much of it until later.

Sushil drives from Mandir Marg to Kali Bari and Gole Dak Khana, down Ashoka Road to Firoz Shah Road and onwards. Turning right past the Railway Tilak Bridge, he drives along Indraprastha Marg, past the front of Delhi Police Headquarters plaza and reaches the ITO bridge, which stretches across the broad, polluted expanse of the Yamuna river and its floodplains to Vikas Marg.

But his hopes of ridding himself of the body in the Yamuna are now dashed. The bridge is full of traffic and heavily congested, with vehicles moving bumper to bumper, even at this late hour. He realises that he will almost certainly be exposed and apprehended should he attempt to dump the body into the river.

Sushil’s mind is working overtime for a solution. In a sudden brainwave, he thinks of the tandoor at the Bagiya restaurant. Yes, he tells himself, he can dispose of the body by burning it on the tandoor. At the end of the bridge over the Yamuna, he performs a U-turn and drives back to Ashoka Road.

Sushil reaches the Bagiya at 10.15 pm and parks his car in the parking space just inside the main gate. Mahesh Prasad, a security guard, sees the car enter and makes the relevant entry of the car number along with the time of arrival in the register. Philip Paul, who performs at the Bagiya in the evenings with his wife Nisha, is entering the restaurant and notices Sushil in the car.

Sushil beckons Keshav Kumar, the manager of the Bagiya Barbeque, and tells him that there has been a major mishap – that he has committed a massive blunder. He wants the restaurant to be closed quickly and the staff sent off, so he can dispose of the incriminating bundle by burning it on the tandoor.

Keshav understands. He is horrified, disgusted even, but his loyalty to Sushil compels him to go inside the restaurant and act on his boss’s command. This man has seen him through some of the most difficult times of his life, and he will not desert him now.

Karan Singh, Sushil’s former employee, sees Sushil speaking to Keshav in the car. He comes to the car to greet him, broaching the subject of some outstanding wages. Sushil fobs him off by asking him to come another day and take the payment. Karan leaves.

Sushil continues to remain seated in the car, watched by Sultan Singh, one of the security guards, who is standing near the hotel gate. In the meantime, Keshav asks the customers present in the restaurant to finish their dinner quickly. He extinguishes the restaurant lights, even as they gulp down the remainder of their food. A customer, Narendra Nath Gupta, is astonished to find himself suddenly sitting in a darkened restaurant. The patrons are effectively forced to leave.

Keshav asks all the staff and workers too, to leave for the day. Philip and Nisha, the husband-wife duo, are surprised. They see Sushil sitting in the car as they leave. The staff members are given ₹25 each by Keshav in lieu of the dinner normally provided to them at the restaurant.

Once the customers and the staff have left, Keshav approaches Sushil, who reverses the car to the steps of the restaurant. Keshav brings a large black polythene tarpaulin and together they unload the bundle from the dickey onto the tarpaulin. They carry it straight to the kitchen area and place it next to the tandoor. In the process, Keshav’s clothes are stained here and there with blood. It is now around 10.50pm.

sushil_032718061441.jpgSushil Sharma, a former Delhi Pradesh Youth Congress president, was convicted in 2003 for the murder of his wife.

Sushil asks Keshav to draw the kanaat and fixes it to block the entry to the restaurant. They then pick up a few wooden planks that are piled on the grass around the chairs in front of the restaurant, and break them into smaller pieces. They pick up other items of wood and party propaganda material and arrange these like a pyre around the body, still bundled in the bedsheet. They place it atop the tandoor. They pile more wood around and above the bundle. Keshav then leaves at Sushil’s behest and returns with four large packs of Amul butter. He places them on the bundle with the body. It is now a little past 11 pm. Sushil sets the pyre alight, consigning Naina’s body to the flames.

As Naina’s body burns, Sushil pauses, the first time he has done so in the preceding two hours. He places his pistol on a table and pours several glasses of cold water over his head, to cool himself and wash away the mortal sin he has just committed. “Yeh maine kya kar diya? Yeh mujhse kya ho gaya? (What have I done? How could I have done this?)” The expression of regret, if it is regret, comes far too late. He pours more cold water over himself.

Keshav stokes the blazing fire, while Sushil positions himself near the entrance at the kanaat. The revolver is still in his pocket; if need be, he will use it again. The rising flames from the makeshift pyre leap high and the billowing smoke is visible in the night sky over the Bagiya – high and far enough to catch the attention of those in the vicinity. The vegetable vendor across the lane, the elderly Anaro Devi, is alarmed by the leaping flames. As is constable Kunju, who is on patrol and catches sight of them from a distance.

(Excerpted with permissions of the Westland Publications Private Limited from The Tandoor Murder by  Maxwell Pereira.)

Also read: How Kolkata Police nabbed the man who chopped his pregnant wife's body in 1954

Writer

Maxwell Pereira Maxwell Pereira @maxpk44

A cop for over 35 years, Pereira's last position from 2003 July to 2004 October was as the joint commissioner of police for the New Delhi Range.

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