Books and Beyond with Bound

5.27 Srinath Rao: Inside the Life of a Crime Reporter in Mumbai

September 12, 2023 Bound Podcasts Season 5 Episode 27
5.27 Srinath Rao: Inside the Life of a Crime Reporter in Mumbai
Books and Beyond with Bound
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Books and Beyond with Bound
5.27 Srinath Rao: Inside the Life of a Crime Reporter in Mumbai
Sep 12, 2023 Season 5 Episode 27
Bound Podcasts

What mysteries lie beneath ‘Meow Meow’ — one of Mumbai’s biggest drug scandals? 

Join Michelle and Tara for a thrilling episode of Books and Beyond with stellar crime reporter Srinath Rao as he takes us on a journey of the process of writing his breathtaking book unveiling the life and crimes of Shashikala ‘Baby’ Patankar, infamous as ‘Mumbai’s Drug Queen’. 
What is Meow Meow, the drug that flooded the streets of Mumbai? How did Baby get involved in the drug racket, and who is she beyond her persona as a criminal? How does one report crime?

Tune in to dive into an enthralling conversation about crime!

Produced by Aishwarya Jawalgekar
Sound Edit by Kshitij Jadhav


‘Books and Beyond with Bound’ is the podcast where Tara Khandelwal and Michelle D’costa uncover how their books reflect the realities of our lives and society today. Find out what drives India’s finest authors: from personal experiences to jugaad research methods, insecurities to publishing journeys. Created by Bound, a storytelling company that helps you grow through stories. Follow us @boundindia on all social media platforms.




Show Notes Transcript

What mysteries lie beneath ‘Meow Meow’ — one of Mumbai’s biggest drug scandals? 

Join Michelle and Tara for a thrilling episode of Books and Beyond with stellar crime reporter Srinath Rao as he takes us on a journey of the process of writing his breathtaking book unveiling the life and crimes of Shashikala ‘Baby’ Patankar, infamous as ‘Mumbai’s Drug Queen’. 
What is Meow Meow, the drug that flooded the streets of Mumbai? How did Baby get involved in the drug racket, and who is she beyond her persona as a criminal? How does one report crime?

Tune in to dive into an enthralling conversation about crime!

Produced by Aishwarya Jawalgekar
Sound Edit by Kshitij Jadhav


‘Books and Beyond with Bound’ is the podcast where Tara Khandelwal and Michelle D’costa uncover how their books reflect the realities of our lives and society today. Find out what drives India’s finest authors: from personal experiences to jugaad research methods, insecurities to publishing journeys. Created by Bound, a storytelling company that helps you grow through stories. Follow us @boundindia on all social media platforms.




00:06

Welcome to Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Candela. I'm Michelle D'costa. And in this podcast, we uncover the stories behind some of the best written books of our time and find out how these books reflect our lives and our society today. So tune in every Wednesday to enter a whole new world with a new author and a new idea. Yes, and after three years and 2 million listens, we are back with a fall back to season five, with hard hitting questions and life changing books. So let's dive in.

 

00:43

Hi, everyone, welcome to Books and Beyond. We are so excited to speak to Sreenath Rao today who is the author of meow meow, a fast and Pacey book that narrates the tale of one of Mumbai's most baffling crimes, and the intriguing life of Shashikala baby bunker. So his book is very much about Mumbai as much as as about drugs as much as it's about baby per Tonka, you know, and meow meow is not a cat, if that's what you've been thinking all this time. It's actually a drug and when consumed, the person reeks of cat urine, hence the name. Yeah, so join us because today we're also going to be speaking about this amazing woman who's become Bombay's drug queen. And, you know, it's just a rollicking story, because she's also a slumlord. She becomes a successful businesswoman, she's a grandmother, she becomes a police informant. Story is quite amazing. And she refuses to be called a drug dealer, actually. And there might be so many baby tankers out there. There's so many stories out there. But nobody cares enough to follow their stories and the level of detail that our authority has. And he has done it against all odds, and we're gonna find out how so welcome, man. Thanks. Thanks for having me, Michelle. Tara, that is very glowing introduction.

 

02:05

Yeah, so you know, to begin straight out, you know, your book actually had me thinking about cats, for some reason, because he and this is the, this is the cover, you know, for all of our, you know, listeners and viewers, it's actually a cat on the cover. So I couldn't stop thinking about it. But after reading the book, I actually understood that it's not about any cat. And you know, as the nickname comes about, it's also because of this, you know, foul cat urine smell that sort of, you know, emanate when a person consumed. And what's fascinating is that it's actually legal, right? And that the Queen of the distribution is none other than baby for Tonka, who is the subject of the book. So what made you chase this cat? You know, to cut to the chase? What is it that you know, where did it all begin? I mean, first of all,

 

02:51

I mean,

 

02:53

I'm glad the books not in the pet section of a bookstore, although if it was, I'm sure it would sell a lot more than it did, then. It's already that's the first thing we were wondering. In fact, I mean, the, the cover is so cool. In fact, I had I've had people asking me this story for children and have I've had to tell them, No, please, please don't ask your children to read this. Please do not give this to children. With this story. I mean, as a reporter on the beat, I mean, us covering South Bombay, the crime reporter on the South and Central Bombay big then as also covering the narcotics agencies. So happened to be a reporter assigned to the story and just this incident happened to happen in my beat.

 

03:36

And I mean, all through 2015, the summer of 2015. That's the biggest story in the city then.

 

03:44

And, of course, I mean, they were crazy to sentence all through, all through those very just those few months, about maybe three or four months into it. I mean, I thought it was over for them. Until I got to speak to her the first time she came out on bail in October the same year. And then we keep in touch on the north.

 

04:08

But then once the story ended in courts, there's no case to make out. Four years later, I thought the story was over for me.

 

04:16

I mean, I I covered it to its logical conclusion once there's nothing left in goats, you just leave it and go on to the next story.

 

04:26

But, I mean, I and I had no intention of writing a book. It's

 

04:32

It's It's torturous work. I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

 

04:37

But a friend of mine, a very close friend, he, he heard that someone else does. And he told me there's another reporter thinking of working on a book on the story. And he said, Don't let anyone beat you to this.

 

04:52

And that's the only reason I went about this book. I didn't want anyone else to write it. I had access to everybody. I had the papers

 

05:00

I mean, I kept them stowed away. I mean, I had no use for them four years later, thankfully, I had them. It's, it's very tempting to throw things away when you don't need them, especially legal documents, because they just tend to, they take up a lot of space at home.

 

05:17

And in the office,

 

05:19

my dad kept those. And thankfully, I mean, I had access to all those people, it was just a question of

 

05:25

dialing those people all over again. And your book is so detailed, you know, you can tell the amount of research that has gone into it. And actually, that was one of our questions, because the book obviously started off, you know, as a team, the whole story started off as a team project, right? Where there were multiple reporters, you know, accessing the information and covering it, and then it's become solely yours when you have a book deal, and I was getting adapted and all of those things. But I also was so fascinated about baby, I just loved that character. So for our listeners who may not know much about her, can you tell us a little bit more about who baby is? How did you first what was, you know, what was it like when you first met her? When did you first meet her? And how did that relationship come about? Baby grew up in Bali in central Mumbai in the 60s.

 

06:23

She had, I mean, to a very poor family, her father's a taxi driver.

 

06:28

And she was the youngest stuff.

 

06:32

I mean, she had six older brothers. And and of course, I mean, she was the youngest child. So I guess they just called a baby. No one called a Sasikala. And the name stuck, I guess. I mean, people still call a baby. I mean, she's pushing six years in the 60s now and no one calls us as the caller says, I mean, it's great. When you grew up poor in Mumbai, or I mean, for that matter, anyway, but um, Bombay, especially if you grew up poor, I mean, and if you actually grew up in Valley fishing villages, also called Valley colada, um, in the 60s and 70s, that was not a safe place at all. I mean, it has, it had barely any civic amenities then So you grew up poor, there's no, there's barely any running water, electricity, no toilets.

 

07:24

She dropped out of school, at at a fairly young age started working, she and her younger brother, they started working quite early in life.

 

07:35

So she had a tough life. I mean, no parents at a very, both her parents passed away when she was quite young.

 

07:42

To have three or four brothers are in jail for murder.

 

07:46

So and then, you there's there's no scope to go back to school. So you just start picking apart jobs. It's just she and her brother Raj. And

 

07:58

so it's just them. I mean, and they were never they're looking for and they're working whatever they get cleaning houses.

 

08:06

selling milk, that was one of our earlier jobs, even sacrificial, quite early. So and also got married early.

 

08:16

So I mean, she had all those, she had the toughest life possible.

 

08:22

And then to come out.

 

08:24

And then I mean, I can understand why, of course, and I can, I have to say allegedly because I mean,

 

08:33

none of the charges ever got thrown against her. So when she allegedly got into

 

08:38

dealing drugs or peddling drugs,

 

08:41

you can understand why it might have been maybe a lot more lucrative than maybe

 

08:46

waking up at three or four in the morning and supplying milk to homes. So she started out peddling ganja and Sarah's

 

08:55

slowly moved on, moved up the ladder, as she made more connections with dealers and suppliers in different parts of the city, the state or the states.

 

09:05

And over those 2030 odd years.

 

09:10

And when mephedrone came in, in 2012 and 13, by by which time I guess, according to police records, at least and what she says she'd made enough money to retire.

 

09:22

But she she saw an opportunity in mephedrone that like you mentioned, it wasn't, it wasn't a prohibited substances, then the Lord took quite a long time to catch up. So she and her partner they took advantage of that,

 

09:38

of that period where it was legal, it was legal to buy to consume, you could still get arrested, maybe not for very severe charges. So and that's how she became she got the infamy that she did when she got arrested in 2015. And as to how I met her when she was out on bail um

 

10:00

I expand those months before getting to know her lawyer a bit. Quite well.

 

10:06

He, he tell me what was I mean, on the defense side? While while I could clearly see, well, everyone could clearly see the case scrambling. I mean, that's quite helpful. But documents. I mean, we, we talked about why the police's case is not up to the mark. And after she was out on bail, it was just a matter of convincing the lawyer to ask her if she'd be okay to speak with me. And, I mean, it was a fairly routine interview. I mean, when you cover crime or courts, I mean, speaking with people under trials, it's quite, I mean, it's this part of the job, just that she had. I mean, it was the first time she got to present her version. So it was quite remarkable in that, in that sense, I mean, the kinds of things she said,

 

10:49

and rightly so because she'd been exonerated to that point as well. So I just kept in touch. I mean, I just kept keeping in touch meeting her speaking to her on the phone. And so when in 2020, I asked her, I told her, in fact, I was thinking I'm working on a book book CBA be okay to speak? Um, I wouldn't say it took too much convincing. I mean, it in terms of the time.

 

11:18

I mean, I think there was a lot there's gaps of several months in which I got speak to her, but

 

11:25

it didn't take, I would, I wouldn't say it took too much convincing. I mean, she obviously had a lot of misgivings. But thanks. I mean, I was able to tell her that, you know, this is this also presents what you've been telling me everything that it would be a balanced look at everything that happened to

 

11:45

ya know, and, you know, what I find the most fascinating about her story is the fact that you know, she comes across as a self made woman right, so there is a there's a detail in the book where you said that, you know, she's locked up her savings or life savings in a stainless steel cupboard right in her room. And the way she used to you know, pile up these currencies is literally rupees 20 rupees in one stack 50 rupees in one stack 500 rupees in one stack, and her total income was, you know, allegedly around three crores, right. And that just blew my mind. I'm like, Oh, my God, this woman is just so fascinating. But it's also a gray area, right, Sheena, because we do know, we do read about the exploitation, the sort of, you know, depravity that she goes through, right. So, you know, for all our listeners, you know, just to give you an overview, so she was first married, yes, when she was quite young, but later on, she gets married to this police officer, and this person actually doesn't let her come out of this whole crime ring, right? She wants to quit drugs, but he doesn't let her quit drugs. And it's a true, you know, complicated cycle. So I want to know, you know, what is your way of looking at it? Do you see this in a way as women empowerment to a certain extent because she is a female, drug queen, she has made a lot of money right? She's She's built a name for herself right and identity for herself that a lot of women are not able to in this country, but at the same time, it's also a mixed bag. So what what are your views on this? I mean, about the first thing, it was crazy that she told me about those piles of money.

 

13:14

The fact that she was that's the thing I found most remarkable about her. I mean, given what we've been paid, been told me and my fellow reporters, they've been told by the police about her. I didn't expect her to be so

 

13:28

open about the fact that she had so much money lying around at home, but about those piles. I mean, I guess everyone has a little quirks.

 

13:39

But I can understand why she told me because some it the fact I mean, her allegation was the police took all that money away without leaving any record of the seizure.

 

13:50

The other thing, that that's that's the question I still keep grappling with. I mean,

 

13:57

it's, I wouldn't say I'm completely very sure how I how I look at it. I mean, I mean, it's, it's sort of tempting to look at it in the way.

 

14:10

I mean, which is why I didn't want to, I didn't want to say the word self made women and that many words, I was hoping, I mean, I thought like, like the reader make up their own mind about it. I mean, it obviously comes across like that. I just, I just kept wondering, I mean, if maybe wasn't a woman, I mean, if it was a man for the sexes were reversed, how the whole situation would play out, the coverage would not have been this crazy at all.

 

14:38

I mean, I count myself among those people who

 

14:43

were part of the coverage thankfully, not the over the top coverage, thankfully, I mean, at least the newspapers we like, like to believe. I mean, we had the time to reflect

 

14:54

on what we're writing what we're putting out. I mean, we thankfully weren't in the situation where

 

15:00

We had snap deadlines. So just seconds to

 

15:03

go about it. I mean, we had editors who sort of, I mean, you come back to, to the office with this, you know, got this crazy story or I've got this crazy update today. But thankfully, you have an editor who tells you take a breath, think about what it is, despite what you've been told, despite what you come from the field with let's let's not get into stereotyping at all facts.

 

15:32

And

 

15:34

about

 

15:36

I mean, I can imagine, because I said, I mean, given the background that she comes with.

 

15:42

And the thing is, with the upbringing, the childhood she had

 

15:48

the place where she grew up with Marley colada, you read the sections there, it was full of that place, teamed with sexual predators. The reason her brothers were in jail, they had murdered one man who would sexually harassed her sister now. So I mean, those are the odds she grew up with. If you're I mean, I can imagine the third if if you're on that side of the world. And you build a network with the police. They're only going to the the, the temptation is of as maybe an observer as a neutral person is she? There's only one way she's got those contacts, or there's only one way she's build those relationships with this policeman. In fact, those were some of the things the police have told us. Quite a few sleazy stories.

 

16:47

I mean, not I mean, none of which could be verified. First of all, although a lot of those stories that we did get to know, or at least we've been told these were against claims.

 

16:57

They will not fit to print, I thought we thought it is because they couldn't be verified. Yeah, it is. I mean, like, that's, that's one of the main questions that Michelle and I were speaking about, when we talked about the book, you know, is it sort of like a story of empowerment? Or is it exploitation? Or is it something in the in between, right? And, personally, for me, I sort of saw it more as exploitation, considering the circumstances that she came, and I was very interested in sort of the whole police aspect of that, she marries a police officer, right. And that's sort of the second marriage. And it's sort of, you know, for her, it gives her a sort of modicum of stability. But it doesn't give her societal acceptance, and then word spreads, that she's this police Putney, and the police are also involved in this whole, you know, Racket. So can you tell us a little bit more about the involvement of the police in this? If I can just add to Tara's question as well, because I was curious, especially because you revealed the corruption that that has involved in this right, so So about that as well. Like, what are you open to actually revealing all those details? She marries her

 

18:06

partner that Mirage Carlo Kay, who's, I'm not sure what the right word is protagonist or antagonist or character is the other

 

18:14

person in the book. They met in 1996 when there's a robbery at her home.

 

18:21

And this is just soon after

 

18:25

baby's husband passed away.

 

18:28

And they fell in love. It's and of course, I mean, we know now that Carlo Kay from I mean, from the office was aware how baby made her money, the kind of profession she was in. And it was incumbent on him to not possibly get into a relationship with

 

18:46

someone like that. Or, I mean, a known a person known to have broken the law, especially since he is a top.

 

18:56

And in the early years, I mean, and again, a lot of information did come in later after both of them were arrested regarding his involvement in the early years. And this is, I mean, in the late 90s and the early 2000s, when it is believed that he first also got involved with her legit drug business. A lot of unverified claims came in

 

19:21

about how she'd also maybe concealed some amount of drug seed concealing as bike.

 

19:31

They know eventually that he had about 12 kilos of methadone is in this cupboard, which is where the story begins.

 

19:39

But yeah.

 

19:41

And then later, we know I mean, that it's, I mean, the central allegation is that she she had enough of selling methadone and he just wouldn't let her says I heard a lot of theories he that he needed a bit more money, he's building a house or he thought

 

20:00

because there was that, because the law was still to catch up with banning mephedrone, he thought, let's just keep selling, let's just keep selling. And we'll just stop whenever the Lord does catch up. I mean, I have used the word greed, because that is the sense I got from as many people as I spoke to. And, of course, that is what baby also said

 

20:25

about him, his version I could not get because Try as I might be, just wouldn't speak to me.

 

20:32

But the rest of the police

 

20:35

the the kind of detailing is there, because

 

20:39

a lot of some people that I didn't expect would open up or had actually

 

20:46

possibly a bit to lose if they actually spoke to me did actually speak to me, I got I got a lucky break then.

 

20:55

It was, it was quite unexpected for me, because these are these are sources who I knew

 

21:01

might I mean, have some risk speaking out or saying the things that they did so in some documents,

 

21:09

which farmer central part of the second part of the book,

 

21:13

which is where a lot of the things about the police department and narcotics department, the kind of symbiotic relationship?

 

21:22

Field Narcotics Officers in the city police have with people involved in the drug business, a lot of those came from people who actually had no business, or, I mean, I wouldn't say no business. I mean, I thought, I mean, to be blunt, I didn't think they would ever cooperate, medicals firewood. But thankfully, some of these people and use them before and

 

21:48

it was, I still don't know why they helped me out. They had no reason they had no reason to I don't have an answer. They just said, I just made the book a lot more. So. Yeah, definitely. I was so fascinated with your own journey. As a journalist, you know, I don't think I've ever spoken to a crime reporter or meta crime reporter before. And it must be so difficult, right? Like,

 

22:13

sort of, you know, I couldn't sort of, you know, just imagine what it would take. But one of the scenes that I really, really liked, firstly, in the beginning of the book, you say that I'm not going to try this drug. And then you actually go, you know, for a drug deal, you see a drug deal. And there are these, you know, characters, you know, one character named tracksuit,

 

22:37

that is there, and it's kind of a shady business, it's in a very shady scenario, right? And you're right in the middle of this, as a woman, definitely, you know, I can't even imagine, you know, being in your place. But we're there sort of, you know, can you take us inside a scene, maybe from your book, or maybe from your journey as a crime reporter, where you were you were very scared, right? An anecdote where you thought that, oh, you know, maybe, you know, something won't go away, or a situation where you felt very, very uneasy. I mean, yes, the only reason I had access to those guys, so I felt confident enough to get into that sketchy situation is because of my gender. There is. I mean, let's be honest, there is no other way that could have happened.

 

23:21

I had a lot of misgivings about.

 

23:25

I mean, I knew

 

23:27

I had to at least speak to them or spend some time with them. I didn't imagine it would be

 

23:33

that long. I just.

 

23:36

I mean, at that time, I was I needed a lot more information.

 

23:42

And I was just playing it by ear. I mean, the day just the day and the night just went on and the longer I hung out with acid and tracksuit.

 

23:51

Again, like with the club before i i

 

23:55

think didn't think they'd give me that kind of access. I didn't think they'd be okay with me hanging out with them that or seeing and hearing the kinds of things that I've later written about. Because the I got to know acident tracksuit through another contact.

 

24:13

So and

 

24:15

they sort of opened up only because I mentioned that I knew baby. If I if I didn't the the door to access and tracksuit and that said would never have opened up and this is through my reporting. This is because this is the only

 

24:33

the most afraid I'd been because

 

24:38

that night when I when I was with those two and clearly when someone is

 

24:45

engaged in an illegal activity around you when someone is actually snorting an illegal substance that aren't you

 

24:55

and you

 

24:57

that I mean well it's been

 

25:00

In about two years, but I knew at that moment, there was some second side, I did wonder, Where are the cops? Or is? Is there a second? Were some undercover cop going to pass by? By? Is there by accident? Are we going to come across some cops?

 

25:18

Also, because this was act, this was just before the second way began. So there were police everywhere. They were everywhere. I mean, we had a lot more cops on the road than we do now.

 

25:32

And that was my main fear. I mean, but when I later got to know that these these guys also are, I mean, they also do, I mean, work, sort of as informants, they have a lot of friends in that department. Not friends in a way, it just can't contacts. I mean,

 

25:50

I did decide to ease up a bit. Only just a bit, though, because

 

25:56

the, the amount of mephedrone they did that night, and just the fact that has their

 

26:04

eye. And, and the fact that more people would come in,

 

26:09

who I didn't know. And they didn't know me, though, that is that I felt

 

26:14

I wasn't really sure how that night would work out, really. And I knew when I went back, I mean, as a very glad to be home that day, the next morning.

 

26:24

But I knew when I sat down to write it,

 

26:28

I wasn't sure if it would be breaking the law to actually write about witnessing a criminal activity instead of reporting it. They're supposed to report any illegal or criminal activity to the police, if you see it, right.

 

26:42

So once I wrote it, and once it went to the publisher, I held my breath when it went through the legal check. Because I was very sure the publishers legal department would say this is not put us in trouble declared the they, they just learned. And I was quite happy it went through because this is I knew this is the kind of world this kind of scenario,

 

27:07

no reader, or very few readers possibly would get to experience. So this is one place where I was desperate for the readers to see with my, with their own eyes through me how that part of the dealing bit works. I mean, it's just ordinary boys. You just pass on the street, you wouldn't give them a second look at all. Do the same with baby. She's an ordinary person. If you Pastor on the street. See an old woman you wouldn't look at it twice. Yeah, I mean, it was absolutely crazy. The way that you were right in the middle of you know, those drug deals and with those characters, how did you sort of gain that trust in a way right? Because I'm guessing, like, personality wise, background wise are very different from them. So how did you sort of ingratiate yourself, hang out with them for as long as you did. You don't get them to include you in the way that they did. I mean, the magic word, I guess was mentioning baby's name.

 

28:04

They sort of fit open them up. Give me a bit more time. I mean, neither of them was very patient. Acid was a lot friendlier. He I think he is just friendly. He's not

 

28:19

he's not that hostile piece. is yes, that fun personality. tracksuit is a lot more reserved.

 

28:29

And of course, I mean,

 

28:32

acid, surprisingly was not so unfazed. When I told him I'm a reporter tracksuit was I mean, he became a lot more hostile than he was. But I guess,

 

28:43

as a summer tried to manage to. I mean, in the end, he managed to convince tracksuit, I mean, there's no harm. I mean, the rule was obviously, it's not going to record anything, it's not going to take any notes.

 

28:58

That was that's what they said. Just what just see, just sit around, observe, just see and hear everything do not make any attempt to write anything down.

 

29:11

And just commit whatever you want to memory.

 

29:14

And of course, do not give any hints to that identity at all. I mean, not even the single bit, which is I had to look for

 

29:24

very vague sort of nicknames or

 

29:30

nothing, nothing. Like not actually I mean,

 

29:35

but I guess

 

29:39

I just cycled I just sat quietly for the longest time.

 

29:43

I knew I couldn't ask questions. I was told not to ask questions and

 

29:47

a lot of things happened, which actually didn't require me to ask questions.

 

29:53

After the point they just

 

29:56

maybe I don't know if it is someone quite in the room.

 

30:00

regardless of what the room is, and there's one very talkative person and another who's not so talkative, but maybe opens up later, maybe there's something about the quiet room in the person that maybe puts the other personalities. And they just sort of open up eventually. Or, or like, I want to believe in my case, they just ignore you after a point and just go on with what they're doing.

 

30:25

I mean, tracksuit is a scary guy.

 

30:28

And when he told me

 

30:31

when he spoke to me when I'm not, and you did, and like you read, he did sort of vaguely threaten the two.

 

30:42

He did this to some very big, not so very big, in fact, quite some pointed threats, some of which I've actually kept out because I didn't want to make it a situation where I sort of, maybe overstate the threat, or I didn't want the reader to put get any impression that you know, my life was in danger, because I mean, I want to say it wasn't at any point. It's just that he's a menacing guy tracksuit. And when he told me what he's going to do to me if, if by any chance if I break some of his rules, I believed so I just kept quiet

 

31:19

which is why it's still surprising that he allowed me to hang around with them that long. I just believed him. Let's get it. My god yeah, I just when you narrated that I already got goosebumps. And I'm like, oh shit. What if What if something happens? What Yeah, I think this is a part of your your job. And you know, this, this particular scene in the book reminded me of Tara Oceans book. So we also interviewed her and how she went under this disguise of a person who wanted to sort of shoot a movie or a film and she actually interviewed rapists and the way she sort of convinced them and got there got them to sort of you know, open up to her was to live with them and also the observe them right. And like you said, after you stay with a person for some time, they just sort of ignore your presence around them and, and you know, what I what I really was drawn to in the book was your wit, actually, you know, just like tracksuit toenails, and these code names that you put in there's actually a lot of witty statements that are there here and there, which is very interesting. And in fact, what I was looking for even more was the emotion right so because I went into the book, you know, thinking this is all but baby Pathak right, because it is it is marketed as a story of Baby pataca. And, you know, while you've covered everything from you know, the changing face of bodily you know what Mumbai is like the underbelly of Mumbai, we don't often get to see that. Then we see about this whole drug ring, you know, the police procedure, the courtroom, basically, we have a lot of everything. But in fact, I wanted to see more of BV per tanker. So you know, did that ever cross your mind to write the story from her voice? Sort of like a memoir? You know, was that ever a thought? Did you consider it?

 

32:54

I didn't actually.

 

32:56

It.

 

32:58

It was tempting, though. I mean, there were points where it was tempting.

 

33:02

I did have a lot of biographical material from her,

 

33:07

from some people around her from a lot of police and court documents from her lawyer. That was enough. But I was never interested in just making the story about her. I mean, although like, like you rightly said it was marketed as her story. I wanted it to base to her. I wanted to build a world around baby, I just didn't want to present the story in isolation.

 

33:34

I mean, there are I mean, there are some great books about Bombay. But I guess everyone has a different way of, of writing about the city. I'm, I've grown up here. And all of the action happens in the city. I live in suburbs.

 

33:50

I may not know the city as I mean, it's a lot different from describing. I mean, suppose I'd stayed in Bali and everything and happened about around where I live, I describe it a lot different. But I thought since I don't live there, but I'd reported

 

34:07

from that place enough. I've been to all of those places enough. I've seen enough of those places. I thought this is an opportunity for me not just to write about one person, but at least to give some context about the kind of area that shapes are

 

34:24

the kinds of circumstances that shaper

 

34:28

I didn't want to go into the

 

34:31

into the category of drug of drug books, per se, or present a very technically heavy law book or, or go too deep into maybe

 

34:46

maybe into academic discussions of drugs or narcotics because that was I'm not equipped to do that at all. And

 

34:57

I like I knew for sure that decision

 

35:00

Ah, sorry. I just said I needed a thought let me build as compact or as interesting a world around her, because there were so many people associated with her. Who also had interesting stories like tracksuit and acid. And I thought, unless I link baby to maybe the boys or the other peddlers who used to buy from her that the other cops other contacts in the department,

 

35:31

a lawyer or family, I thought it wouldn't be a complete story. Yeah, and and yeah, before, before I ask the next question, I just want to mention this trivia that's in the book because you spoke about the suburbs and, and sort of this very interesting bit where you talk about the Cody fishing community who's actually Bombay's original inhabitants, and they actually fertilized the basis of their palm trees with rotting fish, hence the smell right? So a lot of people think what is this fish smell? They just think it's the sea, but it's not it used to actually be an excellent menu or right for these and it basically earned this name for Bombay because it was it was really distinct, right? So basically, the base it was built on rotten fish and coconut palm leaves, right. And unlike other cities, like Calcutta, you know, London, New York City, I really found that very interesting about Bombay, which I didn't know before. Yeah, I mean, I think that it's very interesting that what you said, it's also sort of, you know,

 

36:28

a book about Bombay and a book about Holy, I grew up a close to worthy and very different, like, sort of spectrum of society. And for me, this was sort of like, even more of an eye opener into Siddharth Nagar and the colonies that you that you portrayed.

 

36:48

Yeah. And you know, this, this whole conversation about baby per tanker? She not what I was very curious about is, you know, there are these so many stories that you see about very inspiring people. Correct. There are biopics that are done all the time. I'm very curious about you know, then what happens to these subjects? Right? So for example, like just a technicality, like does baby per Tonka probably get royalties? Or is there any way in which I would say the subjects of these these books, readily inspiring films or books in any way? Are they are they compensated for their story? Or what is the procedure? Like? Yeah, actually, just to add to Yeah, and I just wanted to give some context that the book has been picked up for a web series.

 

37:29

So so so when we are discussing the book, both of us were curious about, you know, what the book focus sort of on, you know, because it is marketed as baby but not as life? So would the series focus on her life as sort of, you know, the, as you know, from her point of view, and then if it does, it'll sort of lead us to that larger question of, you know, we're making a lot of money off of these subjects in a way, right, we have Theranos is bad blood, we have the US we have all these true crime stories, you will have a web series, you know, based on your book, so what actually happens to the subjects of, of these things? And are they compensated in any sort of way? So both of your questions, actually, I mean, sort of neatly tie into each other, the web series that we're talking about, that actually,

 

38:23

I have no connection with, because

 

38:26

the person who's making it, he's actually purchased the rights to baby's life. So and that's, that's happening independent of my book. I mean, I have no connection. It's, he's not adapted my book for that. He's, he's compensated her for her rights. He's actually bought her life. Right. So that's a commercial transaction. I have nothing to do with.

 

38:48

And, I mean, I mean, for me, I approach this as the bulk of journalism pitch, and you don't pay

 

38:58

for information in journalism, you're just not supposed to. That's the whole point. So as I mean, at not that at any point, baby asked me for any money.

 

39:11

I just told this. I mean, I'm writing about the case. And I'm going to put I'm also, I'm going to focus a lot more on your version, because I believe not all of it has come out or

 

39:23

not enough of it has come out to balance out what the police and the courts have said.

 

39:31

But with books, suppose were baby or anyone in her position? Where was she to approach a publishing house herself, or, or the other way around with birth, a publishing house to approach baby to officially write a book on then she'd be compensated directly.

 

39:53

They would have that they would then have those, those conversations where the publisher would pay to write

 

40:00

To get her to write to someone else to write for her with me. I mean, it was just another work of journalism. So

 

40:08

in my I mean, in my vote there was I mean, the question of compensating baby was not an element.

 

40:18

Oh, that makes sense, I think. Yeah. Because I've always had that question like whenever I see biopics, I need not be true crime, right? It could like Mary calm. For example, there was a lot of, you know, hype about that, and how Priyanka Chopra is acting and then you know, who should be compensated all of that? That's a larger question. But I think for me, there was a, there was a point in the book, which I found really interesting, the scene where, you know, we are, we're following baby's life. And we want to know, you know, does she ever stop? Does she does her conscience ever tell her, you know, you should stop right now. And and there is this scene where you mentioned that after pushing for almost 30 years, and it took this near death experience of a partner, Balu, right. And she just felt like, this is the time I should stop, because doctors actually gave, you know, her partner sort of this ultimatum, saying that, you know, there's a very, very few chances that you're going to survive, because he had been smoking weed. And you know, he had been injecting heroin, and there was it just had a lot of impact on his body and seeing that really shook up, right. I wish I had an answer to

 

41:18

what she was thinking, because

 

41:21

every time we spoke, she has never once mentioned or admitted, even by mistake, even because, and she speaks very rapidly and always look out for people who speak rapidly if by mistake or by chance, they're going to admit to something that they are not that they don't want to. But she's she's not like that. She never once when we spoken admitted to dealing drugs at all, she's always completely and thoroughly denied every charge of selling drugs. A lot of is contradictory to the evidence that was available. And of course, I mean, when I did try to bring it up, see just that it away.

 

42:06

And

 

42:08

I mean, there are some people where with no matter how much you cross question them how, what sort of Manos you used to cross question them, if you come back to it. No matter how smart you think you're trying to get in, cross questioning them, they anticipate and removed yes, they're just that much smarter. So no, because she has never admitted, nor will she admit to anybody that says, sell drugs, of course. I mean, in her business statement, and the police isn't an investigation report. Everything is that, but with me, I mean, she's never once admitted. So I, I wish I knew what she was thinking then. But

 

42:51

those bits, I had to rely on the police's investigation report. I think that's why, you know, people find to crime so interesting. I because we come across these characters. We don't know what's real, what's not, there's so many gray areas.

 

43:06

You know, sometimes, you know, they may never admit, you know, to what they might or might not have done.

 

43:13

And it's sort of thrilling for audiences to watch. And that's why true crime is such a popular genre right now. So what do you think? I mean, why is it sort of, you know, it's such a, there's such a high entertainment value right now for this genre. So what do you think? Is it sort of overdone right now, you know, are there any gaps that we've not covered? Because every single day, we see sort of a new, you know, web series come out, which is a true crime story. So what what do you think has not been covered yet? I actually don't watch true crime at all. I can't bear to watch.

 

43:47

I mean,

 

43:49

I mean, why? It's,

 

43:53

I mean, it's a job for me covering the police and courts. I don't.

 

44:00

I mean, it's not about I'm not going to make an excuse, but being exhausted by any of that. I've actually never been that interested in at the end of the day or in during my free time to actually go watch police psychodramas or real life stuff.

 

44:19

I bought a lot. I mean, I've always watched more funny shows or movies that way. I mean, I will watch I will watch a cop. So if it's funny, not if it's so serious, but of the few that I have watched. And I and this is just nitpicking I just always get always notice that there's something lacking in terms of authenticity. Small details standard because

 

44:51

they don't always seem to get maybe not always the the mannerisms are either overdone or they are

 

45:00

saw off base, that it sort of irritates me. And it's, I mean, that's, that's one reason I stopped watching the little. I just gave up watching even of the little I did watch I just gave up after a point, I just noticed these small things which are either missing, or so definitely inaccurate. It just bugged me after the point. So

 

45:23

yeah, this, this is really interesting, because I remember being addicted to the show called Grey's Anatomy. And I really loved it. And obviously, I loved it for all the drama and for the for the other reasons, right, rather medical reasons as such, and I had doctor friends, I mean, friends who are doctors, and they said, how can you watch that shit? Because when they would watch something like that they would overanalyze, and they'll be like, Oh, my God, this is not technically right. You know, you could watch this. So I do I get what you mean, what I was like, Yeah, I just wonder like, you know, they should hire like, actual doctors, like they should. Maybe like these OTT websites should hire like, blog reporters, like you who are actually sort of, you know, on the field in the beat.

 

46:03

Maybe that sort of would lend to the Exactly, yeah. Yeah, I agree. Like, I do think that maybe probably their, you know, writing team could have more of like, you know, informed people on board anyway. Maybe we do. Yeah, but yeah, yeah, exactly. But I mean, I think because it's also your work, right? It's something that you're very much close to I do think that you can't escape that sort of open analytical brain. So like we as as editors, like since, you know, I started editing books, it's so tough for me to read a book for fun, because I overanalyze it, right, each line goes through like an editor. I'm like, Michelle, just sit back and enjoy. Anyway. So but you know, I'm very curious about where it all started for you, you know, Sheena, because it's a very fascinating career. And it's not something that that you come across every day, right? Like, I was just thinking how, you know, usually our parents or elders tell us to stay away from certain kinds of people. And your job literally pushes you towards, you know, those kinds of people, all the all the shady areas, everything that you've been told not to do. So, you know, where did it begin? And I also see that you've credited the Indian Express School of Journalism, you know, you've said that the training that they gave you has to do a lot with your career. But could you probably tell us about the first case, or you know, that first instance that drew you towards crime reporting in the first place? Well,

 

47:18

of course, I mean, no one in my family told me not to get into crime reporting. I actually wanted to cover environment when I first began. But there was a vacancy. When I joined the Bombay bureau of Indian Express, their crime reporter had just quit. And he was, I think it was last week, probably. And the reason they'd asked me to come here is because they needed a guy to fill in. So the boss said, just, you know, just try it out. You might like it. Hitting is too polite to say this is. I mean, we've got you here, this debate you're going to do and I don't care is just a polite.

 

47:59

I mean, it's strange to say, but and possibly not very normal to say, but I did after a point actually enjoying going to police stations and meeting cops. It's nothing I'd ever done before.

 

48:12

And then from here, and as never been tempted to go to a police station.

 

48:17

No one possibly should, if they can help it. I wouldn't say I had like a set idea of a cop in my mind before. I mean, working in this beta, hadn't given that world that much thought or had any reason to maybe speak to cops before this.

 

48:35

I just, I just happened to like the kinds of

 

48:40

information,

 

48:42

the kinds of access you get menu, access is very addictive.

 

48:47

For journalists, I mean that when you get when you get to see here, things that you know, very few people, people get to see hear and experience. It's a very addictive sort of thing. It's not so it's hard to let go. And that's the thing with cops.

 

49:04

The more I went to police stations, the more I got to meet.

 

49:09

I mean, nice people

 

49:11

who were open about the kinds of things they do.

 

49:16

Fun people, fun characters, I mean, all of them seem different personalities.

 

49:23

I just grew to liking it. I mean, I made some good friends initially.

 

49:29

And then in 2012

 

49:34

my first couple of years are quite busy in the sense a lot kept happening.

 

49:39

In 2012. I thought for me, the first big break was in 2012. There was

 

49:48

two girls had been arrested by the police in

 

49:51

Palaka.

 

49:53

This is just a tiny district.

 

49:57

They had been arrested. Just

 

50:00

Just the day after Berta, Chris, that

 

50:04

it became a it had become a huge deal then because one of the girls had written. Why?

 

50:13

Why is by? Have you got the 60 buyers that have been?

 

50:19

So was an innocent question. I mean, it could possibly be on anyone's minds. Yeah, I think that was a Facebook comment if I'm not Yeah, I'm a friend just happened to push the like button on that. And, I mean, I mean, I was sent there. And

 

50:37

it became quite crazy. Because Palghar was, I mean, on edge. It was the first big assign story I'd been assigned to them. And got to make beans, those girls, I mean, they did speak to quite.

 

50:49

I mean, they did speak to a lot of reporters, then it just that I kept going back to them, I got to know them quite well, then.

 

50:59

And that's the whole, it wasn't just a crime story. It was a political story. And I was 22, then

 

51:10

the whole, and actually, until I actually started journalism for the year before, Politics isn't something I'd ever thought I'd be, I'd want to know anything about. And just the fact that that story had two girls in their 20s actually having to having to go through a traumatic experience like being arrested being produced in code. Time to spend a night in a police station.

 

51:36

Having people threaten this them the safety of the families actually attacking their homes.

 

51:44

And the whole political thing. Getting into that.

 

51:49

That died. I thought that next one, I thought I think I want to stick to this beat. It's It sounds strange, but like so now I thought, I think I want to stick to this weakness. There's a bit of everything I knew then that with Can I might never get bored.

 

52:05

At all. Yeah, quite a quite a story.

 

52:10

So yeah, coming to, you know, recommendations, we have a section called reading recommendations. So I wanted to know, what kind of books do you do you really like? Have you written a true crime book, and some other novels or some other books that come to mind? Mafia, Queens, or Mumbai, written by Jane modulus, which I really, really like? Because again, you know, the women protagonist there? And who sends these books, but you know, do you read such books? Or is it that like, like, the web series, you stay away from that as well? And what do you generally read

 

52:46

these days?

 

52:48

There's a point where as I had a couple of years ago, I had a huge Douglas Adams face.

 

52:56

I'm I recently realized there's one book of his I haven't read, last chance to see, which is what I'll be reading. The minute I finished reading what I'm reading now.

 

53:07

There's this one book.

 

53:09

I know that people should read, even if they're not journalists, this is possibly where I learned a lot in my writing. It's sort of an I wouldn't say it's an academic book, it's got a new journalism. It's one of the first books I was told to read in my course. For if there's any listeners who themselves along from writers or writers at all, it's a series of interviews with

 

53:31

an American professor, interviewing a lot of some of the best American long form writers, book writers, nonfiction writers about how they went about writing books.

 

53:43

There's, there's there's some great examples, including one

 

53:49

including when journalist who was covering a class action lawsuit in America, and that's the only case that's the he wrote one book in his life of a case, which he spent about 10 or 15 years following. And it's apparently like a very dense book, and he talks about some couple of decades to actually finishing finished it.

 

54:14

I generally don't read a lot of time books.

 

54:17

But I've sort of given them now to reading Japanese crime. And it's been an eye opener. I never thought I'd like the actually reading crime but

 

54:29

I can't actually find it but I can tell you it's last book I absolutely loved. Called Tokyo Express by Sergio Matsumoto. It's a very slim thing.

 

54:40

It's

 

54:42

this it's it's a very I mean, it's a very sparse novel. It's so murder mystery, but it's a kind of no frills, no drama, murder mystery that are like, almost too close to life. I mean,

 

54:57

one reason I don't watch

 

55:00

crime dramas or is because they never get the investigation aspect, right. I'm not an investigator. I just happen to have seen investigations from up close. And I've read like some a few 100 investigation reports like, so. I like to believe I understand how investigations work. And that's the reason I love Saito's book because he, he understood how an investigation works. It's drab work. It's slow. It's very slow, dull book, literally plod along.

 

55:31

There's that. And if anyone's ever read

 

55:35

another book I really love. And that I don't know why, again, it's a murder mystery. It's called the laughing policeman.

 

55:43

Again, I just gave into the Scandinavian crime novel thing, which I possibly would not have before.

 

55:50

But yeah, I mean, I had heard so much about how,

 

55:54

again, pause, I don't know if sparse is the right word, how sparse Scandinavian crime novels are again, and I absolutely loved it. It's just

 

56:04

I love that when people get this things about in crime investigations, right, if you're going to write about it, so them for how dull they can be and how boring they can be, how frustrating they can be. So I'd, I'd recommend those. And for anyone who's who's a fan of Steve Larson's book,

 

56:24

he,

 

56:25

it's about sort of an unknown aspect of his life, about his partner. And she's written a book about her life stick in me, Eva Gabrielson. This is what I really recommend. Because of I mean, we know how tragically he passed away, because before his books really took off. And this tells this, thankfully tells us a bit about him.

 

56:49

So I definitely recommend this.

 

56:53

Oh, wow. Very interesting. Recommendations. There's a lot there. And yeah, I think I think definitely, if you compare films and books, yes, some books do get, do get it right, and especially Scandinavian literature. Okay, so now this brings us to a fun quiz round. So I'll be giving you some options and you'd have to pick one from them. Okay, and no thinking about

 

57:17

first question, you were part of the reporting team behind award winning global investigations, such as a the Swiss leaks, be the Panama Papers, see the paradise papers, which is your personal favorite

 

57:33

slicks, it was first one. First one I got involved in

 

57:38

all of them in all the crazy amount of fieldwork. We just got given lists of addresses to verify and people to find, and that's one of the best things I love about reporting just looking for people and addresses and things. It was the first time for me, so that's Wow. Okay. One thing that you love about Berkeley, a the fish smell, be the people see the see.

 

58:04

I will have to go with the City Bakery and chocolate doughnuts. Oh, okay. All right. Nice.

 

58:14

Yeah, one drug that you think deserves a book of its own in India. A marijuana be cocaine, see? heroin.

 

58:23

Heroin, heroin, for sure. For sure. I can tell you why. Because one of my favorite drug books happens to be junkie. It's Oh, I love it. Yeah, feel good. It's by William S. Burroughs and about him injecting heroin into it's supposed to be some semi autobiographical. Officially, it treats too much like his own life. So I would love to see a heroin book in India. Given how much heroin people do in India in different forms. Maybe Maybe you can write

 

59:02

that's manifested.

 

59:05

Okay. All right. One habit that you have picked up from the quirky people that you meet as a crime reporter. A walking in the dark be using a catchphrase or a code word. See biting your nails.

 

59:20

Walking in the dark.

 

59:24

Okay. Yeah, it's, it is scary. That

 

59:30

you don't know where you're going to end up. I mean, it's again, not recommended. And again, I can only do this because I mean, I just

 

59:41

have never come across. Like maybe I'm being very naive, but I personally ever met a woman crime reporter Are there any in your newsroom? Oh, yeah. Thanks. Okay. Cool. Yeah, there's there's quite a few. Oh, and is it? Just yeah, just to add to that, I'm curious, is it like they are only assigned

 

1:00:00

A particular kind of crime Yeah. Is there a level like or is it just open to all of them? No, I mean, you we divide.

 

1:00:09

I mean, if you're in a big city you divide it into areas I mean, okay by by city by maybe I mean at least in Bombay you divided by this reporter facade Bombay man for central Bombay, one for the western suburbs, Eastern or Northern and northern suburbs, if you have those many reporters and you get if something happens in your beat, you just go there. So, it depends on what happens in your beat what, btrn right? Yeah, I think we are clueless about, it's about

 

1:00:44

time you don't get

 

1:00:46

or you can get very unlucky if something very,

 

1:00:51

very gruesome happens. So it's something very difficult happens in your beat. Right? Just the luck of the draw.

 

1:00:58

Okay, so that's this brings us to our last section, which is rapid fire round where you have to answer in one word or one sentence and like the quiz now no time for thinking.

 

1:01:10

So I'll start one word you would use to describe baby potamkin?

 

1:01:16

This is thinking, intelligent.

 

1:01:20

Oh, nice. Okay, what's next?

 

1:01:26

Okay, any book ideas on the horizon?

 

1:01:34

Not too many. I in fact, I blank out. I'm still looking. If I'm actually still looking.

 

1:01:41

Maybe maybe the heroin book after this call. But anyway, okay. I might be done with drug books.

 

1:01:48

Okay, that's, that's interesting. Okay. All right. Okay, if you could change one thing about baby per Tonka story, what would it be?

 

1:01:57

Your typos. They irritate?

 

1:02:02

Where do you write

 

1:02:05

in my bedroom,

 

1:02:07

next met flanked by two huge windows with a lot of in a very noisy place, in fact.

 

1:02:13

Oh, okay. That's, that's interesting, because writers usually look for silence. It is. It's one of the most enlightening episodes that we have done. You know, it gave us a lot of insight into how crime reporting works. What it's like in Mumbai, both of us Tara and I have been in Mumbai, np we've sort of, you know, wanted to know more about places that you know, we have not known about so badly and you know, just how you go about your day as a crime reporter. Thank you so much for sharing these insights. Just just loved it. It's been fun speaking with you guys.

 

1:02:44

So here we are, where the end of yet another journey into the many worlds of Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Knievel. I'm Michelle D'costa. And this podcast is created by bout a company that helps you grow through stories. Find us at sound India or all social media platforms. So tune in every Wednesday if you live, eat and breathe books and join us as we discover more revolutionary books and peek into the lives and minds of some truly brilliant authors from India and South Asia. And don't forget to keep your love for stories alive for books and beyond.