Once, 12th Main Road in Indiranagar was where the cream of Karnataka's bureaucrats and police officers lived alongside senior officials with public sector units such as HAL and NAL. It was on this street that Rahul Dravid and Sadanand Vishwanath honed their skills in their teens. Back then in the colony of palatial homes, everybody knew everybody, and neighbours were people rather than a shopping complex, a retail chain or a bank.
From Defence Colony to 12th Main and beyond, homes in Indiranagar are being replaced as the once distant suburb becomes Bangalore's most elite shopping destination. The cricketers have gone ' Vishwanath, E A S Prasanna, Dravid ' and so have the bureaucrats, police officers and forest officials.
The going price of land ' bought for pittances like Rs 1.50 per square foot from the government after being acquired from landlords ' is now in the range of Rs 25,000 per sq ft. Among the few who have not fallen to the temptation of selling their property 'the average price is Rs 10 crore ' are the families of former chief secretaries B K Bhattatacharya and M B Prakash, former state police chief M D Singh and former forest chief S N Rai.
Singh, who goes on regular walks and chats with neighbours, had been among the first to be told of the smell of death from across the road. "It must have been a couple of months ago. The watchmen in the adjacent commercial properties told me about an unbearable smell from the house where the lady lived alone. I called the police and they sent a couple of men who found nothing. They concluded it may have been the carcass of an animal," says Singh.
It was not until last week, when he saw the picture of the house in the papers, that Singh realised that what the watchmen had reported had been the smell of the woman's body.
"We had seen the family since we came here in the late 1990s. They were like the original landlords here," Singh says. "Unlike the other families, who were all in government service and hence interacted with one another to some extent, this family was isolated from us."
The board on house number 3276 has the names of Bhooma Reddy and Amayamma, the parents of Shanthi Reddy, 53, the woman found dead last week. Police inspector D Kumar says the house is in the name of Amayamma, who died a year ago. The family of four ' there is a younger brother, Shankar ' had been reduced to just the unmarried Shanthi Reddy. The father, who is alive and owns large tracts of land on the outskirts, had deserted them. After the mother died, the brother left with his family.
According to the chatter among staff and security in the neighbourhood, Shanthi Reddy quarrelled constantly with her brother, accusing him of scheming to usurp the house, which eventually made him leave. It appeared to be an obsessive fear. When her mother was ill, she reportedly would not allow her brother to take her to hospital for fear that her mother would be killed and the property grabbed.
"The gate was always locked. If anyone stood outside the house, like I did sometimes, she would yell. She would only allow a man to deliver water," says Jeevan, a guard in the commercial complex that was once former police chief H T Sangliana's house. "About six or eight months ago, she looked very ill and asked a guard next door for water. Around that time, the gate had ceased to be locked."
M D Singh, who often spotted Shanthi Reddy walking on her compound or the footpath outside, recalls his only conversation with her: "I was in the park when she came up and asked if I was the police officer who lived across the road. She asked me who she should contact if someone tried to grab her property. I told her to contact the local police station or the deputy commissioner of police, and if no action was taken to come back to me."
Open & shut
The local police have concluded that Shanthi Reddy, already suffering from some sort of mental disturbance, must have slipped into a depression after her mother's death, shut herself away and fallen ill or starved herself to death.
"There is nothing suspicious about it. It is death due to self-neglect. Her brother and their family own property in multiples of the value of the current property. It was she who drove them out and put herself in a state of neglect," says the inspector.
A forensic autopsy has been inconclusive about the cause of death. The police have not pushed for analysis of the skeletal remains for ruling out poisoning and getting DNA samples, which could have been useful in a possible future property dispute.
It is unclear how the policemen who visited the house two months ago missed seeing the body in the living room through a window, as labourers who went last week did. There are also questions on how the front door was not noticed unlocked two months ago but was pushed open last week.
"It is not police culture to dismiss a case as open and shut so easily," says M D Singh.