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Inspector Phadke’s Taqdeer


BY DR. ANAND R. BHATIA

“Beta, Waqt se Pehle aur Taqdeer se Jyada, Kuch Nahain Hota!” (Son, nothing happens before its time and more than what is destined!). 


“Weenee . . . “ went the siren on Inspector Phadke’s shining light-blue Triumph motorcycle at about 8:30 AM every weekday morning. 

Inspector Phadke always turned on the siren for a few seconds when he went off to work. Whenever any adult asked him why he did it, he said he did this to test if they were in working order with a smile and a wink. Of course, all us kids in the neighborhood at Bhandarawada Road, off Shivaji Park in Dadar, Bombay, knew that he did it just to please the kids in the neighborhood! Oh, we were all so proud of our daring and brave Inspector Phadke! 

When I first met Inspector Phadke, he was a motorcycle traffic police office in the Bombay Police Department and lived on the 3rd floor apartment in the building next to our house. He moved there when he married Shanta Rane‘s younger sister, Leela in 1948 or 1949. Prior to that, Shanta Rane and her younger sister Leela occupied the apartment. Shanta Rane, the famous movie star of yesteryears, lived in that spacious and ostentatious apartment, not too far from the Dadar Chaupatty (sea-beach). From the balcony of that apartment, you could see the beautiful sunset on Dadar Chaupatty facing the West before all the buildings started to crop up after the influx of the Sindhi refugees to Bombay after the partition of India in 1947.

Shanta Rane, whose real name was Shanta Rane, unlike many of the movie stars who change their names to take on “stage” names, had lived in that building, which she owned, since even before we moved into the building next to hers in 1942 or thereabouts. 

In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Dadar was still considered a suburb of Bombay and the Shivaji Park area of Dadar, which was only about 4 blocks from Dadar Chaupatty, was very popular with the people in the movie industry at Bombay. Many famous movie personalities of that era lived in the Shivaji Park area. The famous Indian playback singer, Mukesh, lived only a few houses down the street from us (right on Bhandarawada Road). It was only after Mukesh became really famous that Raj Kapoor, the world-famous Bollywood “Mogul” of the 1950’s and 1960’s, forced Mukesh to move to the new “movie-colony” at Chembur, on the Eastern side of the city of Bombay in 1960 or 1961. 

I was about 8 years old in 1948 when Inspector Phadke first came into our lives. He was a dashing figure and he must have been in his late 20’s or early 30’s when we first came to know him. All of us in the neighborhood wondered why this handsome young man had married Leela, a rather plain looking girl, and who really did not look anything like her very good-looking movie-star sister, Shanta Rane. But, it was rumored that Inspector Phadke had “fallen in love” with plain and simple Leela, and as everybody knows, love follows no logic!

I still remember Inspector Phadke dressed in his khaki uniform with a soft beret-type khaki cap tilted towards the right side of his handsome face. He was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, very well built fair-complexioned man. If he was not in his khaki uniform, I always remember him in white tennis shorts and a sports shirt. He always wore dark shaded Ray-ban glasses and he carried a gun on his waist with a golden cord that was attached to the gun handle that went around his right shoulder when he went to work. 

In those days you had to kick-start motorcycles and he was quite good at doing that. He always had the motorcycle is tip-top mechanical condition and he was an expert at starting it usually with just one kick on the starter pedal. He explained to us kids from the neighborhood how there was a particular technique of jumping on the kick pedal at the right height and time to get the big machine going. He was very happy when all of us 4 or 5 pre-teens from the neighborhood gathered to ogle at him when he washed and cleaned his motorcycle on most Sunday mornings. We would pester and beg him to tell us stories of his exploits of chasing cars on the still clear and beautiful roads of Northern Bombay.

And Inspector Phadke told us hair-raising stories of his exploits aplenty! Now in retrospect, I am sure many of them were embellished with some grain of exaggeration, but to all us pre-teen kids, they were more exciting than the comic books of Tarzan and Captain Marvel that we read in those days! Whatever his story, Inspector Phadke was always sure to preface or postscript his story with his famous saying, “Beta, Waqt se Pehle aur Taqdeer se Jyada, Kuch Nahain Hota!” (Son, nothing happens before its time and more than what is destined!). He was a firm believer in the power of Destiny. We always wondered how a man of action such as Inspector Phadke could be such a firm believer in Destiny! 

Of all the stories that Inspector Phadke told us, his most “far-fetched” story was the part he played in the biggest bank robbery after the Independence of India (in August 1947) at the main branch of Lloyds Bank of London in downtown Bombay in May 1950. 

Lloyds Bank of London is world famous. It had a very big branch in downtown Bombay at Flora Fountain. On Friday, May 13, 1950, at about 3:30 PM, this branch of the Lloyd Bank of London at Flora Fountain, Bombay, was robbed by 4 (or 5) men. 

The Times of India, the premier newspaper of Bombay at that time (and even today) gave a vivid description of the daring daytime robbery next morning:

Daring Robbery in Broad Daylight! 

Lloyds Bank of London Robbed at Flora Fountain. 

Over Rupees 12 Lakh in cash stolen!

At about 3:30 PM yesterday, three men entered the main branch of Lloyds Bank of London and made off with over Rupees Twelve Lakh in one of the most daring robberies in modern times. 

Mr. Minu Mistry, 48, the bank manager who was interviewed after the robbery, gave the following account of what happened. He said, “ At about 3:30 PM last evening, only about half an hour or so before closing time, 4 men entered the bank at about five minute intervals and drew handguns on the clerks and the single old bank-guard of the bank when all of them were inside the bank. One of the men, who seemed to be the leader of the gang, went into my open cabin and at gunpoint made me open the safe. All three men did not speak a word to each other and within five minutes had put all the cash that was in the safe into 3 gunny-bags that they produced from a small briefcase that one of the men had with him. Very methodically, and as though they had practiced this very thoroughly, they each loaded the bags with all the paper money that was in the safe. Taking the old World-War I Enfield rifle from the bank-guard and putting it into one of the gunny-bags they all made sure that all the people in the bank turned their backs to the front door. They then made their way to the front door. Very deliberately the apparent leader of the gang said in a soft voice, “Peeche mut mud kar dekhna” (Do not turn back to look), and all of them just walked out the front door. Once outside, they had a big Ford, half-black and half-yellow regular Bombay taxi just waiting at the curb with its motor running. A Sikh driver in a brown taxi-driver’s uniform was driving the taxi. Next to him was seated another man who apparently had a gun drawn, threatening the taxi-driver. The trunk of the taxi was apparently unlocked and the tree robbers just put the gunny-bags filled with the money they had stolen into the trunk, banged it shut, got into the rear seat of the taxi and the taxi just roared off towards Marine Drive.” 

Right below this headline was the news (with a picture of the taxi), that the taxi-driver, Sukhwant Singh, 48, was found in his large Ford taxi, license number, BMT 2852, dead with a single gun-shot wound to his head, slumped over the steering wheel. The taxi was parked in the alley behind the famous Quality Restaurant just off Marine Drive. It was speculated that it was the same taxi that had been used in the Lloyds Bank robbery.

Now what could this “wild-west” type robbery have to do with a traffic-cop like Inspector Phadke, you might ask?

Well, this is the story that Inspector Phadke told us about the Lloyds Bank robbery. 

He told us that he heard the news about the robbery in his daily briefing when he called in the evening from his regular sub-station at Kemp’s Corner at about 5 PM. It was just a regular briefing and all it said was to be on the lookout for a large Ford taxi that might be carrying 4 or 5 men that might be the robbery vehicle. And Inspector Phadke just smiled and sarcastically said to himself, “Ah yes, they will just be waiting to get nabbed by me!” and roared off towards his house to get off duty at 5 PM.

He said that it was his daily routine to go to Dadar Chaupatty to get a “bhel-puri” from his favorite vendor, Kashinath, every evening when he got off work. It was a very short distance from Dadar Chaupatty to his flat on Bhandarawada Road, and very often he took a package of the bhel-puri for his wife and sister-in-law too. But on that fateful day, he could not find Kashinath at his regular space at Dadar Chaupatty nor could any of the other vendors say where Kashinath was. This was very strange. He was a “regular” customer of Kashinath, and come rain or shine, for the past couple of years, he would rarely miss a day when he would not have the bhel-puri from Kashinath. If Kashinath were absent any day, his assistant, Bholu, would be at Kashinath’s stall, and would take care of him. This unexplained absence of Kashinath disturbed Inspector Phadke very much and after he went home and changed to his “mufti” dress of a tee shirt and shorts, he decided to go see what was the matter with Kashinath. 

Kashinath lived in a small “kholi” (hut) behind Kohinoor Mills, just walking distance from Inspector Phadke’s flat, and Inspector Phadke decided to go there that night. He had never been to Kashinath’s kholi before, but knew it’s location and making inquiries from neighbors, he reached Kashinath’s small kholi. The door was locked with a big old lock on the door, and Kashinath’s handcart was outside and nobody seemed to know where Kashinath was! 

Curiosity forced Inspector Phadke to peer around Kashinath’s kholi and sensing that something unusual was afoot, he gave a big yank at the old lock at Kashinath’s kholi door, and it opened in a jiffy. The kholi was dark, and was divided into two sections with a dirty cloth divider to separate the cooking section from the seating section. The place was in a turmoil with open gunny-bags of “pohe” (puffed rice) strewn around the front part of the room and a pile of pohe evidently emptied from at least 3 or 4 gunny-bags just dumped in a heap in the corner of the room. There was no sign of Kashinath or anybody else there! And the gunny-bags that had been emptied were nowhere around! 

“What is happening here?” thought Inspector Phadke! Why would Kashinath dump the staple ingredient of his bhel-puri into a corner of his kholi and where were the gunny-bags that they came from? And where was Kashinath???

Something was the matter and all was not well with Kashinath! 

On inquiries with the neighbor’s, Inspector Phadke came to know that Kashinath was last seen that morning with 3 or 4 men who had come to his house early in the morning and he was last seen going out with them at about 10 AM. One of the men with Kashinath had a suitcase with him. Now Inspector Phadke was certain that something was terribly amiss and he had to find out whatever happened to Kashinath! Could these men be the same who had robbed Lloyds Bank earlier in the evening? Where was Kashinath? Could he too be one of the robbers? No, not his Kashinath Bhayya! A man that made his living selling bhel-puri was not a likely bank-robber! Something was certainly amiss!

He made further inquiries and found out that Kashinath’s assistant, Bholu, lived only a few doors away with his parents, in a small kholi on the other side of Kohinoor Mills and Inspector Phadke went to Bholu’s kholi. Poor Bholu was an 18-19 year old lad, a bit retarded, and lived with his parents, both working as mill-workers at the Kohinoor Mills. Bholu could only tell Inspector Phadke that 3 or 4 men had come the night before to Kashinath’s place and that one of them was named Anokhe Lal. 

Now Inspector Phadke was convinced that, by chance, he had stumbled on to the gang that had robbed Lloyds bank and that may be, just may be, his Kashinath was a willing or unwilling participant in that robbery!

Inspector Phadke lost no time and immediately went to his headquarters at Dadar Police station to report what he had discovered. At the Dadar Police station when he made his report, Sub-inspector Inayat Khan, though junior to him in rank, actually started to smile when Inspector Phadke made his report. He said to Inspector Phadke that he had a vivid imagination and that just because his Bhelpuriwalla had not come to work one day was no reason to link him to the biggest bank robbery in Bombay!

Poor Inspector Phadke felt very dejected and returned home by midnight, but the thought that he was on to something would not leave him. He had to know more. May be, his “Taqdeer” was beckoning him to solve the Lloyds bank robbery case!

Inspector Phadke called in sick the next morning, and again went to Kashinath’s kholi. He wanted to thoroughly investigate at Kashinath’s kholi and see if he could find any clue to Kashinath’s disappearance. One thing was for sure. The three gunny-bags from which the pohe had been dumped in Kashinath’s front room were nowhere to be found. Why were the pohe dumped? Was it just to get the gunny-bags?

Inspector Phadke looked at some mail post-cards that were lying on a table that was on the side of Kashinath’s small bed. One was written in Hindi and had a post-mark of “Gwalior” on the cancellation stamp. It was dated just a few days back and the signature on the postcard said, “Anokhe Lal”. Though the post card was in almost an illegible scribble, it addressed Kashinath as “brother” and indicated that Anokhe Lal intended to visit Kashinath on Friday, May 13, 1950 in the morning. 

Now Inspector Phadke had a clue that whoever was this Anokhe Lal, he had come to visit Kashinath from Gwalior. May be, just may be, Anokhe Lal was the gang-leader who had robbed Lloyds Bank and was back at Gwalior with the loot from the Lloyds bank robbery!

Inspector Phadke returned back to his house, and phoned his office and asked for a weeks “emergency leave“. He was afraid that if he told anybody else about his suspected link to the Lloyds Bank robbery, they too might make fun of him. So he thought it best to keep it to himself as long as possible.

He immediately went to Dadar station and caught the Punjab Mail that left Victoria Terminus at 9 PM for Delhi and beyond. Inspector Phadke bought a ticket to Gwalior, which was about 300 miles short of Delhi. He arrived at Gwalior the next day at about 3 PM. Inspector Phadke went straight to the “downtown” Gwalior Police Station. There he met Chief Inspector Madhukar Gokhale. He introduced himself as a police inspector from Bombay and that he was following a lead on a suspected robber named Anokhe Lal and if there was any person by that name on their list of habitual criminals. He was surprised to learn that there indeed was a known career-criminal by that name who had a mile long police record. This Anokhe Lal had been released from jail just about a month back and was well known to the Gwalior police!

Now Inspector Phadke was sure that by sheer “Taqdeer” (luck), he had found the mastermind of the Lloyds Bank robbery! Time was of the essence and taking Chief Inspector Madhukar Gokhale into his confidence, he insisted that the Gwalior police do an immediate raid on the known residence of Anokhe Lal. Though Chief Inspector Madhukar Gokhale was a bit skeptical about the “evidence” that Inspector Phadke had, he went along with him and immediately went to the last known address of Anokhe Lal.

And the rest is history!

Anokhe Lal was caught red-handed with the 3 gunny-bags still in his possession. He had no idea how anybody had so quickly connected him to the Lloyds Bank robbery! He later admitted that he had killed poor Kashinath when Kashinath did not want to be involved with the bank robbery. Kashinath had the misfortune of being a distant cousin and had only known Anokhe Lal when he was growing up at Allahabad as a kid. 

Of course, this was the entire story that Inspector Phadke told us and we pre-teens were so delighted to hear this story (many times) from Inspector Phadke. 

While it was a good “adventure-story” for us pre-teens, as I grew older, I started to doubt the story. I began to wonder why was it that though the Lloyds Bank robbery was often in the news and in post-news analysis, no mention was ever made about Inspector Phadke in all the stories that I read about it! 

Time quickly passed and I grew from being a pre-teen to a teen and just as quickly grew into being a young man at college. Soon I was ready in 1961 to leave for higher studies in the United States. Inspector Phadke had also aged into a middle- aged man, but he would still ride his shining blue motorcycle to work every morning with the customary siren. 

He and his wife came to meet me one fine evening just a few days before I was to leave for the US. Chatting about the “good old days” and the stories he would tell us, half in just, I asked him, how come he was still a “Traffic Police Inspector” after having had such an important role in the notorious Lloyd Bank robbery”? 

With a sigh, and a bit of sadness in his voice, Inspector Phadke said, “Beta, Waqt se Pehle aur Taqdeer se Jyada, Kuch Nahain Hota!” 

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