Now, I have not gone to say official byes to most police officers or politicians when they have retired or resigned. It is part of one’s career and the usual interviews they give. In one’s career of 27 years as a journalist I have lost count of the number of heads of state, Director Generals of Police, Police Commissioners and so on who have been given farewells. However there are two specific officers I will always make exception to, one Rakesh Maria and second Datta Padsalgikar.
I am one of the few lucky journalists to have seen both these accomplished police officers rise up the ladder. Maria was one officer with whom I have shared the most honest professional relationship. He had one horrible habit though he would test my patience and would keep me waiting for hours. He knew I was not the sort to give up, I am persistent and he would test it always.
He was funny, always had deep insight and if I were not quoting him he was way more honest than many would believe. He was sure one of the finest investigating minds the Mumbai police had. Maria was my senior alumnus in St Xavier’s. Moreover both had passion for basketball, he continued, while I was forced to give up after college. So when we would meet, more often than not we would speak of many more other issues, interests than just news.
He appreciated that I was not in any police camp or coterie. And in the 90s a lot of politicians and police officers who saw me a young female broadcast journalist, have been like guardians. They have given me tips be it for stories or regarding taking care of myself. Maria too cautioned me from keeping away from certain people within not only his fraternity, but even journalists.
He was dead right, always. As for stories, he had a knack of giving tips, useful information that would help me question. Maria had a fine sense of humour and knew every reporter’s network. In fact when he was heading the ATS and I visited, he remembered to katao me nicely. He once laughed and told me, “Now go see who has joined my team. Go and say hello to your old friend.” That was his way of telling us old timers, Pradeep Sawant was reinstated.
Maria had a fan following among the journalists, but they would indulge him. He had asked me to keep away from those press briefings, which were later termed as ‘Maria ki class.’
Maria was a well travelled person, who is a thorough Bandra boy, who loves his city. He is a devoted husband and among the few secrets, he followed every word of his wife’s advice. She would keep one red rose in his cabin, feng shui or vastu or a personal belief that a fresh red rose keeps negativity away. Maria has reading glasses and he knew I would look fascinatingly at his magnet specs which he would wear around his neck and there is a magnet in the centre. So the two glasses for each eye would hang like a stethoscope. He then asked his orderly to get few more and once gifted me a pair of glasses.
In the days when we could catch up over chai, we would recount many old cases, olden Bombay and sure he was one cop who has details on the who’s who of the world. He was not the sort to be anybody’s yes man. All have shortcomings, legacies and stories in the police. We all heard. But the fact is he has been one of the best interrogators, with a fine investigating mind and cracked some very important cases that matter to this city. Had he not been transferred, I can bet the investigations in Sheena Bora murder would have shaken the ruling party and corporate India.
The city and Maharashtra force has certainly lost a fine officer with Maria retiring.