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Rediff.com  » News » A House of Horrors in the City of Joy

A House of Horrors in the City of Joy

Last updated on: June 18, 2015 13:01 IST

When the Kolkata police began investigating an apparent case of suicide of a 77-year-old man in a posh central Kolkata home on June 10, they were not prepared for what they found. They stumbled upon ‘skeletons in the closet’, quite literally.

They discovered that the deceased's son had been living with the skeletons of his sister and their two pet dogs for the past six months.

What went on inside Kolkata’s ‘house of horror’? Indrani Roy/Rediff.com reports.

The De residence at 3, Robinson Street in downtown Kolkata. Photograph: Indrani Roy/Rediff.com

Hanabarita khunjchhen? (Looking for the 'haunted' house?),” remarks a pedestrian as I ask him for direction to 3, Robinson Street.

The rather innocuous address hit headlines across the nation on June 10 when the police recovered Arabinda De's charred body. The latter, allegedly suffering from depression, had set himself on fire.

Residents of the area had alerted the police after seeing thick smoke emanating from one of the windows. The police initially thought it was a simple case of suicide.

Little did they know what lay in store.

Once inside the palatial red building with a sprawling yet unkempt lawn, the police came across Arabinda’s son Partha, who was sharing his flat with the fully-clothed skeleton of a woman, and two bags full of bones -- of pet dogs.

According to Partha, the skeletons were of his sister Debjani’s and their pet Labradors’.

The house thereafter earned for itself the epithet hanabari (the haunted house) and was attracting ‘tourists’ and curious onlookers from every corner of the city until the police locked up the main gate.

Curious onlookers take pictures of the De house. However, the police later locked the gate to prevent trespassers. Photograph: Abhiroop Dey Sarkar

'Don’t you feel scared to be here at night?' 

The massive red house wears a gloomy look despite its expansive structure.  Lack of maintenance written all over, the house sports a few broken windows, a dishevelled garden with wild shrubs here and there, a black car tucked away in a corner in what doubles up as a semi-covered garage.

There is a police picket at the gate to prevent any intrusion.

Arabinda’s younger brother Arun and his family as well as their tenants occupy the rear end of the building.

“Please don’t attempt to speak to them. We have been asked to stop people from getting into their part of the building,” a police officer pleads with me.

“Don’t you feel scared to be here at night?” I ask him.

The colour drains from his face, and muttering something under his breath, he hurries back to his colleagues behind the locked gate.

Why didn’t Partha cremate his sister’s body?

“I loved my sister and couldn’t let her go. Besides, didi visits me at night, she talks and sings to me,” Partha reportedly told the police during the preliminary investigation.

He said he "preserved" the dogs’ skeletons too as "we loved them a lot", highly-placed sources in Kolkata police told rediff.com.

Partha also "confessed" to have been buying pizza and other fast food for his sister’s skeleton for months. Even though he had not made any bank transaction in the last six months, he would spend as much as Rs 600 every day on buying pizza and pastries for Debjani, senior police officials said.

“I treat her with stuff she loves,” Partha said during interrogation.

Partha also admitted to the police that he had sealed all the doors and windows of the house with tapes and always kept the air-conditioner on to keep the stench out.

He was arrested on two bailable charges -- for an act that may spread infectious disease that could be dangerous to life, and for not informing authorities about his sister's death.

Soon after his arrest, Partha was sent to Kolkata’s Pavlov Mental Hospital where he is undergoing treatment.

An apparent suicide?

Though the cops are yet to come out with a statement, insiders confirmed to rediff.com that they had recovered a suicide note from the house that read: 'I am leaving this world by my own free will. No one is to blame. Goodbye Partha. Love you.'

The police are currently verifying the handwriting. 

Representatives from Missionaries of Charity arrive at the Pavlov Mental Hospital. Photograph: Abhiroop Dey Sarkar

The techie who quit a cushy job

Partha De

Partha, image, left, is an engineer with a degree in Bachelor of Technology, as was his sister Debjani. He worked in a top ranking information technology company and was posted in the United States for some time.

Debjani worked as a music teacher at a well-known English medium school in Kolkata.

Partha reportedly left his job recently after a spat with his seniors, while Debjani quit her job in 2007, police sources told rediff.com.

During a chance interaction on June 16 with media-persons camping around Pavlov hospital, Partha said, "I have been kept here illegally and without my consent; I have committed no crime.

"I want to go to Mother's House (Mother Teresa-founded Missionaries of Charity), I have a lot of property, I want to donate," he said.

Pavlov superintendent Ganesh Prasad heeded his repeated pleas and invited four representatives from the Missionaries of Charity to interact with him on Wednesday.

Did Partha share any secrets?

According to hospital sources, the police had jotted down about 25 questions for Partha.

These questions were placed before him on Wednesday afternoon through the Missionaries of Charity’s representatives.

“While Partha evaded ‘very’ personal questions, he said that Debjani was on a ‘rigorous’ fast for about two months after the deaths of their dogs in August and September (he claimed she had been living only on water since October 2014-end).

However, on December 25, she resumed her normal food and that had an ‘adverse impact on her health’, hospital sources said.

According to Partha, Debjani was ‘very ill’ by December 28 and passed away on December 29.

"She was very religious and did rigorous fasting which led to her death. I used to feel very bad, but it was a spiritual fasting,” Partha told the media on June 16.

He also revealed that he kept the ‘secret’ of his sister’s death from his father. The latter came to know of it only in March.

They didn't talk, but only exchanged notes

Arabinda, his wife Arati and their children -- Debjani and Partha -- led secluded lives and did not socialise, police sources told rediff.com.

But that does not mean the four enjoyed healthy family ties.

Arati died of cancer in 2007 and her death alienated her children from her husband, the sources said.  

A few friends of the family revealed to the local media recently that Arabinda and Arati had marital disharmony and lived separately for years -- Debjani living with Arabinda and Partha with Arati.

Investigators were surprised to discover loads of handwritten notes that used to be exchanged among Arabinda and his two children after Arati’s death.

“It seems the three hardly talked but only shared notes,” an investigating officer told rediff.com.

“Some of the notes were neatly written and dated (they were presumably penned by Debjani and Arabinda) while some were incoherent and messy (apparently written by Partha),” the officer said.

Though Partha and Debjani were very close, the two had a strained relationship with their father, according to investigators.

The father lived in the farthest end of the house and had no access to the other part where his children stayed.

It was because of this living arrangement that Partha could keep the news of his sister’s death from his father for months, sources said.

According to one of the family’s former security guards, Arabinda discovered his daughter’s skeleton one afternoon when he had sneaked into the other part of the house in Partha’s absence.

Arabinda apparently went into depression after this and started drinking heavily, according to police sources. It was later found that his charred body had heavy alcohol content.

He had been suffering from liver cirrhosis, it was found.

A poster inside the De house. Photograph: Abhiroop Dey Sarkar

Ma feared I was impotent'

Apart from seven laptops, a few desktops, soft toys, handwritten notes, books and compact discs on religion, the police also seized a diary written by Partha containing intriguing details about the family.

Some of the entries hint at an incestuous relationship between the two, claim police sources, though this could not be independently verified.

One entry reads: ‘Ma is jealous of didi. When we went to Digha (a seaside retreat), ma forced her to strip in the toilet.’

Another note in the same diary reportedly says that Debjani had attempted to seduce Partha during the same trip.

The diary also mentions that Partha’s mother would often send the housemaid to his room so that he could ‘have sex’ with her.

‘Ma feared I was impotent,’ Partha reportedly wrote.

Family did not believe in funeral rites, rituals

Arabinda and his children studied science, yet they were staunch supporters of the para-normal and spiritualism, police sources told rediff.com.

Arabinda did not perform his parents’ funeral rites and when his wife Arati passed away in 2007, he refused to cremate her. Partha, who was then posted abroad, too did not return home on getting the news of his mother’s death.

The onus thereby fell on Arabinda’s younger brother Arun to cremate Arati.

Though Arati was suffering from breast cancer, her family did not arrange for any conventional treatment, family sources had informed the police.

“It seemed they believed in naturopathy and in preserving the ‘dead’,” a senior investigating officer said.

Debjani, preliminary investigations revealed, was a follower of an ashram and had recorded a religious album a few years ago as a tribute to her guru.

Initial search also yielded notes by Debjani suggesting that she starved in her bid to ‘attain god’ and regain ‘spiritual balance’ for her family.

The eerie remains of a doll sits behind a book cover in the De house. Photograph: Abhiroop Dey Sarkar

Did the siblings practise black magic?

Doctors at the hospital attending to Partha are busy studying a number of plastic dolls that the police found in Debjani's room.

All the dolls are cut into pieces -- each piece carefully wrapped and stowed away.

According to sources, on the day the police recovered Arabinda’s charred body along with the skeletons, the investigators searching the house were chilled to hear a faint voice of a woman chanting mantras.

It turned out to be small speakers, installed in every room, softly playing out gospel of Joyce Meyer, a well-known American evangelist.

Partha later revealed to the police that such ‘spiritual ambience’ was necessary to invoke his didi’s soul.

In his diary, Partha blames his paternal grandmother Shanti for ruining the ‘peace’ of his family. According to him, she was a ‘witch who trampled the garden of paradise that once existed at 3, Robinson Street’.

Property issues

Arabinda was the joint owner, with his younger brother Arun, of a property worth about Rs 45 crore – it was also the main cause of conflict between the two.

Post-retirement, in 1989, when Arabinda returned to Kolkata with his family from Bengaluru, he was shocked to discover that Arun had clandestinely rented out his share of the property to tenants, investigators told rediff.com.

After years of legal battle and animosity, Arabinda got a small flat on the ground floor of the same building, and in 2002 they finally got back their share and moved to the first floor.

Meanwhile, the lengthy tussle between the two brothers had generated the hatred for their uncle in Debjani and Partha’s minds.

According to investigators, Arabinda and Arun had patched up recently as the two had decided to sell off the property. But both Partha and Debjani did not approve of this newfound ‘friendliness’ and had bitter fights with their father, and compelled him to stay apart from them.

Arabinda’s bank statements revealed that because of his lavish lifestyle, he was almost penniless towards the end and needed to sell the property at any cost.

As for Partha, he too led an extravagant life and reportedly sold off the family jewellery worth Rs 6 lakh soon after his mother’s death in 2007.

Rents of about Rs 30,000 accrued from the tenants were the only source of income for the family until the time of Arabinda’s death.

Unanswered questions

With each passing day, the mystery over the goings-on in the house deepens.

Though it’s almost certain now that Arabinda committed suicide and Partha needs psychiatric help, a few pertinent questions remain unanswered:

  • Why did neither the neighbours nor the security men at the gates discover the stench of Debjani’s rotting body for months?
  •  Is Partha’s logic that sealed doors and windows and 24-hour air-conditioning prevented the odour from going out tenable?
  •  When Arabinda was setting himself on fire, why didn’t Partha call the neighbours or the security guards on duty for help?
  •  Why did Arabinda pay as much as Rs 40,000 a month for security guards at his place? Who was he protecting himself and his family from?
  •  Is Partha’s statement that Arabinda came to know of Debjani’s death only in March true?
  • Latest media reports have it that a few days prior to his death, Arabinda had told his friend-cum-lawyer Subir Majumdar that he would like to make a will and would distribute his property between his children. Majumdar confirmed this to rediff.com over telephone. The obvious question that arises: If Arabinda already knew about Debjani’s death, why did he mention her for his will?
  • Did Arabinda know that his pet dogs have died? If so, why didn’t he force his children to cremate them?
  • Did he, too, like his children take part in the rituals?

According to Pavlov hospital sources, Partha is suffering from schizophrenia and delusional disorder. Both Aravinda’s body and Debjani’s skeleton have been sent for forensic examination.

Though initial inquiry has revealed that the skeleton recovered from the house belongs to a woman, only a DNA test will confirm if it was Debjani’s.

The police will need to dig real deep to get the answers to these queries. Until then, the mystery surrounding the house at 3, Robinson Street, will continue to haunt the residents of the City of Joy.

Indrani Roy / Rediff.com in Kolkata