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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Chilli powder nets the crook
- Plucky housewife saves family from being robbed by armed Delhi school dropout

A fistful of red chilli powder and nerves of steel helped a 25-year-old housewife save her family from being robbed by a gun-toting teenager.

Mamata Agarwal, wife of an Entally-based businessman, not only freed her in-laws and two-year-old daughter from the clutches of the armed robber, but also helped the cops cuff him on Monday afternoon.

The dramatic fightback, reminiscent of the film Mirch Masala, unfolded in a third-floor apartment of a multi-storeyed building on Munshibazar Road, in Entally.

'Around 1.10 pm, the main door was open as I was busy completing household chores with my mother-in-law Geeta Devi and sister-in-law Suman. My daughter Jiya was playing in the bedroom,' recounted Mamata. 'Suddenly, we saw a young man in blue jeans and white T-shirt entering the flat and bolting the door from inside. He then took out a gun and pointed it at us. We didn't dare raise an alarm.'

The youth, later identified as Rakesh Udar, held all three women at gunpoint and instructed them to accompany him from one room to another. 'I opened the almirahs and he took out nearly Rs 1.5 lakh in cash and jewellery,' said Mamata.

Suddenly, little Jiya started crying. 'I immediately realised I could take advantage of the situation. I said my daughter needed water and so moved into her bedroom. He did not suspect me. I quietly picked up my cellphone and went into the kitchen to collect a bottle of water,' Mamata recalled.

From the kitchen, Mamata called up husband Kamal Agarwal who, in turn, alerted neighbours and friends.

Distress call over, Mamata armed herself not with a bottle of water but a handful of chilli powder. 'I hid my hand in the aanchal of my sari till I got close to the robber and then hurled the chilli powder into his eyes. My aim was perfect,' smiled Mamata.

Blinded by the lethal powder, Rakesh ran towards a washbasin to splash water in his eyes. This gave Mamata the chance to pick up her daughter and herd her mother-in-law and sister-in-law out of the house. She even bolted the door to trap Rakesh inside the house.

When police arrived soon after, they were greeted by the sound of gunshots emerging from the Agarwal home.

'Rakesh fired at the lock on the main door and on the iron bars of the balcony. He even came out on the balcony and fired at the crowd,' said Partha Sarathi Ghosh, deputy commissioner (eastern suburban division).

This continued for more than an hour. When the firing finally stopped, a team of 12 policemen, all armed with 9 mm pistols, broke open the door. They found Rakesh in one of the four rooms of the apartment. He was armed but did not open fire. He was overpowered and taken into custody.

Later Rakesh, a dropout from a Delhi-based school, told police he had left home after stealing Rs 15,000 from his father Darshan Singh, a property dealer, and come to Calcutta via Patna. When he ran out of money, he zeroed in on the Entally apartment as a soft target to make a killing.

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