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A daughter numbed by tragedy and treachery

London-based Sharmila Chatterjee would have often worried about her elderly parents back home in Calcutta, but not for once in the past 15 years was Sona Das the reason for it.

As she performed her father Ranjit’s funeral rites, Sharmila’s mind wandered back to the late Nineties when 40-year-old Sona first entered their two-storey house off Deshapriya Park.

“I still can’t wrap my head around it…that someone who we have known for so long would do something like this. I don’t know what drove him to it,” said Sharmila, who settled in the UK two decades ago.

Her father Ranjit, an 82-year-old retired chartered accountant, was reading the newspaper over a cup of tea last Wednesday when Sona and an accomplice allegedly strangulated him. His bedridden wife Pratima was in an adjacent room, apparently unaware of the crime.

“Every day, except on Sundays, he would ring the doorbell around the same time,” Sharmila recalled.

Sona did the same on Wednesday. Only this time there was another man with him, and the duo allegedly killed Ranjit because he resisted their attempts to rob him.

Sharmila couldn’t recall one previous instance of Sona stepping out of line. “Nothing went missing ever, and it is not as if we would keep our stuff locked when he was around,” she said.

Ranjit and wife Pratima had been living in 17 Bipin Pal Road for 17 years and depended on Sona to do their household cleaning for more than a decade and a half.

“Before that, my parents were in Singapore for 15 years. They had stayed in Bangalore for a brief period prior to setting up house in Calcutta,” Sharmila said.

Metro had highlighted on Friday how elderly couples living alone in the city have been struck by fear because of what a trusted help did to Ranjit.

Children forced to leave their parents in the care of outsiders face the same predicament. “This is the reality in Calcutta. The young tend to leave. The expatriate community does come back but most of their children have not grown up here and so prefer to live outside. It’s a real issue here,” said Sharmila, who was born in London and grew up in Mumbai.

She arrived in Calcutta on Thursday night after being informed about her father’s murder over phone by Soma Bhowmik, the 28-year-old domestic help who lives with the Chatterjees.

Ranjit’s body was brought home from the morgue in the afternoon and daughter Sharmila, clad in a beige salwar-kurta, was composed throughout.

Her father’s school friend A. Som recalled how the retired chartered accountant would organise a get-together at his home twice a year.

Sharmila spoke of her father as “a courageous man in the face of an adversity”.

“I don’t know whether he got a chance to resist,” she said, referring to the police’s finding that he was strangulated when he tried to resist Sona and his accomplice’s robbery attempt.

Ranjit was an auditor and “very, very successful in his career”, his daughter said.

“Whenever anyone talked about his success, he would shrug it off and say, ‘Luck!’ He never took the credit for it.”

The Chatterjees would visit their daughter in the UK once every year. Their last visit was in April, when their daughter had come to take them to London. The couple returned in June.

Ranjit had not been in the best of health for the last five years, having survived throat cancer a few years ago.

But being “fiercely independent”, as a relative described him, he would go for his periodic medical check-up all by himself.

“Some years back, he had prostrate surgery and when we visited him in hospital, he told us: ‘Don’t come when I am ill, come when I can enjoy your company’,” recalled relative Anindya Chaki.

Daughter Sharmila would speak to her father over phone thrice a week. Their last conversation was on November 19, a day before the murder.

“It was a ‘How are you?’ and ‘What did you have for lunch?’ kind of conversation. He had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday because his haemoglobin had dropped.... The last thing I told him was I would call him the day after tomorrow (Thursday) to hear what the doctor’s advice was,” Sharmila said.

The police have recovered two mobile phones from Sona’s alleged accomplice Abhijit Mukherjee alias Babai. One of the phones belonged to Ranjit while the other is of domestic help Soma.