Sayali had always been a law unto herself. The only child of a wealthy businessman, Umang Kapoor, she was a spoilt brat. Her mother had died when she was nine. Although her father did not remarry, Sayali was brought up and cared for by a series of nannies and servants, who spoiled her even more. Umang was immersed in his rapidly expanding business ventures to be able to spend quality time with his daughter. He had many irons in the fire. So, to make up for it, he lavished on her expensive gifts and trinkets galore. Honore de Balzac, the French writer of the yester-years had poignantly noted that: “Behind every great wealth is a crime”.
Umang Kapoor was adept in forging Government licenses, which he sold for a tidy profit, after providing bribes in cash and kind to bureaucrats and politicians. Thus, in barely fifteen years he had acquired immense wealth. He had investments not only in India but also abroad, more specifically in Bangkok and Tokyo. Very early in life, Umang, the only son of a school teacher who had come to Bombay from Lahore after Partition, realized that the future did not belong to the virtuous but to those who had the cunning, guile, and courage to grab it with both hands; cutting corners. From living in a lowly hutment in the outskirts of the city; in squalid conditions; sharing a common toilet with five other families, he now owned two sprawling apartments in the prestigious Malabar Hill area of Bombay.
He also had a fleet of six motor cars, including a sleek Mercedes Benz. This was apart from other assets held in Delhi, Bangkok, and Tokyo and secret numbered accounts in Banks in Switzerland. But Umang was not a happy man. Sayali, who was now a rebellious teenager, was the main source of his stress. It was not that Umang did not have his flings. He had several discreet dalliances, including with some married women. In Bangkok, where he owned a garments manufacturing factory, he even maintained a mistress, who was just a little older than his daughter, for a while until she found an American businessman from New York, who was willing to not only pay her much more but also set her up in a luxurious apartment in Lumbini, the most classy part of the city. Umang’s garments business was taken care of by his partner, Mahindra Pal Singh, a shorn Sikh, whose father he had known in Lahore.
Umang exported his garments mainly to Australia, where there was a great demand for baby showers and other children’s wear, the manufacture of which was specialized by his team of skilled Thai workers. He further purchased garments from other manufacturers and sold them under his brand, for well-padded higher amounts.
Umang had also started a business trading in cultured pearls in Tokyo. The market was on an upward swing and he cashed in on it. Here, his activities were managed by Kunal Malhotra, the ambitious and slick 25-year-old nephew of an associate in Delhi.
Those were the days of the Vietnam War, Bob Dylan, pot, grass, LSD, and Flower Children. Sayali blended in with them easily. She even had her own ‘cheelum”!
Bangkok, even back then, was the vice capital of the world. Corruption was a rule rather than an exception. The U.S army soldiers worsened the already grimy situation, coming in large numbers for Rest and Recoupment (R&R), further debasing the people on all levels. But there was another side to the “City of Sin”. There still is. The beautiful Buddhist Pagodas and the unique history of the Thai people, who had never been colonized. Therefore, they spoke only their language and not
English, French, or Spanish. It was also a great place for a holiday, with its pristine beaches and unsurpassed variety of street or gourmand food. And, so very cheap.
After appearing for her Senior Cambridge examination, Sayali took off for Bangkok to spend a short holiday. Kunal was entrusted with arranging for her accommodation and schedule. Sayali, although, seventeen, was all woman. She had lost her virginity at twelve to an “Uncle”; friend of her father, when holidaying in Srinagar with his family. The “Uncle” had grown children and was happily married. That was the beginning of her wantonness. Sayali, of course, took great precautions not to get pregnant.
Sayali’s relationship with Kunal was almost a foregone conclusion. On her second day in Bangkok, Kunal seduced her. Or, was it vice-versa? The brief holiday became an extended trip until a month later Sayali became pregnant. She wanted to keep the baby. Sayali bluntly informed her father. Umang was beside himself with rage. He wanted to fire Kunal right away. But Sayali stuck to her guns. She would not marry Kunal, as she was against the institution of marriage, but she would live with him. Umang had no option to let her have her way, as always kunal and Sayali returned to Tokyo, where she delivered their first son, Kapil.
Umang’s holdings in Bangkok and Tokyo prospered. But, the tough and shrewd businessman that he was, he never let go of the reigns. He made Sayali a Director in all his enterprises. He bought a five-bedroom apartment on the posh Walkeshwar Road in South Bombay in her name, leaving Kunal, deliberately, out in the cold. He was certain that Kunal had seduced his daughter with an eye on his property. He would not give the rascal a single rupee. Let him subsist on his salary, which was quite substantial. But there was no welcoming him into the family business or his home. He made this clear enough, often and whenever he could, to drive home the point. In Bombay, Kunal was never invited to Umang’s residence, which was just down the road from Sayali’s apartment house. Sayali, Kunal, and
Kapil stayed in her flat when in Bombay. She and Kapil, of course, were welcomed at Umang’s place. But on account of his hectic schedule, they hardly met, except on rare occasions.
Two years later, Sayali had a second son, Sunil. In 1975, the Vietnam War ended, and with it, the economy of Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries took an economic nosedive. Their fiscal scaffoldings had been propped up by the U.S. troops squandering leviathan sums for their entertainment and bad habits cultivated during this senseless and brutal conflict. The Chinese, who were siding with the Viet Cong had been luring the disillusioned and frustrated U.S. combatants with a steady supply of addictive drugs through what was known as the “Peaking Pipe Line” Once hooked, the hapless soldiers sold their weapons, boots, and even the very cloths on their back to Viet Cong sympathizers for just a shot of heroin.
Umang’s garments business went on a downslope, with the newly formed Bangladesh in 1971 four years earlier, which downslope was the foremost garments supplier in the world. No one could match, even remotely, their prices or the quality of their merchandise. Umang’s garments venture in Bangkok, finally, folded in 1983. Mahendra Pal Singh, his partner, had started side-businesses of his own. He was into conducting “hawaala” deals. Money in the pipeline. Mahendra assisted businessmen, industrialists, traders, bureaucrats, and politicians in India, for a stiff fee, to park their black (unaccounted) money in the U.SA, U.K., and even in Switzerland. He also had a thriving business in smuggling Bangkok diamonds, which were far cheaper than the real stones, but looked nearly the same, to India and elsewhere. In Tokyo, he teamed up with Kunal to funnel black money and also to trade in pearls.
Time passed. Sayali and Kunal’s sons grew up. They were young men now. Umang, now getting on in his years, inducted them also as Directors in his pearl trading business in Tokyo, where they both had settled. Kunal and Sayali moved back to Bombay in 1992; to Sayali’s apartment. Umang had stopped giving a salary to Kunal after he left Tokyo. But Sayali gave him an allowance from her share of earnings. She maintained him. Both sons were indifferent to Kunal, who had started hitting the bottle. He too was unconcerned about them. Sayali was still capricious and unpredictable. Once, on a whim, without notice to anyone she flew off to Madras to spend a fortnight in the ‘ashram’ of a ‘sanyasi’, who she claimed was her ‘guru’, and returned to Bombay with her head clean-shaven. Completely bald! She was downright mean to Kunal; often intentionally holding back on his dole, until he had to beg her for it. She distanced herself from him, so much so, that they did not share the bedroom – or even have meals together. Kunal was like an unwelcome guest in the house. But he had nowhere else to go. Even his own family in Delhi did not want him. They thought of him as a scrounger and a nuisance. Umang added fuel to the fire whenever he could, driving the wedge even more firmly between his daughter, her husband, and their sons. After Umang died from a heart attack in 1995, and Sayali took over all his properties and funds as his sole heir, matters worsened between Kunal and her. She became more tight-fisted and quirky with Kunal. She taunted him all the time. Worse still, even though she was now well into middle age, (albeit very well preserved and fit!), Sayali had frequent escapades with much younger men. Her sexual appetite seemed insatiable. The last straw was when, one late afternoon, Kunal came home and found Sayali in a compromising position with the teenage son of one of their friends. They were both naked. Instead of being embarrassed or ashamed, Sayali shouted at Kunal to get out of her house. She also announced, in front of the mortified youngster, that she was cutting him completely off of his monthly allowance with immediate effect.
Kunal stomped out of the house and headed straight to the chambers of an advocate he knew. He was advised not to leave the accommodation, or else he would be out of possession. It would then be very difficult, if not impossible, to get him back inside again. He was also counselled to keep a low profile. To swallow his pride and pretend that he bore no grudges, while gatherings as much information and details as was possible of
Sayali’s finances and indiscreet affairs. Deception is the better part of valour, especially in these circumstances.
Kunal lodged a Petition in the Family Courts in Bombay for Judicial Separation under Section 10 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 (HMA) and claimed maintenance of Rs. 15 lakhs per month and permanent alimony of Rs 10 Crores. He filed an interim application under Section 24 of the HMA, as well as for an order of injunction to restrain Sayali from throwing him out of the apartment, without due process of law, and until the outcome of his Petition. Further, he sought interim maintenance of Rs 2 lakhs per month and the flat in which they were staying because Sayali had an alternative accommodation, which was the sprawling and super luxurious apartment of her late father, which now belonged to her. The Petition for maintenance was filed under Section 25 of the HMA, which sets out that both husband and wife may be granted interim maintenance and permanent alimony after passing of the decree if the husband or wife was unable to maintain himself/herself.
In his petition, Kunal recounted how they met and reflected on specific instances of physical and mental cruelty meted to him by his wife. He had all details of her holdings and financial status. Kunal claimed that Sayali and he were married in Bangkok at the residence of Mahindra Pal Singh as per Hindu Vedic rites; complete with all rituals, including ‘saptapadi’ ( seven steps around the sacred fire), the place for which was specially constructed in Mahindra’s sitting room. The nuptials were witnessed by Mahindra and his wife, and the rites were performed by a Hindu priest, whose name he could not recall. As proof to validate his submissions, Kunal relied upon a letter that was written recently to him by Mahindra giving graphic details of the marriage ceremony allegedly performed nearly 25 years ago! Kunal also attached copies of the birth certificates of their two sons from the hospital in Tokyo, which showed him as their father and Sayali as a mother. Both were Indian Nationals. The surnames of the sons were that of the father. There was no mention of their religion. However, it had to be presumed that they too were Hindus, since they followed all the sacraments and customs of the Hindu religion. He produced Diwali, Holi, and other Greeting cards. Telegrams and messages their sons had sent to Sayali and him. Admittedly, however, their Nationality was shown as being Japanese, since they were born there. Kunal had opted for Japanese citizenship for his sons, for posterity. Japan had taken a fearful beating in World War II. But with the indestructible spirit of its people, Japan was rising from the ashes, like the phoenix.
In his Petition, Kunal set out that since both Sayali and he were Hindus and they were married in accordance with Hindu Vedic rites, he was, entitled to reliefs under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. A copy of the Petition was served, through the Court by Registered A. D. Post, on Sayali, whose maidservant, unwittingly accepted it on her behalf. For good measure, and by way of abundant caution, Kunal complained against Sayali with the local police station, that she was violent and subjected him to terrible beatings time and again. She had recently hurled a flower pot at him, barely missing his head. He was fearful for safety and his life. He had been residing at the address for many years. He mentioned that he had filed a Marriage Petition in the Family Courts, a copy of which he attached to the complaint to create a record with the Kunal reiterated that he had put forth in his Petition, that although Sayali and he was living under the same roof, but were staying in separate bedrooms, so there was no cohabitation (physical intimacy) between them for more than last six years. Kunal, thus, effectively thwarted any complaint that Sayali might be advised to make under the dreaded, and much misused, Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, enacted on December 25, 1983, which pertained to a wife being subjected to cruelty by her husband /or in-laws, by establishing prima facie that Civil and matrimonial proceedings had already been initiated in the Courts by him. His complaint was registered as an N.C (Non-Cognizable).
Kunal, while setting out about Sayali’s Adulterous capers, including with the young boy he had caught her red-handed with, did not name any of the Co-Respondents. But, he tactically threatened that he would give their names and all the gory details, “when called”….. If Sayali did not meet his demands, he implied subtly.
Kunal had cleverly not opted for Divorce under Section 13(1) of the HMA, as he was afraid Sayali would pull his bluff and he would lose out money-wise. The basic grounds for Divorce under Section 13(1) of the HMA are adultery, desertion, conversion to another faith, leprosy, insanity, cruelty (physical and mental), and venereal disease, renunciation of the world, and presumption of death for, at least, seven years. Judicial Separation, under Section 10 of the HMA, is the last resort before the final break-up of the marriage (divorce). There is no effect of a decree of Judicial Separation on the subsistence and continuance of the legal relationship of marriage as such between the parties. The effect, however, is on their cohabitation. Once a decree of Judicial Separation is passed, the husband or wife, whosoever has approached the Court, is not obliged to live with his/her spouse. A Petition for Judicial Separation can be converted to that for Divorce by Mutual Consent under Section 12 of the HMA in which Consent Terms can be drawn up or included in the petition itself. The allegations made in the main Petition will then be dropped or scored out. No mud-slinging.
Sayali was on a sticky wicket because Kunal had done his homework thoroughly on her financial status. He could substantiate his arguments with documentary evidence, including Bank Statements, Income Tax filings, Wealth Tax Returns, Fixed Deposits Certificates, list of ornaments, gold bars, and other valuables in the lockers, as well as certified copies of details of the properties owned by her on which the Court could grant, at least, interim maintenance, to him. He also had the identities, addresses and backgrounds of Sayali’s paramours. Even compromising photographs which he had gathered through Private Detectives. Sayali, on the other hand, was caught unaware and she was out on a limb. It was an uphill task. I advised that it would be best for Sayali to negotiate with Kunal and settle with his stipulations; whittle them down. Maybe, she could even buy him a smaller flat in the upcoming suburbs like at Juhu or Andheri. Sayali, however, was made of sterner stuff. She decided she would pick up the gauntlet and give Kunal a run for his money. She could bankroll such litigations, even if, ultimately, in the long haul, she would have to bow into Kunal’s terms.
I always believe that, in any situation or litigation, one who knows oneself and the opponent, will emerge victorious every time… If one only knows oneself, but not the enemy, victory could be only part of the time. But if one knew neither oneself nor the opposite side, defeat was certain! In this matter, we knew ourselves but we had a lot to learn about the opponent.
The odds were stacked heavily against Sayali. Kunal had obtained an ad-interim injunction against him being thrown out of the house. He had with him all of Sayali’s financial records. In-depth details, including copies of hotel room receipts and photographs of Sayali’s jaunts. The house servants, chauffeurs, and watchmen could be called as witnesses if need be. The birth certificates of the sons confirmed that he was their father and the presumption that Sayali and Kunal were legally married under Hindu Rites had to be recognized, especially with Mahindra’s letter recounting it.
I represented Sayali. She took the stand that, in the first place, the Petition did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Hindu law, because she and Kunal were married as per Shinto rites, at the iconic Red Kanda Shrine, also known as ‘Kanda Myojin’ in Tokyo in Japan.
Mahindra’s letter, produced as evidence, was written twenty-five years after the event had purportedly happened. Kunal could not even name the priest who had allegedly performed the Hindu rites in Mahindra’s apartment in Bangkok, because there was none. In her Written Statement, Sayali denied all the allegations spewed in the Petition. She submitted that Kunal had come to the Court with unclean hands and his Petition ought to be dismissed on the threshold itself, with costs.
I had to delve a great deal into the fantastic philosophy of ‘Shintoism’ for this case. The followers believe that spiritual powers exist in the natural world. ‘Shinto’ means “the way of the gods”. ‘Shintoism’ is an ancient religion of Japan. It started, at least, as long ago as 1000 BCE, but is still practiced today by around five million people. The followers of ‘Shintoism’ consider that spirits called ‘kami’, live in natural places such as animals, plants, stones, mountains, rivers, sea, people, and even the dead. Both animate and inanimate things have ‘kami’.
In a way, ‘Shintoism’ is, somewhat, akin to Hinduism. Except that for the inanimate object to be worshiped, such as a rock or idol carved from it, there must be the ritual ceremony of ‘pran prathishthan’ (giving life to it.).Hinduism is also animistic.
Hindus worship Mother Nature, as do the ‘Shintos’. ‘Shinto’ places of worship are called ‘shrines’ and are usually found in beautiful natural settings. The ‘shrine’ contains an Inner Hall only entered by ‘Shinto’ priests since it is believed ‘kami’ are present. ‘Shinto’ priests can be either male or female. Purity is important to ‘Shinto’ followers and, therefore, they rinse their mouths, wash their hands and hang up wooden tablets with prayers on rails outside the doorway to the ‘shrine,’ before entering the prayer hall. Once inside, the ‘kami’ is summoned with a bell and offered rice or money, after which, the worshiper bows twice and claps twice to welcome the ‘kami’ and then bows again.
A ‘Shinto ‘wedding service is typically a small affair, limited to family, while a reception may be open to a larger group of friends. ‘Shinzen kekkon,’ literally “wedding before the kami” is a ‘Shinto’ purification ritual that includes the exchange of ‘sake’ between the couple before they are married. The ceremony typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. Food items, including salt, water, rice, ‘sake’, fruits and vegetables, are left at a ceremonial wedding altar, which also holds the wedding rings. A ‘Shinto ‘priest stands to the right of the altar, while a shrine maiden, ‘Miko,’ stands to the left. The couple are position in the center of the room, while closest family members are placed behind tables containing ‘sake’ and small fruits. The priest then purifies the shrine and invokes the attention of benevolent spirits, or ‘kami ‘. After that, he announces the beginning of the ‘san-san-ku-do’ ceremony, or “three-three-nine times,” reflecting three oaths taken thrice, represented by three cups, poured three times, and swallowed in three sips by the couple. This includes three pouring from three cups of increasing sizes. The first, smallest cup, is poured to the groom, who drinks from it before offering it to the bride. The second pouring goes first to the bride, then to the groom. The final pouring goes from the groom first, then the bride, essentially repeating the first pour.
Then approach the altar, where the groom reads his vows, while the bride listens. In deference to the history of Traditional arranged marriages in Japan, an approaches, or “matchmaker” will be thanked in the vows. If there is no matchmaker, a friend or family member will be appointed to fill the role, serving a function similar to the “best man” or “bridesmaid”. Then, the families join in with the drinking of’ sake’ and a traditional cheer of “kampai.”
In the final portion of the ceremony, the priest offers Japanese evergreen to the altar, in gratitude to the spirits who blessed the union. The bride and groom follow with their offerings of fruits. The rings are then exchanged and the couple is married.
The situation for Sayali seemed indeed foreboding. However, in a battle, a good General can turn certain defeat into victory by using the very missiles hurled by the enemy, and fashioning them into deadly weapons, and deploying them against the attackers. Kunal’s strength – and Achilles heel- was Mahindra Pal Sigh.
The entire matter rested on the assumption that Sayali and Kunal were married under Hindu Vedic rites at his residence in Bangkok and, hence, Kunal’s petition fell within the domain of the Hindu Marriage Act. They last resided together in Bombay. Therefore, the Family Courts had jurisdiction to entertain and try the matter.
In those days, blatant corruption prevailed in Thailand, like an epidemic, especially throughout the rank and file of the police force, bureaucracy and politicians. Apart from nubile girls and lady boys, everything and everyone was for sale. The economy of the country was in shambles. Sayali had some details of Mahindra Pal Singh’s illegal transactions, for which he had made Bangkok his springboard. Source information of Mahindra’s “hawala” deals and other unsavoury businesses was made available to a “cultivated” high-ranking officer in the Bangkok Police Department, with instructions to intimidate him; even to slap him around a bit; threaten him with imprisonment and get him to sign a statement sworn on Affidavit before the Indian High Commission he had written the letter on Kunal’s instructions. That no marriage had taken place at his residence between Sayali and Kunal. In the “source of information” gathered, the identity of the source is protected. It can even be given anonymously; provided there was cogent evidence and it was accurate. Names, addresses, amounts of cash transactions, and other details were supplied to the concerned police officer.
Love makes the world go ‘round’. But money greases the wheels! This is true universally, no matter how much we deny it or take an ostrich-like attitude. The bent cop was told, that in addition, he could shake down Mahindra for a supplementary chunk of money, paid in U.S. Dollars and not in Thai Bhats! He was very happy with this windfall. Less than a fortnight later, the friendly police officer, Sayali had ‘cultivated’ through her connections, coerced Mahindra to mail to me his signed sworn statement, made on Affidavit, attested by the Indian High Commissioner in Bangkok, in which he admitted that the letter was dictated to him on the telephone by Kunal. There was no truth in its contents. He was sorry for his actions, which were prompted by Kunal, to take advantage of his wrongs and to extort Sayali into meeting his demands. Mahindra averred he was making the statement of his own free will, without any inducements or coercion, because he wanted the Truth to prevail and his conscience was bothering him. There was also enclosed a covering letter addressed to Sayali, properly dated and signed, from Mahindra, begging her forgiveness. The tables were turned. Kunal was now at the receiving end not only of Sayali but also the Court, if we produced this testimony in the proceedings. He had committed perjury by tendering a fabricated and false document as evidence, for which he could be even sent to prison. His petition would also be summarily dismissed, with exemplary costs, and the ad-interim injunction he had secured, would be vacated forthwith. But Sayali would be still left high and dry if Kunal’s Petition was rejected. Marriage under Shinto rites is not recognized in India. Nevertheless, Sayali wanted to draw blood. I advised her, instead, to use this sudden turn of events to her advantage. I reasoned that it would be more prudent not to prosecute Kunal, but to utilize these proofs of his deceptions to settle amicably with him, for a fraction of what he expected. I met Kunal and his lawyers and gave them copies of the affidavit and the letter, but kept the originals. I refused to hand them or even their copies, to Sayali, who, in a fit of rage could misuse them to harm Kunal and also herself. They were for insurance to guarantee that Kunal would continue to toe the line and not go back on the Consent Terms, at some future date.
With his back now to the wall, Kunal had no option but to agree to convert his Petition to that for Divorce by Mutual Consent under section 13 B of the HMA, with him as the Petitioner No: 1 and Sayali as the Petitioner No: 2. In the changed circumstances, it was accepted that Sayali and he were married in Bangkok, to bring it within the purview of the HMA. Kunal also conceded to accept a lump sum of Rs. 18 lakhs as full and final settlement of maintenance and alimony, which would be given to him by Demand Draft only on the passing of the Decree of Divorce. He further undertook to vacate Sayali’s premises immediately, and hand over the latch key to her, which was a condition precedent.
“Speak softly. But carry a big stick!”
-Theodore Roosevelt, Former President of the USA
Note: These events are factual. Only, the names have been changed.
Author: AMIT KUMAR BHOWMIK
Amit Kumar Bhowmik is a lawyer based in Pune. He has his practice including in the Bombay High court as also other High courts as well as he appears as Counsel in the Supreme court. Although essentially having his practise on the criminal side he is an all-rounder having taken up matters in the matrimonial courts as well. He is a prolific writer and an unabashed champion of women rights.
DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author