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Hot on their heels

She has handled nearly 7,000 cases. Meet A.M. Malathy, South India's first female detective

A WOMAN donning the mantle of a detective may sound surprising. But A. M. Malathy, South India's first female private eye, has made prying a fine art. Her career happened by chance. Coming to the Detective India agency to sort out some personal problems, she got interested to stay on as a part-timer.

Another Miss Marple? Not really. No figment of imagination but a meticulous professional with hands-on exposure in the field, this engineering graduate has dealt with nearly 7,000 cases. With no career option beyond the pale of women today, Malathy does not seem an incongruity in her chosen path. Being a woman in an occupation as sensitive as detecting has given her some distinct advantages.

Malathy says, "While obviously the greater number of cases are brought to us by women and parents with regard to children, men are also steady clients. They come with issues relating to spouses, marriage negotiations and whatever requires a patient and perceptive handling. These qualities, they feel, women possess in abundance. It certainly feels good to see stereotypes associated with us actually being helpful."

Talking about a case in point, she says a gentleman, suspecting his wife, wanted a report on her activities. He spent quite an amount distrusting an innocent wife and ultimately we had to explain it was a psychological problem." Another episode had a son coming to her because his mother was spending enormous amounts of money with no ostensible explanation, causing unnecessary stress in the family. It was ultimately discovered some friends and family members were actually fleecing her.

Many issues deal with college students and parents feel comfortable discussing the problems with her. Not only since she is a mother of two herself but also because she believes a problem is not resolved just with finding the guilty. She tries to arrive at a negotiation acceptable to both parties. For example, a city college girl hadbeen stealing family jewellery for the sake of a man who had beguiled her. The man was caught and the girl, hidden behind a curtain, heard his confession, so that she was convinced her parents weren't cheating her. She was also reassured that her life was not over but was just waiting to happen. Malathy also does counselling work for the T. Nagar women police station. Joining the field in 1989, Malathy feels with time, notions about detectives and their job have changed. Today with greater awareness, there is more scope for a detective to perform. However, high-speed chases and midnight stakeouts are rare. "Most cases are the fraud, matrimonial, pre-matrimonial, theft or shadowing types without many murder cases since the police do not like us dealing with such cases," she explains.

Asked about the kind of prejudices she has faced, she says that though getting information about a person is not easy, people are far more receptive now. Sometimes, the guilty vent their ire on her. "Once an irate husband, shadowed on his wife's instructions, came to my office proclaiming if he was given a chance to better his ways he would most certainly have done so and there was no need to give his wife such a detailed report," she laughs. Having to work in tandem with the police has also not been difficult. "They have cooperated each time we needed them," she says. Though initially introduced as a social worker, she is well known to them.

Her family is proud of her achievements and extremely supportive of a vocation as demanding as detecting. Each case intrigues her and she gives it her best. She believes that a difficult problem will take time and an impossible one longer but nothing will be left unsettled. She seldom refuses an offer except when really overburdened. "After all, it is but a service for the people", she signs off smiling.


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