Gracy Pereira was 26 years old when her husband John was stabbed to death at Juhu beach in February 1983.
Gracy did not know why her husband was murdered or who his killers were. Worse, she was left with three small children, two of whom witnessed their father's murder.
Now, 34 years later, as Chhota Rajan gets ready to stand trial for John's murder, Gracy, 60, says that it's far too late. Nothing can erase the tragedy that has befallen her family — her desperate struggle to support her children — or the tears she shed when they asked when their father will return.
“I’ve seen his pictures in newspapers,” Gracy says. Him. Chhota Rajan. She refuses to speak his name.
"He looks like he's put on weight. He didn't look like this when I saw him at the police station — after my husband's death — he was thin and frail. He had long hair. Was in a lungi. Tied to a chair. When I entered, the cops asked him who I was. 'Bhabhi hai' he replied. 'John bhai ki wife'. The cops kicked him. He made me a widow."
It was the morning of 21 February, 1983. John, a fisherman-turned-smuggler dropped his four-year-old son Bill Robinson to nursery school and was taking a stroll on the beach with his two other children – nine-year-old Helen and two-year-old Jackson.
Suddenly, a group of men grabbed John. Helen took her brother and hid behind a balloon stall. She didn't cry out even as she watched them stab her father. After they left, Helen rushed over and began screaming for help.
“He was semi-conscious,” Helen told Firstpost. “A coconut vendor spotted us, and contacted my uncle. They rushed my father to Cooper Hospital immediately, but he'd stopped breathing. I remember that morning, but the picture is hazy. I was too young. After I identified the killers for the police, my mother made sure we never discussed it again. She was protecting me."
After John’s death, the family, which was living in a Juhu chawl, had to face even more hardship.
A few months later, the civic authority razed their home, saying it was constructed illegally. John's parents refused shelter to his widow and children, after which Gracy sought refuge at her mother's home. Gracy's godmother would often bring leftovers. Although Gracy would feel embarrassed to ask for food, she couldn't stop. The children were hungry.
“Later, I started getting grain and supplies through our ration card, but the quality was abysmal. The children could not eat the rice. They'd ask me when their father would return and take them for dinner to their favourite food stall. I'd tell them 'he's in God's home now and I am your mother as well as your father.' They'd cry themselves to sleep. A few days later, they'd ask me the same thing again."
Months after John's murder, Gracy went to Kuwait, and became a house help. She left her three children with her brothers. But after spending two years in the Arab country, she was forced to return. Jackson, her youngest, had fallen ill. The children wouldn't let her go back. She ended up marrying an auto driver, who had been a friend.
He took good care of the children, sending Helen to boarding school and made sure that the boys got a decent education. They also bought a room in a chawl at Moora Village, Andheri. Five years ago, he passed away.
Gracy remains fuzzy over the details of John's livelihood. Maybe she doesn't want to know.
“When I would ask him what he did for a living, he'd say 'don't get into all that.' He'd say that it was enough that he was supporting me and our children. He told me to focus on taking care of them. My husband was a good man. He fulfilled our every need. He even spoilt us," she says.
Helen, meanwhile, learnt that Chhota Rajan was one of the accused in her father’s murder only a year ago. The police approached her after Rajan was extradited to India in November 2015. But Helen refuses to seek any information on Rajan. She doesn't know that he is a big time gangster or the former aide of Dawood Ibrahim.
"I hope I never find out," Helen says.
Like Gracy, she doesn't know and doesn't want to know.
The writer is a journalist and author of the true crime book, ‘The Front Page Murders’
Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 06:31 AM