From a quiet girl to Sudipta Sen’s queen bee, Debjani Mukherjee and the worlds she’s traversed

Sudipta Sen (left) and Debjani Mukherjee

On April 23, when the long arm of the law caught up with West Bengal’s chit fund scam kingpin Sudipta Sen, it was the veiled young woman with him, who drew eyeballs and comments. Two weeks later, the 27-year-old partner in crime, Debjani Mukherjee, seems to have more surprises up her sleeve.

No one is more astonished by Debjani’s rise and fall than the teachers of her old school, St John’s Diocesan in Kolkata. They find it hard to believe that the timid, quiet girl teachers barely remember is the woman behind the Bengal’s biggest chit fund scandal. But it’s not just her career-graph. The teachers are taken aback by her metamorphosis. Debjani never looked anything like her photos now, they say. How and when did the ugly duckling turn into a seductive swan?

Debjani was always a bright student, her teachers point out: She had passed her school-leaving exams in 2003 with flying colours. But it’s hard not to notice when a plump, dark girl, with a moon face and jacked-up teeth-she couldn’t close her mouth over her teeth, they say-becomes a curvy beauty, with gleaming skin, pouty lips, enormous eyes and the longest lashes. Is it plastic surgery, as her old school mates-none of whom she keeps in touch with-speculate? After all, her boss is rumoured to have gone under the knife, too.

Debjani’s journey had begun in 2008. She had completed her Bachelors in English Honours from City College (South). Despite good grades, she was tempted by glamour and trained as an air-hostess. Jobs were not forthcoming and she joined Saradha Realty India Ltd as a receptionist-cum-telephone operator. In just three years, she became executive director of all the 100 companies of the Group: She looked after banking and HR verticals, was the only person, besides chairman Sen, with the authority to sign company cheques, vetted visitors to him and shared the corner office with him. No one could get a call though to Sen without it being routed through Debjani.

To those who did not know her past, it was evident that Debjani knew the power of being polished. Some say, make-up made the woman. And it was not just the five-minute eyeliner-foundation-blush combo. “Her face was always so caked with make-up, even on sizzling-hot summer afternoons, that it was impossible to imagine what she looked like bare,” says a journalist who used to work for the English daily, Bengal Post, floated by Sen in 2010. Clad in gaudy silk saris, high heels and her signature electric blue eyeshadow, it was obvious to all that she was no ordinary employee. Ironically, her fashion sense matched Sen’s, who was often seen in shiny white suits, teamed with bright blue shirts and red ties.

Money was the other axis around which their lives found meaning. Those who worked for Shokal Bela, the Bangla newspaper published from New Delhi since 2011, remember hearing Debjani’s oft-repeated catch-phrase: “So you want money, do you?” It wasn’t just her. Sen, too, gave the impression that he expected people to ask him for money. A journalist who had met him in Delhi, to inform him about a work issue in the daily, still recalls Sen’s sudden interjection: “Won’t you ask me for money?” If lavish splurging was Sen’s way of life, Debjani benefited from it. Officially, her salary was to the tune of Rs.1 lakh per month in cheque and another Rs.1 lakh in cash apart from other perks and privileges. Sen had gifted her a brand new flat in the upcoming south Kolkata neighbourhood of Kasba and a couple of luxury cars, including a Scorpio and a Maruti Swift. According to reports from Bangla channels, Rs.30 crore has been traced to her bank accounts.

Money was precious. It was always in short supply as Debjani was growing up. The family, however, had memories of affluence. Wealthy on oil business for generations, the neighbourhood had come to be named after them, Mukherjee Para in Kasba, with the ancestral home being dubbed Harin Bari, or house of deers, in remembrance of the exotic pets her bygone ancestors must have maintained. Debjani’s father worked in a small shop and her mother Sarbari sold home-made pickles door-to-door. It must have pleased her to be able to spend lavishly in the neighbourhood, especially during Durga puja.

If Debjani’s school teachers remembered her as a “good” girl, she was “extremely polite” to the employees of Saradha Group.  But her penchant to speak in not-so-fluent English was seen by some as an attempt to acquire class. She did not have Sen’s self-confidence, his slick gift of the gab or his ability to sell ice to Eskimos, say those who knew them. But she had the “aura of a queen bee,” a word used to describe her, repeatedly. “Whenever I met Sen, she would be there, watching you, silent and unsmiling,” says a businessman in Kolkata.

Debjani was the most important woman in Sen’s life as he became fiercely ambitious for himself and spun a network of greed, lies and gullibility. But she was not the only one. He had more women in his life-the bed to the boardroom-including two wives and at least four more single women, all of whom enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. The rumour mill is working overtime in Kolkata and stories are doing the rounds on Sen’s alleged fascination for another young woman as the reason behind Debjani’s current willingness to provide information to the police and her wish to become an approver in the case.

Even jail has not taken away Debjani’s taste for the good life or her smartness. She has struck a ‘deal’ with the police: Pizzas, instead of routine jail food, for vital clues.


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