Slept, awoke, slept, awoke, miserable life
That was no way to die. Not with maggots swarming inside you. Not with that stench standing guard at the door.
Once, your body was firm and inviting, and your hair fell in waves. You were so desirable. But you fell from grace—in life as in death. In police records, in newspaper clippings, in people’s memories, the indignity will endure.
Anuradha Bali alias Fiza Mohammed had been dead for days when the police found her. There she was, head propped against two pillows, body black and deformed, a bottle of Blender’s Pride, a packet of cigarettes and a plate of pakoras strewn on the floor around her.
The policemen had to wind their faces with multiple rounds of cloth just to bear being there. Of the four labourers called in to carry the bloated body out, one ran away. For all the cash offered (and cops around), he just couldn’t bring himself to suffer the task.
More than a week later, the smell still lingers. Also the mystery shrouding her death, at 41. It is under investigation. Murder, suicide or a drug overdose? It was a death, all the same, one that went unnoticed for several days until her 66-year-old uncle Sat Paul knocked on the door of her three-storey house in Mohali, south of Chandigarh. He got no response, he says, and called the police the next day.
A week before she died, Fiza had celebrated her 41st birthday at Blue Ice, a lounge bar she frequented in Chandigarh’s Sector 17 market.
She was at her usual table, No 16, with its high rexine seats. Sat Paul began clapping as she got up to dance to the beat of the music, and the teenagers on the floor joined in. She was in an orange sari, not her usual track suit, and grooved at the lounge bar for about two hours.
That was the night of 25 July. She and Sat Paul had walked to Blue Ice from his tea stall a short distance away. Uncle and niece had made up only recently after falling out a couple of years earlier, after her mother Savitri Devi passed away. (Her father, Dharam Paul, a former MES officer, had died earlier still). She had had a fight with her uncle, and in 2010, he left the family home after 42 years of having stayed with them.
Anuradha, the eldest of four sisters, was the wayward daughter of the household, as her family saw it. When she was born at her grandmother’s place in Ambala, as her uncle recalls, an astrologer had consulted the stars and predicted she would be a difficult child, a “cause of sadness and misery”. She grew up headstrong. Also, she hated rejection, says Sat Paul. It was something she couldn’t take.
She had invited him over to her house on 1 August to celebrate Rakhi, he says, but since she didn’t call again, he felt a little upset and didn’t turn up that day. He tried calling her on 3 August, and then the day after, but his calls went unanswered. So he decided to go to the Mohali family house along with a friend.
It was the evening of 5 August. The gate was unlocked, but his friend advised him not to enter the house.
The next morning, he went to the house of a friend of hers in Panchkula (east of Chandigarh), where she had stayed for almost a month once, recuperating from injuries she’d sustained in a fight with her neighbours. Cases had been registered at the Mohali Phase 11 police station—a neighbour had hit her head so hard that she had surgical stitches on it, and with her hair cropped, she had taken to wearing a wig.
At the friend’s place in Panchkula, Sat Paul learnt that Niranjan, a journalist who was close to her, had moved out of her house. He decided to return to her residence, this time with the police.
The police went up to the first floor apartment, where Fiza lived. It was locked. They broke open the bedroom door—only to recoil in nausea.
“She didn’t like drinking,” her uncle says, “She didn’t smoke either.”
To break the news, he called her aunt in Ambala, who informed her sisters. Two of them came for her cremation. Aditi, the youngest, and Monika. The third sister lives in Mauritius.
Fiza didn’t particularly get along with her sisters. After her mother died, her sisters had stopped visiting. But it was she who had arranged their weddings. And it was she who had kept a distance so that her controversial life didn’t hurt theirs.
It was Sat Paul who lit the funeral pyre. The sisters were too shaken up to say much. “I am not in a state to say anything,” says Monika over the phone.
She was Anuradha to her sisters. She became famous as Fiza, though, after she announced on national television that she had converted to Islam to marry Haryana’s then Deputy Chief Minister Chander Mohan Bishnoi (of the Haryana Janhit Congress), former CM Bhajan Lal’s son who had taken the name Chand Mohammed upon his own conversion, effectively legalising a second wife.
In the months to follow, Fiza was both demonised as an overambitious social climber and hailed as a braveheart who would do what it took to have her way.
Fiza had loved, of course, but also lost. Chand Mohammed, her husband of 2008, dumped her soon after that televised moment of triumph—once political pressure came to bear on Haryana’s deputy CM. The resultant loneliness and isolation, some say, drove Fiza to seek the media spotlight in any way she could. Whether it was floating an outfit called Fiza-e-Hind, having a go at becoming a reality TV star, or meeting representatives of political parties such as the BSP, she needed to be seen and heard.
She constantly complained of persecution. She would call Assistant Sub Inspector Sulekh Chand, an investigating officer in the various cross-cases with her Mohali neighbours, almost every day to report how her car had been scratched by children, or how the neighbours were disrupting her peace.
The failed marriage with Chander Mohan was not her first, nor her first failure in matrimony. Several years before Chander Mohan, she had gone against her family to be with Babbar, a man she fell in love with in her teens. They had been neighbours and went to pre-college together in Chandigarh .
A flamboyant man, Babbar was said to be madly in love with her. While Anuradha attended classes at Panjab University for a law degree, he would wait for her to finish so that they could go home together. She had many admirers on campus, among them a man called Rohit Mahajan who she maintained a friendship with (he currently works at the district courts and High Court in Chandigarh), but it was Babbar she married. This was in 1998. The marriage lasted only four months.
By most accounts, Anuradha acquired quick fame in law circles, with lawyers and judges vying for her attention. Babbar, in contrast, was just a small-time transporter, and one addicted to drugs. It was either her or his addiction. He chose the latter. It left her shattered. She returned home, divorced him and slipped into depression.
Anuradha Bali’s law career rescued her. As one of Chandigarh’s feisty lawyers, she did remarkably well for herself. She even contested the bar association polls for the position of joint secretary at the district courts in Chandigarh, but lost. Recalls her friend Mahajan, “She used to tell me, ‘Mujhse zyada koi bold nahin ho sakta,’ and this is who she was—striking and daring.” Soon she was handling cases at the Punjab & Haryana High Court too. In 2005, she was appointed Haryana’s assistant advocate general, an appointment many suspected she owed her feminine charm more than legal talent. She was both attractive and liberated, a lethal combination in a conservative city.
That’s when she came in contact with Chander Mohan. Along the way, she’d joined the Congress Sewa Dal, a unit of the Grand Old Party. “It reached Delhi circles that she had joined the local unit, and she even went to Delhi for meetings,” says Mahajan, who vividly remembers her days of sadness and mistrust of men after her first divorce. “‘[Men] all lie to me,’ she used to say,” he says. Chander Mohan had been pursuing her for four years, as he says she had confided in him. She had agreed to just be ‘friends’, but he wanted to marry her.
In the winter of 2008, says Mahajan, he got a surprise call from her. It was around 11:30 pm.
“Can I come over to your house?”
“Yes, open the door.”
The bell rang, and Mahajan saw her standing in a white shalwaar kameez. Behind her, stood Chander Mohan, who stepped forth and shook his hand.
“I am Chander Mohan Bishnoi,” he said, by way of introduction.
“I am sorry, but I don’t know,” Mahajan said. Anuradha just giggled, as he now remembers.
“He is the Deputy Chief Minister,” she said.
That’s when Mahajan noticed that security personnel—his posse of guards— had taken positions around his house.
“We want advice,” she said.
“We want to get married,” Chander Mohan said.
Mahajan told them he would need to divorce his wife. He said his wife would not mind, or at least not say anything in public. That’s when conversion to Islam came up as an alternative. “He looked very much in love,” says Mahajan, “…and she was loving the attention.”
They already had it planned, he realised. A maulvi stepped out of their car, was ushered in, and a nikah performed right there. “He chose the name ‘Chand Mohammed’ to match his signature, his initials ‘CM’,” says Mahajan. The maulvi suggested a few names to Anuradha, who chose Fiza as it sounded “short and sweet”. The meher—what he would have to pay her in case of a divorce—was set at Rs 50,000, and they were declared husband and wife.
The deputy CM said he would divorce his first wife, Mahajan remembers. And then they left. “He did love her,” he says, “He risked his position and was later sacked by the Hooda government. Bhajan Lal threatened them.”
On 2 December 2008, they reportedly got married again in Meerut. But a few weeks later, Fiza called Mahajan to Delhi, saying her life was in danger. It was at Delhi’s Hyatt Hotel that they’d planned to meet. A Mercedes came by, a window rolled down, and he saw Fiza call out to him. Chand Mohammed was with her. “I told her to declare her marriage,” Mahajan says. “Chand Mohammed called a Star News journalist, and that’s how it all happened. I thought declaring her marriage would ensure her safety.”
The couple returned to Mohali, and there were parties and dinners. She was happy. They announced the wedding at her Mohali home, and for days, their love story was played over and over again on TV news channels.
As a couple, they appeared gung-ho at first. They even organised a Sarva Dharma Sammelan in Panchkula, a fund- raiser at which Fiza announced her entry into politics. They lived at her house in Mohali with her parents and younger sister and uncle. When she cooked, Chand Mohammed would stand by, watching her. “Those were happy times,” her uncle says, “The family was opposed to the marriage. We used to tell Chand to get his own place, as we felt our reputation was getting affected.”
They spent much of their time together. So much so that it often seemed excessive. “The sense of insecurity was high in their marriage,” says Sat Paul, “She would keep tabs on him.” The marriage also distanced her from friends.
On 29 January 2009, Chand left her. Fiza called a press conference, alleging that his relative Kuldeep Bishnoi had kidnapped him. Chand issued a prompt statement of denial, saying he had left on his own as he was missing his first wife Seema and their children, and had decided to return to them.
In fury, Fiza accused him of rape and betrayal, but no one was listening. On 14 March 2009, Chand called her from London to declare he was divorcing her. The words “talaq, talaq, talaq” over the phone were followed by a text message to the same effect. When he finally turned up in person, says Mahajan, it was to claim the money raised at the Sarva Dharma Sammelan.
Fiza didn’t drop her Muslim name. She hung on to her new identity, claiming that maulvis from Mecca had called to pledge support of the Muslim world, and leaders from the BSP and other parties had approached her too. She was famous. “She fought it out,” says Mahajan, “She faced the world. Not a rejected woman, but a woman who wasn’t shy of talking about her abandonment—and wanted revenge.”
But it was still a lonely house Fiza returned to. Showbiz held momentary appeal for her. Some film directors made offers. She went to Mumbai, but didn’t like it. She appeared on a reality TV show, Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao, and confessed how she had attempted suicide in 2009. Death didn’t scare her, she said.
“Nobody deserves her kind of death,” a police officer said, still recoiling from the maggots crawling over her body.
Fiza hadn’t been working for a few years, and how she made ends meet is also being probed. She had enough money at home, though. The police have recovered about Rs 1 crore in cash and 1.5 kg of gold jewellery from her house. The currency notes were in bundles with names written on them, people who the police are trying to track down.
Meanwhile, rumours abound. “She used to drink and had all these liaisons,” scoffs a woman flipping through a newspaper at the police station. This, despite her uncle’s testimony that she didn’t like alcohol. The manager at Blue Ice says she would order beer sometimes, but he doesn’t recall her drinking whisky or any other hard liquor.
The police also recovered around 50 CDs from her house; a few have her photos and wedding videos, but most are music and film discs.
“She was the actor and director of her own life,” says a police officer, “She loved drama.”
When she was assaulted by her neighbours, policemen remember, she insisted on media coverage of her injuries before she allowed herself to be treated.
On her mother’s death in 2010, she lost her only support. She became sullen, and would shout at the neighbours, hurling expletives at them for all the noise they made. “She missed her mother,” says Tarun, an MBA student who had volunteered for her NGO, “She used to say ‘Unke bina mann nahin lagta, mujhe bhi bhagwan bula lete’.” The 22-year-old says he had met her to help with the social work she’d planned after her divorce from Chand Mohammed, but her temper put him off and he lost touch with her.
She looked lost, Tarun remembers, and would worship Hanuman for hours—sometimes for 14 hours at a stretch.
She never got over Chand, and “used to abuse him”, says Tarun. She launched her party Fiza-e-Hind the day Bhajan Lal died, but this wasn’t intentional. “Half an hour before he passed away,” says Tarun, “she announced she wanted to devote her life to politics and public service.”
Fiza’s political career failed to take off. Deprived of media attention, she began fading away from public memory.
Chander Mohan, who is now back in Haryana politics, did not make any immediate comment after news broke of Fiza’s death. A week later, he spoke up—to say that he hadn’t been in touch with her. It was all he would say.