Thursday, February 13, 2014

Witness point

It was in front of this branch of Karnataka Bank, on Thambu Chetty Street, in the early 1980s, that Kanaka the flower-seller would set up her trade in the evenings. Even though the business hours of the branch would have been long over, the flower trade was brisk. Not only the bank staff, as they left for the day, but the various other folks going down Thambu Chetty street would stop and pick up a mozham or five. Like all smart street vendors, Kanaka knew everyone working in the neighbouring offices, their work habits and routines. 

She was therefore a bit surprised when, at about 9 pm on May 20, 1983, she saw Laxmi Raj Shetty, a new and relatively junior employee at the bank (he had joined as a trainee clerk in October 1982 and was confirmed in April 1983) come out alone, lock up the branch and go away. She was even more surprised when she saw him come back after a short while, carrying a suitcase. In to the bank he went, and came out after about half an hour, carrying a couple of bags, the suitcase and a briefcase. Stacking all these on the steps of the bank, he went out to flag an auto, loaded up the luggage into it and went away into the night, ignoring Kanaka's questions about "periya ayya" (senior person). 

The next morning, periya ayya - Gnanasambandam, the bank manager - was found dead in the washroom. Kanaka became a crucial witness in the prosecution of Laxmi Raj Shetty. He was found guilty of murdering Gnanasambandam and robbing about Rs.14 lakhs. The First Additional Sessions Court sentenced him to death, but a High Court bench reduced that to life imprisonment. Not much is known of Laxmi Raj Shetty's life since, but old timers of George Town still recall details of the 'Karnataka Bank Murder Case' as it came to be known!

If you would like more of the details, you can go through the full story here!

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