An avid trekker, Shraddha Walkar had once gone bald, recall friends

By Quaid Najmi

Palghar, Nov 16 (IANS): The brutal killing of Palghar woman Shraddha Walkar has stupefied her friends in the Vasai-Virar region, including her college classmates who keep discussing the vivacious girl's grisly end in hushed tones since the past two days.

One such close classmate Sharda Jaiswal recalls how - a couple of years ago - many of her friends were aghast to see her going completely bald.

She had shaved off her head, probably due to depression or after her mother's death, though nobody knows the exact reasons, said Sharda.

She added how most friends found it shocking as "Shraddha was very obsessed about her generous tresses then", and later sported only a short boyish hairstyle.

Another close friend G. S. Menezes has warm memories of their entire friends' group going for trekking in different hills in Maharashtra or the foothills of Himalayas in the Himachal Pradesh and other parts of India.

Last May, she even visited the Garden Cafe at Baijnath in Himachal Pradesh, and would often go to other places as she loved nature and outings.

Sharda and Shraddha were classmates in the BMM course in Virar west, a few kms from her home in the twin township of Vasai east, where Menezes was also studying.

"In fact, when I joined college several years ago, she was among my first good friends and then we had quite a large group... Many of us used to go hiking, trekking, short outings in restaurants or coffee-shops, or long drives during weekends in one of our friends' cars," Menezes said.

There were some humorous instances too, in college, when many of the faculty members often mistook 'Sharda' and 'Shraddha', calling them by the other's name, as they giggled and corrected them.

"In college, she was very pleasant with all... friends with many... but close to only a very few people in the group... She took part in all projects, curricular activities, was jovial and fun-loving, though she seemed to have changed after coming in contact with her boyfriend," said Sharda.

Both Sharda and Menezes said after the first couple of years in college, she suddenly dropped out as "she wanted to be financially independent", joined a company called Decathlon and later a BPO (call centre) in Malad suburb of Mumbai.

"Only after she collected sufficient money for her education, she resumed her studies and completed her graduation," said Menezes, who had also learnt of her ongoing affair with Aftab Ameen Poonawala.

But it was during her 'second coming' that most friends noticed a "changed" Shraddha, her vivacity missing, a bit withdrawn, remaining incommunicado for long spells even on phone, disinterested in everything, wary, worried and appeared to be cutting herself off from life.

Sharda and Menezes, and another childhood friend Laxman Nadar, soon learnt about her relationship with Aftab , living in the neighbourhood, and how she later stormed out of her home to become his live-in partner.

A few concerned friends tried to make her talk but she remained mostly aloof and at one desperate point, she confided in a couple of close friends how he (Aftab) was torturing her, showed cigarette burns on her back, his blackmailing and threats to kill her and then commit suicide.

A few friends soon confronted Aftab and issued a warning to refrain from hurting Shraddha or they would approach the police for help, and he (Aftab) apparently apologised and promised to behave.

Sharda and Menezes said she hailed from a traditional, conservative family which celebrated festivals like Ganeshotsav and may have objected to her inter-religious liaisons.

Several friends also advised her to heed her parents warnings, but the independent-minded Shraddha discarded their pleas and continued with Aftab, as she feared for her family's safety and finally she accompanied him to Delhi in April.

Menezes last got a message from Shraddha seeking some help with a video-editing job and he assisted her, while for nearly two years, Sharda kept in touch only via social media.

Earlier this week, a pall of gloom descended in Palghar, her college and among her friends as news of her macabre killing, her body chopped into 35 pieces and thrown in the forests of Delhi - that also shook the nation.



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