India Ink

Transcontinental Tabloid Turmoil

It was near 2 a.m. on April 30 when Sharma and two friends strolled into the Tamarind Court, where the overcapacity crowd had dwindled to about 200. Malini Ramani and Lal were in a service area closing for the night. Demanding whiskey, Sharma was told by Malini Ramani that he could have a sip of her drink for 1000 rupees, or about $35, her sister claims. "It was a normal remark, and I guess only a madman would react in such a violent way," Malini would later say. Sharma apparently approached Lal next and, when she told him the bar was closed, pulled out a .22 and fired. It was the second bullet that caught Lal in the forehead. Sharma then walked to the courtyard and smiled his way out through the crowd.

After an "intensive, weeklong manhunt," Sharma surrendered to police near his family home in Chandigarh. By then, Ramani and her husband, a Canadian national named George Mailhot, and her daughter, Malini, had all been arrested, on a variety of charges, and their passports seized. (They are currently free on bail.) Ramani was charged with running an illegal business, and police are considering possible charges of evidence tampering, after they learned that waiters had been instructed to scrub away the dead woman's blood. Ramani was also the subject of a paparazzi blitz and a public denouncement by the victim's relatives. "Ms. Bina Ramani has called us up several times to stick to the story that it was a private party," Lal's sister Sabrina was quoted in the Hindustan Times. "Instead of expressing concern over the incident, she told me not to react since high profile people were involved."

The "sullen multitude" got an eyeful: Bina Ramani (center) comforting a friend of the late Jessica Lal.
AP/Wide World
The "sullen multitude" got an eyeful: Bina Ramani (center) comforting a friend of the late Jessica Lal.

And the "whole thing, the killing, the Ramanis, Qutab Colonnade," as one Delhi native said, "has been all anyone here has talked about." Partly this was because there is little else to discuss in a government town with a lame-duck administration in charge. Partly it's because of the incident's souped-up Aaron Spelling script. Even here, in some quarters of Delhi-on-Hudson, the gossip has been of little else besides sainted Lal; demonic Sharma; the poor, besieged Ramanis; and the collapse of Indian civilization as it used to be known. "I haven't heard one single person speak about it," Ramani's close friend, former pop star Asha Puthli, insisted last week, somewhat unpersuasively, on a day when the Times of India's local Web site was still posting saturation coverage. "Why would people talk about a crime in India in New York? I mean, at most, their mistake was to clean up the evidence of a murder site. You do know that they wiped up the blood?"

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