The news of Mumbai Police beginning the extradition process of wanted fugitive Kumar Pillai from distant Singapore earlier this month has created a buzz in a small locality in Vikhroli. Hariyali Nagar, located some distance to the east of Vikhroli railway station, is where Kumar grew up, where his father Krishna was shot dead and from where he rose to prominence in the Mumbai underworld.
In Hariyali Nagar, however, more than ‘Kumar Seth’, it is ‘Krishna Seth’ who people remember as a local benefactor. An English medium school, one of the first such schools in the area, and a temple he built in the 1980s bear testimony to his contribution to the area where he remained an influential figure before he was murdered.
“Krishna Seth would play with our children, give them money and his word was respected. He had a lot of influence in the area,” says a local. The Pillai family had a good rapport with the locals in the lower middle class households, with several of them helping with the construction of the school. All was well till Krishna was murdered by a local corporator in broad daylight.
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Kakdibai Bhoir, a local close to the family and one of the witnesses who deposed in the murder trial of Krishna Pillai, remembers the fateful day that would eventually change local dynamics. “It was a few days prior to Diwali. I was returning from a local temple when four men armed with guns fired multiple shots at Krishna who was sitting outside a shop,” Bhoir recollects.
Krishna was survived by two sons — Kumar and Keshav — and a daughter, Jyoti, besides his wife Kamala. “Keshav was the studious kind and Kumar saw it as his responsibility to avenge the murder,” says a local.
Kumar Pillai eventually did avenge his father’s killing by gunning down accused Lal Singh Chavan outside Borvali railway station in the 1990s. But that was the pivotal moment when he lost connection with the locality as he remained on the run. “He then started working with established gangsters like Amar Naik and later Ashwin Naik. He got into the extortion business and would target the eastern suburbs of the city. Cases against him started piling and soon he, like other gangsters, moved abroad,” says a police officer.
Extortion calls to builders in the eastern suburbs from the “Kumar Pillai gang” continued until police issued a red corner notice against him, something that would eventually lead to his detention earlier this month.
Locals remember the highly educated Kumar playing cricket at the local grounds here. He was also part of a bike gang called ‘Rocky’. “He was, however, a shy kid and never created any nuisance in the area,” recalls a local.
While his siblings have moved out — the sister to Bangalore and the elder brother to a foreign country — Pillai’s mother Kamala still stays in the locality and is reportedly one of the trustees of the English medium school that was set up by her husband. According to another local, she stays in the school on most occasions and has recently got a bungalow built for herself.
“Over the past few years we have seen her health deteriorate and the news of Kumar being arrested would further impact her health,” says the local. Ever since the murder of Krishna Pillai, the locals had lost touch with the family, he adds.
Some complain that Kamala does not even allow them entry to the school that they once helped set up. “Once she had wanted to demolish some structures. Kumar would still live in the area and we had approached him for help. He had intervened and spoken to his mother on our behalf,” recalls a local.
Some still remain sympathetic to him. “Somebody killed his father and someone had to avenge for the loss. Later, he was on the run fearing the police. We suspect that considering the reputation he had built, several people started making extortion calls using his name further maligning his reputation,” says another local.