Leaning against the wall of a three-storey building in Faridabad’s Dayal Bagh Colony is a black bike with streaks of blue. It is this vehicle that 32-year-old Sanju Mathews was riding one night while returning home in the staff quarters of Hotel Rajhans after dropping a friend in Badarpur. Sanju lost control and rammed into a divider, hitting his head against the edge of the structure.
According to friends and neighbours of the Mathews, it was this accident, which left Sanju paralysed from the waist down, that proved to be the turning point in the lives of all seven members of the family, draining them of their finances and causing things to spiral out of their control. Eight months later, all of them were dead — three succumbing to different illnesses within a span of five months, and four choosing to hang themselves from ceiling fans of their two-bedroom home three weeks later.
It was around 20 years ago that J J Mathews took up a job at Hotel Rajhans, and arrived at the staff quarters allotted to him from Gwalior, accompanied by his wife, Agnes, and five children — Meena, Beena, Jaya, Pradeep and Sanju. He worked in the tourism department of the hotel, and his wife took up a job in the housekeeping department. The children completed their schooling and graduation from private institutions in the area.
Despite residing at the quarters for two decades, the Mathews had few friends. The youngest of the siblings, Sanju, was the only one who, residents say, “mingled” and “stayed with affection” with everyone.
“They were a very quiet family and kept entirely to themselves. That was quite unusual because the community here is fairly close-knit. But none of us tried to force them to interact. They wanted to be left alone, and we respected that,” says Bimla, a sixty-year-old woman who also stays at the staff quarters.
Residents, however, talk of the unusual circumstances surrounding the family. None of the children ever had a steady job or were married. They showed no inclination towards seeking companionship.
“The girls were well behaved and had good principles… They didn’t even have mobile phones. So we still do not understand why they did not get married. It’s not as if people would have turned them down,” says Saurav, a neighbour.
A handful of people, including Ram Babu, who owns a kinara store metres away from the Mathews’ home, probed these matters but never received a straight answer.
“I opened this shop ten years ago, and Sanju and I became friends since he would often come to purchase items. Prior to the accident, he was spending a few hours every day with me, and I sometimes tried to persuade him to take up a proper job. I said, ‘Sanju bhai, you must work, how will you manage like this?’” says Babu.
“But he always laughed off my suggestions and said if he worked, he would only do a proper, respectable job, and nothing nominal,” he adds.
In the years that the family stayed at the staff quarters, residents say there were instances when some of the children were employed — the sisters taught at different private schools, and Sanju was also working with a private company at one point.
“Sanju had told me that the youngest sister, Jaya, especially, had a good job, where she was earning around Rs 13,000 a month. But she had to leave that after Sanju’s accident,” says Babu, who was also among the last few people to have seen the 32-year-old prior to the mishap.
“Sanju, I, and another friend had been together that night. Later, Sanju went to drop the friend home. The accident happened on his way back. Everything changed for the family after that,” he says.
Sanju’s accident, residents say, left the Mathews in debt. The suicide note left behind by the four siblings states that they owed Rs 29,500 to three people — one of Sanju’s friends and two acquaintances at the dialysis department in QRG Health City in Faridabad.
The letter also alleges that the Rs 1 lakh that Hotel Rajhans was supposed to pay Agnes after her retirement “did not come on time”, The family received only Rs 60,000 and the rest of the money was held back by the hotel. Officials at the hotel, however, denied this claim and insisted that all dues had been cleared.
According to the officials, while JJ retired 10 years ago, his wife left the job only in January this year. Following the accident, all their savings had to be spent on Sanju’s treatment. In addition, the couple’s eldest offspring, Meena, also developed kidney problems, and needed dialysis, adding to the financial woes of the family.
“They ended up spending around Rs 9 or 10 lakh on Sanju’s surgeries and treatment. So all savings, including the money the parents received after retirement, was used up. Jaya was the only person in the family who was employed at the time. But she also had to leave her job to help out after the accident,” says Babu.
“We all tried to pitch in and help. After Sanju came home from the hospital, I went to his house for the first time. The family needed help setting up the oxygen cylinder. We collected money from the residents and staff, and handed it to them to help with his treatment,” he says.
As the family was coping with the situation, JJ was struck by an illness — residents claim “he injured himself and his wound became sceptic over time”. He passed away in April.
“They did not even have money for his cremation. The staff here contributed to ensure that the last rites were conducted properly,” says Saurav.
Two months later, the family left the staff quarters as the six-months leeway period given to them after Agnes’s retirement was coming to a close. They moved to a two-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of an independent bungalow in Dayal Bagh, where the remaining members breathed their last. According to the suicide note, the family paid “Rs 7000 security and Rs 7000 deposit”, apart from agreeing to a monthly rent of Rs 10,000, for their new home.
Five days after the bodies of Meena, Beena, Jaya and Pradeep were removed, the smell of rotting corpses continued to be overwhelming in the house — an establishment that the neighbours and even one of the two caretakers of the building are not willing to enter in the aftermath of the incident.
“It is not just the smell, it’s knowing what had happened inside. I will not go in until all belongings are cleared,” says Aakash Sahu, one of the caretakers.
Within a few weeks of the family moving into the house, tragedy struck again. Neighbours woke up one morning in July to the wailing of the daughters.
“At first we thought that the son must have died because he had been ailing for so long. But then we saw that the son was lying on his bed, and it was the mother who was lying on ice on the floor,” says a neighbour who did not want to be named.
Nobody, however, could specify the illness that Agnes suffered from.
“When they came out saying their mother had died, I first told them to call a doctor. But they did not pay heed to my advice. So I summoned a doctor myself. Once it was confirmed that Agnes had passed away, I told them to call some relatives who could help them. Nobody came. I do not know if they even called anyone,” says Faizal, who runs a playschool next to the house.
Sanju’s friend Upendra, who attended Agnes’s cremation, confirms that no relatives were present at the funeral. He adds that the money for the last rites was provided by Sanju’s friends and neighbours.
In the days that followed their mother’s death, the five Mathews siblings, neighbours say, became reticent once again.
“When their mother died, there was a moment where they were vulnerable in front of us. But after that, they went back to the usual. They would stay inside the house, keep the doors and windows closed,” says Faizal.
The last time Upendra saw the Matthews was at Sanju’s funeral, two months later. Sanju’s friends claim that he had contracted pneumonia in his last days, and eventually succumbed to the infection at a hospital.
“They were heartbroken at the funeral, and we all approached and told them to contact us if they needed any help. However, none of us had a relationship with anyone in the family, other than Sanju. So we did not push beyond a point. If we tried to interact too much, it would seem intrusive,” Upendra says.
A month later, on October 20, Upendra received a phone call from a Faridabad police officer, informing that the four remaining Mathews siblings had committed suicide and Sanju’s motorcycle had been bequeathed to him, to repay the Rs 20,000 that he had given to the family in a time of need.
None of the residents of Dayal Bagh Colony that The Indian Express spoke to could recall the last time they saw the Matthews siblings. They were, hence, horrified when, on Saturday morning (October 20), they saw blood seeping out from beneath one of the doors.
“We banged on the doors but no one responded. One of the windows was open. So I put my hand through the grille and removed the curtain,” says Sahu, the caretaker.
The sight and smell are two things that Sahu says he will never forget.
When the police broke down the door, they found the siblings hanging from the four ceiling fans in the house. The suicide note bearing their names and signatures stated that they were taking the step because they were lonely after the death of their three family members. The letter, detailing what needed to be done with their belongings, served as the will.
Among those who attended the siblings’ funeral, organised with funds collected from neighbours and Sanju’s friends, was Babu.
“We were horrified when we heard of what they had done. To be honest, we had expected that the sister who was on dialysis would also pass away soon. But we thought that the lives of the three remaining siblings would move on after that,” says Babu.
“If Sanju had been there, this would not have happened. He was a man with courage and determination. He would have ensured they got through the time. The siblings were not as strong,” he adds.
Neighbour Bimla, however, was not surprised. “Woh apne mein hi rehte the, par pyaar se rehte the. Bas woh saat log the ek doosre ke liye, aur koi nahin. Humein bhi lagta tha ki unmein itna pyaar tha ki woh ek dusre ke bina nahi reh paate, aur wahi hua (They stayed with each other with love. All the seven members were there for each other. Even we used to think that they would not be able to stay without each other, and that is what happened).”