What’s common between Sherlock Holmes, Karamchand Jasoos, and Byomkesh Bakshi? These are the fictional characters that have over the years endeared themselves to their fans with their brilliant detective work. In the course of their adventures they have also managed to inspire many youngsters to take up detective work to experience a life of excitement and adventure.
Over the years, things have changed for real-life detectives who have moved from wielding the magnifying glass to relying on sophisticated spying devices.
The profession pays well if one has the talent to solve cases with élan. Here’s an example.
Circa 1958: A young boy came from Pakistan as a refugee, started doing detective work after trying his hand “at almost 22 other professions (including that of a rag picker)”. Meet Ramesh C Madan, who is known as the father of private investigation in India. He started out in an era when detectives had to learn from “the institution of circumstances”, as Madan calls it. Since then, he says, a lot has changed but the basics of detective work remain the same. “As long as human beings are insecure about one thing or the other, detectives will never go out of business,” says Madan.
When he started out, no one “knew about private detectives. Once I went to give an advertisement about my services to a well-known newspaper and they refused to take my ad and then suggested that I should put the ad in the ‘tantrik’ (practitioner of black magic) section. Then in the ‘70s, I met the director general of police, Uttar Pradesh for a case and was surprised when he asked me what a private detective did. Awareness levels have changed much since those days,” says Madan.
Persistence and hard work culminated in Madan getting a lifetime achievement award for investigation and intelligence last year from President Pratibha Patil. “I have got many awards. I believe that if you work with honesty and support the truth then recognitions will come to you,” says Madan.
From the hardships of procuring hi-tech spying gadgets to facing threats from miffed people, being a detective some years back was a challenging proposition.
It is still challenging even with the availability of advanced technology, investigative work has simplified to some extent.
Circa 1988: The job profile hasn’t changed but detectives have started to adding credibility by earning degrees that will help them in their work. VC Misra, after practicing law for some time, found that was not his calling and got a degree in forensic science from the Delhi University. His specialisation in handwriting and fingerprint identification made his job easier. “Now even lawyers take our help to get to the facts,” says Misra. “Opportunities for work have increased in this area, and investigators are taking on work previously done by the police. However, competition has increased manifold. To get work, you should have good contacts, be in touch with the lawyers, and also have a website to showcase your work,” says Misra.
Circa 2010: Degrees (law, forensics etc.) coupled with the knowledge of advanced technology is now intrinsic to a detective’s life. Rishi Madan is a young 19-year-old armed with knowledge of the latest technology and an ambition to become one of “the best detectives”.
“You have to have an inquisitive mind to be a good detective. It is important to gain knowledge of each and every thing about investigative work, be it law, psychology, sociology, topography, weapons, chemistry, geology, philosophy, anatomy, etc. Though you might not be the master of all these subjects, their knowledge will help you to look at cases from a different perspective,” says Rishi.
The job is tough because sometimes you have to spend days following a person. “You have to change your appearance and your vehicle etc., to make sure that your quarry does not get suspicious. The cases differ because anyone who can pay the fees uses the services of a detective. As crime and insecurity increase, opportunities for people in this profession are also increasing,” says Rishi. “You could find work as an employee of an investigation agency or buy a franchise, which may combine the advantage of working alone with the benefits and contacts associated with being part of a large organisation. Alternatively, you could set up on your own (agency). Your success will not only depend on your investigative skills, knowledge and experience, but also on your ability to market your services,” says Madan.
Whatever the era, the profession retains its charm and the ones who yearn for an adventurous life should join it with the aim of going whole hog for the truth. As Madan sums it up, one should be ready for anything from gaalis to golis (abuses to bullets).
What's it about?
Private investigators carry out undercover investigations for their clients, including solicitors, insurance companies, councils, private companies and individuals. Your investigations could include family issues like divorce or adoption, to business support regarding internal espionage or theft. Your work may also include surveillance, fraud investigation (for example, insurance claims), tracing missing persons, investigating commercial piracy, vetting personnel etc. You would typically work alone as a self-employed investigator.
Your work hours could be irregular and will include nights and weekends. Prepare for
4 am: Wake up
6 am: Start trailing your quarry
9 am: Instruct team members on phone to gather other details of the quarry
1.30 pm: Have lunch on the move following your quarry till the s/he reaches home
Between 9 pm and midnight: If you’ve enough information then go home to prepare your report. Else, plan for next day
. Private investigators can earn between Rs 1,25,000 to 2,50,000 per annum
. Top salaries in corporate investigation, for those with detailed legal knowledge, can be Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh per annum (figures are intended as a guideline)
. With proper experience, you could progress to the rank of senior investigator or team manager, or set up your own agencyskills
. Good verbal and written communication skills
. Excellent observation skills
. Strong analytical skills
. Self-confidence to present evidence in court
. Basic computer skills
. Knowledge of the law
. Honesty and integrity
. Ability to work independently
. Logical approach to your work
. Patience and perseverance
. Empathy for clients who may be distressed by your findings
How do i get there?
. You may not need any qualifications to become a trainee investigator. A paid traineeship (with a company or independent private eye) will be difficult to come by if you do not have relevant skills and knowledge. You can set up on your own detective agency, but attracting clients and providing good service requires appropriate skills.
. It would be useful to have a good standard of education plus some experience in field work (such as the marketing/sales etc.). Business skills are also important because most opportunities involve working on a self-employed basis.
. You could contact local private investigators directly to find out about opportunities shadowing professionals and learning through that. You could also check for vacancies. A list of potential employers can be found on the websites of the Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, Council of International Investigators and World Association of Detectives on their websites. A driving licence is essential for this work
Institutes & urls
. Dr B R Ambedkar University, Agra - MSc forensic science
. University of Mysore - MA in criminology and forensics
. National Institute of Criminology - Master's in Criminology
Pros & cons
. A life full of adventure
. Get to spy on the rich and famous and learn about their real lives
. Everyday will have something new for you
. Sometimes it can be life-threatening
. You could end up with minimal social life
. Trust in others takes a hit
For the daring ones
A veteran detective talks about ways to get ahead in the profession
Where can one get training? Is training important?
Avenues for training will vary depending on the circumstances of your employment. For example, if you have a franchise with a company, you may have access to many courses as part of your franchise agreement. If you are working at an agency, you will usually receive training on the job from your employer. As a sole practitioner, you would need to organise your own training.
There are no specific training institutes. I'd suggest you join an established detective agency where you can get practical training. One can also go in for a degree in forensics because this knowledge will help in investigations. It would also help if you understand what evidence you should take to a criminologist.
Advice to aspiring professionals?
Join this profession only if you feel you can dedicate your life to it. Don’t take it as a job. You should aim for fame, but this fame will come only if you are mad about what you do. In the 50 years that I have been in this profession, I have won many awards, and all this has happened because of the honesty I exhibit towards what I do.
What are the problems a detective can face?
I've received threats to my life many times. A good detective is one who should never let a situation get out of hand and should avoid situations where s/he can be exposed. You have to be competent enough to get out of difficult situations. A detective has to keep in mind that s/he not only has to save his/her own life but also his/her client's identity.
What about the legalities? Why is not private investigation not legal as yet?
We have made a suggestion to the Ministry of Home Affairs that they should create a regulatory body for detectives on the lines of the Bar Council or the Medical Council.
We believe that they are considering it.
I am against the licensing of detectives because it will bring them under the purview of the police department and then corruption could easily seep into the profession.
Ramesh C Madan As told to Amir Ali Hashmi