|CURRENT ISSUE APRIL 1, 2002|
COVER STORY: HIGH SOCIETY
Natasha Singh's Mysterious Death
By March 17, Delhi's fickle spring weather had slipped into a warm consistency. So when socialite-photographer Natasha Singh stepped out of her Greater Kailash flat late in the evening, she was dressed in blue jeans, a purple T-shirt and Nike sneakers. She seemed in a tolerant mood-her maid Jesse, from tribal Bihar, remembers that she happily had bitter gourd for lunch, something she normally disliked. She drove to the Hotel Hyatt Regency, 6 km away, walked through the large and busy lobby and got into the lift. Inside, there was a mirror framed with strands of mother-of-pearl where she saw her face-for the last time in her life. It was an attractive face, the fusion of a Jordanian father and a dusky south Indian Christian mother, a face, a friend said "was always smiling no matter what". Nobody knows if there was another face looking into that mirror.
Natasha, or so the police say, moved from the second to the seventh floor, and then to the top of the building, a spaghetti of pipes and aluminium ac ducts. She found her way to the tower top and sometime after midnight, fell 50 metres to her death. She was 31.
The incident was to quickly become as obsessive as a Bollywood melodrama. It was all about a beautiful girl dying young-a girl with a volatile estranged husband and his powerful political family, two small children caught in a custodial tug-of-war and a former lover banished to London. When the news broke, the media thronged the hotel and the mangled 5 ft 7 in body of Natasha shattered the Sunday calm of the capital's social elite. As policemen probed the death, the speculation oscillated between suicide and murder. Four days later Satish Chandra, joint police commissioner, Delhi Police, in charge of the case, would say the "investigations are still on".
Media attention was never new to Natasha. Her spat with her husband Jagat Singh, son of former Union minister Natwar Singh, had appeared in a supplement of a leading newspaper in December 2001. There, Natasha said her husband drank heavily and was abusive and that she had "found a friend" in Vinay Kapoor, a Coca-Cola executive. There also appeared to be a method to her tell-all. She confessed to a friend that she was "using the media" to get back at Jagat.
But life wasn't always about walking a deadly tightrope. Natasha Masri was born in Delhi and most of her growing life was spent in the sunny happiness of friends and family-mainly her two younger brothers and her mother (see box). Her early schooling was at the British School, where she played basketball and "wasn't particularly fond of maths". She shifted to the all-girl Convent of Jesus and Mary for her Class XII, but before this an important friendship had already been formed with Ritu Singh, Jagat's spirited sister, through whom she got to know her future husband. She studied philosophy at St Stephen's College, where she formed a close-knit trio with Sonia Verma and Deborah Malik, eating mince bombs and scrambled eggs at its café and rejoicing in the vagabond freedom college life offered. Delhi's fledgling nightlife wasn't anywhere near what it is now, but there were a few islands of revelry, notably Ghungroo, the somewhat tiny discotheque at the Maurya Sheraton that would normally be packed with twice as many people as it could accommodate. Among those would be Natasha and her gang.
At college many friends thought she would be foolish not to take up modelling as she had the looks for the job. She did a few ramp shows and shoots, along with Ritu Singh. Jagat, meanwhile had left Doon School and moved to England in 1985 to study history at the University of Bristol. When Ritu reintroduced him to Natasha sometime at the end of 1992, he was 6 ft tall, slim and confidently handsome. After a sugar-candy courtship and a six-month live-in relationship, they married in October 1993, at an Arya Samaj mandir. Jagat's mother, Heminder Kumari, sister of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala, was against what she considered a mismatch of pedigree.
The alliance had begun with a sense of concealed foreboding, with Jagat's parents cutting the couple off. Natasha and Jagat shifted to a Defence Colony barsati, Jagat sold off his Gypsy and for at least two years they both lived under terrible financial strain. Jagat tried his hand at selling Xerox machines and later a pizza business with Natasha. The business failed and Natasha began to teach at Vasant Valley School. It was a job she had to leave when she suffered a miscarriage. When Hanut was born in November 1995, reconciliation with Jagat's family appeared a possibility. They moved in to Jagat's Vasant Vihar house and their second son, Himmat, was born in July 1997. Jagat later said in an interview that though they had started living in his parents' house, Natasha "wasn't ready to abide by the family's customs". It was a strained relationship and they moved into Ritu's flat in Jorbagh. In 1999 Jagat accepted the family's political baton and contested the general elections from his father's old constituency of Bharatpur in Rajasthan on a Congress ticket. He was defeated but not before Natasha reluctantly pulled a sari over her head and played the dutiful political wife. Jagat's political initiation meant his spending less time in Delhi and that became a sore point with Natasha.
The marriage seemed doomed. Natasha blamed it on Jagat's late nights and continuous inebriation, of not being there when she needed him and of "wearing her down mentally and physically". Jagat's friends say that in fact the opposite was true. "His idea of a good time was to have some friends over," says one. "She loved to go out, dance, be social. They wanted different things. I don't think he liked her going out so much on her own."
In May 2001 she had apparently tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills and was taken to a nursing home in Vasant Vihar. Soon after, Natasha filed for divorce and for custody of her children who were going to Sanskriti, an upmarket school in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri. In a judgement in July 2001, the Delhi High Court gave custody of the children to both parents in a neat weekly arrangement (weekdays with Natasha, weekends with Jagat) till the case was settled by a lower court. Before the stopgap settlement, there were messy legal diatribes, charges and rebuttals. It was also the beginning of Natasha's relationship with Vinay Kapoor, director (commercial beverages) of Coca-Cola. Natasha, on her part, had complained that Jagat had not returned home for a week, and later suggested that he was "at the Pakistani Embassy with his girlfriends".
Kapoor, in his mid-30s, a sharp, well-built executive who rarely missed a workout at the hotel gym, had met Natasha in January 2001 at a party thrown by a prominent industrialist. The Stephanian son of an air force officer and IIM Lucknow graduate was known for his trophy girlfriends, including the late Michelle Vadra, sister-in-law of Priyanka Gandhi. He lived in a suite at The Hyatt-No 265-where Natasha met him regularly. They hit parties, launches and fashion shows together, turning into very visible pillars of Page Three society. When Jagat ran into Kapoor at the Bristol Hotel in Gurgaon in September last year at a party thrown by a mutual friend called Rob Suri-now implicated in the Ali cocaine case-he was jealous and infuriated. Well past 3 in the morning, he smashed a beer bottle on Kapoor's head in full view of everyone. Kapoor filed a police complaint but a case was never registered.
In December, he was severely beaten up by a bunch of goons after he dropped Natasha home and was admitted to Apollo with multiple fractures in his legs and ribs. In her complaint Natasha had clearly said she feared for her life and that the attack on Vinay Kapoor had been planned by her husband. Kapoor, an ambitious professional, was told by his bosses in Hong Kong that the adverse publicity surrounding his love life was doing nothing for the image of Coca-Cola. The wounded executive was not going to allow a momentary liaison and its bone-crunching repercussions to get in the way of his future. At a lunch on November 11, he told his hostess how he was looking forward to being posted overseas. In January, he left for London in a wheelchair.
With her lover looking for an exit route, things got worse for Natasha. On the night of December 23 she was called to the door by a former maid. When she went outside, she was dragged to the road and a woman attacked her with a prickly metal scrub ... while a man stood silently watching from the darkness.