The Dutch mystery: Kin, friends seek answers about beloved teacher
On-ground: Family, colleagues and friends in Pune, where the Shindes spent eight years before moving to Amsterdam, remember an ideal couple and struggle to come to terms with Sharmila's death and Avdhut's disappearance
What exactly happened in Avdhut and Sharmila Shinde's Amsterdam apartment on the night of May 16? Neither do the police know yet, nor does the family of Sharmila, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances almost a week after her husband left for India with their children. Shashidhar Shetty, Sharmila's brother, told mid-day he feels something went amiss between the couple that night after the children had slept.
Shashidhar said, "I am yet to figure out what happened on the night of May 16. Sharmila spoke to our mother on WhatsApp on May 14 while we were in Kullur. Mom responded a little late to her message to which Sharmila said 'ok' on May 16 at 9.26 pm. It was the last message she sent."
"I guess something went amiss between the couple on May 16 night when both children had slept. Next morning, he woke up the kids and told them to pack their bags and rush to the airport. He told the children that their mother would follow them to Mumbai on the next flight," he added.
He said he, too, asked the kids what happened, but they have no idea, "The kids told me they were asleep and don't know anything. They are too young to understand anything and I didn't feel like asking them the same question again. They, too, are emotionally devastated."
Regarding the case against Avdhut in the Netherlands, Shashidhar said, "An official from the Indian Embassy there told me that if Avdhut is caught and convicted, he would be sentenced to 24 years in jail in the Netherlands."
A senior Mumbai police officer said the crime branch has been asked to conduct a parallel probe to trace Avdhut.
'She was very happy'
Sharmila was found dead under mysterious circumstances inside her flat just a week after she relocated to Amsterdam from Pune with the children, Shashidhar said. "[She moved] after Avdhut told her that his salary had been revised and he could afford to live with his family now in the Netherlands." Sharmila's mother Sushila said, "We would often converse on WhatsApp, either through text or voice/video call. She was very happy after moving to the Netherlands. She last responded to my WhatsApp message on May 16. Avdhut and the twins left from Amsterdam the next day and reached Mumbai on May 18. The details of what happened on the night of May 16 will be crucial to the investigation."
Sharmila Shinde with her best friend Shweta Shetty-Patel
Sharmila's childhood friend Shweta Shetty Patel also said she was happy after moving to the Netherlands. "We spoke on a video call on May 11, when she showed me her rented accommodation. She was very happy. The couple had bought a bicycle for their children and were about to get them admitted to a school there."
She added, "I'd sent her a text message on May 17, but it did not get delivered. After waiting for a few hours, I contacted her mother, who said Sharmila might be busy. But on the next day, i.e. May 18, we got to know that Avdhut and the kids had come to Mumbai. This was minutes after he left [from Mumbai]." Avdhut has been missing since May 18.
"We enquired about Sharmila, and the kids told us that 'Mumma is coming in the next flight'. But she did not come, and all of us panicked. On May 21, we received a call from Sharmila's house telling us that she was no more and that her decomposed body had been recovered from the flat," said Patel.
Patel said Sharmila and Avdhut had been married for over 15 years. "They fell in love while working at Maersk in Powai. She was in the human resources department, while he was at a managerial position."
After getting married, the couple lived in Denmark for a few years and then moved to Pune, where they lived in an elite housing society for eight years. Around three years ago, Sharmila started working in the pre-primary section of the Sanskriti School where the twins studied. Pranit Mungali, trustee of the school said, "She was one of our best teachers. She was loved by the students and their parents. We had tried to keep her back, but she said she would have to move abroad where her husband worked for the sake of a better future for their children. Now, we have planned to provide free education to her children."
Shilpa Desai, headmistress of the pre-primary section said, "She was a class teacher here. She put in her papers in April and planned to come in June to collect her children's certificates. Both children were prefects and good at academics. Sharmila was an asset to us."
Meanwhile, former neighbours of the family in Pune were also shocked after learning about Sharmila's death.
Former neighbours in shock
"They were the best couple in our housing society. Sharmila was a bubbly woman and Avdhut a fitness freak. He would always go jogging with his wife. We cannot believe he is the prime suspect," said a neighbour. Another neighbour said, "Prior to shifting to the Netherlands, Avdhut had told me he planned to settle down with his family in the Netherlands and never return. He is also an animal lover and had adopted a stray dog ."
Avdhut blacklisted from company
Back in Amsterdam, Avdhut has been reported missing by Damco Freight Forwarding, the company where he worked at a managerial position. Saskia Groen In't Woud, CEO of the company, told mid-day from Denmark, "We can confirm that on May 20, we reported to the police that one of our colleagues was missing. We are collaborating with the authorities in their investigation and hope that he is found safe. Our thoughts go out to the family in this difficult situation. We are in contact with them and have offered our full support." Sources told mid-day Avdhut has been blacklisted and his entry has been restricted in the company worldwide.
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