CHENNAI : Juggling a successful career and marriage has its own challenges, but when both the husband and wife have cracked that code, it makes for a story to tell and inspire. Meet Additional Director-General of Police Sandeep Rai Rathore and his wife Shilpam Rathore, a power couple whose relationship with each other, their careers and the city is dotted with respect, commitment, patience, and philanthropy.
Shilpam and Sandeep met in 1991 when she joined Kirorimal college. “He was doing his MA in Geography in Delhi School of Economics, which is also on the same campus. When we started dating, I knew that his dream was to become an IPS officer. When he got through the civil services, he had to choose between Indian Foreign Service or Indian Police Service, the decision which he completely left on me. I asked him to chase his dream and he picked the latter. The story began then,” recalls Shilpam.
Talking about his early days as an IPS officer, Sandeep says, “When I was under training at Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu, elopement was a major issue in this area that was dominated by Nadars, Thevars and then Naidu community. Those were the early days of my career. It was difficult to convince families to accept their children who had eloped and married.” Caste, Sandeep says, is far more deep-rooted than we understand of it.
Among most of his cases, Sandeep’s most memorable encounter was with the notorious Charles Sobhraj — the French serial killer, who preyed on Western tourists throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s, and had committed more than 30 murders. In 1986, Charles was jailed. On the occasion of his birthday, he ordered sweets laced with 820 pills of a sedative and drugged the security guards. Charles posed as a guard and walked out of the prison.
“The second time Charles was imprisoned, in 1998, I was the commandant who had to ensure safety. Charles was then in a special ward, and Tamil Nadu police were entrusted with the responsibility of the security. We realised that he picked up Tamil while in jail by listening to the conversations of the police. During my checks, I had to make sure that I never walked past his cell as he could scan a person in a jiffy to find his way out. Thankfully, I never crossed and he never had a chance of another jailbreak,” recalls Sandeep.
Sandeep and Shilpam moved to Chennai in 2017 after he was posted in the Special Task Force wing. But, he says, his posting in 2001 as the Joint Commissioner of Traffic in Chennai will remain one of his favourites. “In 2001, when the regime changed and late J Jayalalithaa was in power, she wanted a lot of ideas to be implemented. One of the ideas was to change all incandescent traffic lights to LED to reduce maintenance cost. Today, all traffic lights in the city are LED powered,” he shares.
Over the years, the couple through all the ups and downs have never let philanthropy exit their life. One evening in December 2015 in New Delhi, when Shilpam was returning home from a party she saw a woman cooking on the footpath for her sick child in the extreme cold. The sight left a deep impact on Shilpam. She set up Aranya Foundation in 2015. “We do not have funds to pay for every poor woman’s treatment, so we fixed on the next best thing — free meals to both patients and caretakers. When we came to Chennai we realised that even Chennaiites need help,” she says.
After brainstorming, they zeroed in on Egmore Eye hospital in March 2018, where she distributes 120 free meals every day along with Aranya Foundation. Adyar Cancer Institute, too, is expected to associate with the foundation. Initially, funding came from independent donors, but now corporate companies too have stepped in to support. By May 2018, Aranya Foundation distributed one lakh meals in New Delhi and Chennai. They share a deep relationship with the city. Talking about the carefree attitude of women here, she says, “I love how women here tuck the saree pallu around their waist and drive scooters. It shows how independent women here are.” Both love to travel, especially to Japan. They love to attend music concerts in the city, but especially love to begin their day with a walk at Marina.