Private investigators Beyond Sherlockean dramas: What it’s like being a private investigator in the real world private investigators on absurd requests, cases and the challenges they face.

Private detective in Pakistan

Private investigators Beyond Sherlockean dramas: What it’s like being a private investigator in the real world private investigators on absurd requests, cases and the challenges they face.

Private investigators Beyond Sherlockean dramas: What it’s like being a private investigator in the real world private investigators on absurd requests, cases and the challenges they face.

Think ‘detective’ or ‘private investigator’ (PI) and what comes to mind is the shadowy image of a man in a trench coat prowling the streets. Or if you’re inclined to the classics, there’s Sherlock Holmes with his deerstalker hat and trademark pipe.

But what is it like being a private investigator outside Sherlockean dramas, in the real world?

“Mostly, our job mandates shadowing the subject (following people to collect mostly photo or video evidence of their activities) which means, we have to be as discreet as possible. And it can take many hours for the subject to make a move, so we may have to wait for a long time,” he says.


Unlike filmy fantasies, PI’s aren’t always on a mission to uncover massive conspiracies. The most common cases they get are pre- and post-marital investigations. The former involve background checks, relationship history, and so on. Post-marital investigations usually involve estranged couples where one spouse suspects the other is having an affair or is gathering evidence for divorce, men who do not want to pay alimony, or even cases of domestic abuse.

Tharun Thimmaiah, Managing Director at Bengaluru’s Eagle Detective Agency, points out that their clients include a growing number of women from middle and lower-middle class, and 90% of the time, their suspicions about an affair are spot on.

“But the sad thing is, they end up compromising, especially those who belong to the lower middle-class background. Financial dependence and/or the presence of the child deters them from separating from cheating husbands. 80% of them even come back after a year or so with the same case,” Tharun observes.

Men on the other hand, come with their mind made up for divorce and are just looking to gather evidence, says Tharun. He has also seen many cases where men have been slapped with domestic abuse charges and want to get out of them by gathering evidence against the wife.

“In some cases, women have actually filed the case wrongfully, but in the others, the men get off on a technicality. For instance, a man may say that he did not assault his wife on a particular day because he was out of station, but he may have done it otherwise. Our problem is that we are only privy to one side of the story and since the man is our client, we try to help him in that window itself,” Tharun explains.

Then there are also unmarried couples who want loyalty checks on one another, but these cases are a much lesser in number. The other major area is clients wanting background checks on employees or suspecting corporate espionage.

So why don’t people approach the police in these cases?

E Nixon, founder of Leo Investigation Private Detectives, says that people are afraid of the police stumbling on to other secrets, or because they want to keep the issue private. “Many clients approach us to investigate family disputes as well,” he says.


The advent of technology has helped PI’s track subjects more easily. But clients increasingly want to employ this technology themselves too. Tharun says he gets many requests for putting CCTV cameras inside homes to track what spouses do when they are alone at home.

“The rumours always come from the domestic help, the clients tell us. They ask us if they can put a camera in the house. It’s their house so it’s up to them to put a camera there but we don’t do it,” Tharun says.

Agencies also get plenty of requests, mostly from women, for apps that intercept calls or messages on a phone. “Most of these softwares don’t work though. And you need access to the handset to put the software there, which is very difficult. And people generally use WhatsApp, social media and other internet-based apps for communicating now. So the apps, if they work, aren’t of much use,” he explains.

While Tharun keeps his distance from the camera business, Nixon thinks that installing cameras can solve many problems for his clients. He doesn’t install cameras or access their evidence himself, though he suggests the idea to his clients. “We cannot infringe on someone’s privacy. But I make the suggestion to people. Whether they install cameras is up to them,” he says.

What is it like being a PI?

Patience, most investigators agree, is virtue for a PI. But the business is time-consuming and tiring, even for the most dedicated. Which is why Tharun makes sure his detectives work in teams of at least two people, so nothing gets missed.

Honesty is the next thing Nixon looks for. The 41-year-old has been with various agencies for about a decade and seen many investigators misusing the information they collect to blackmail and extort people.

The job is also not about adrenaline-filled car chases. “It’s actually quite impractical to shadow someone in a car. You need to be on the ground and so a bike is handier. What if the subject is walking and the road is a one-way? Then the pillion rider can at least shadow the person while the one on the bike reroutes,” Nixon says.

Then there’s the stereotype of disguises and trench coats, which Stanley says doesn’t work outside films. “If I have to shadow someone, I need to be inconspicuous. So I obviously can’t strut around in a trench coat,” Nixon laughs. This is also why Tharun says they don’t hire someone who stands out – like someone really tall or good-looking. “He’s got to be your average joe,” he insists.

But despite all their efforts, some subjects do figure out that they are being followed. “We’ve had cases where the subjects have taken us for quite a ride – literally. They’ll keep driving through winding routes and sometimes, even lure our investigators into a secluded location where they have already called their friends. A few of our guys have gotten beaten up like that,” says Tharun, who oversees a team of six investigators, including one woman, at present.

While both Stanley and Tharun’s families are at peace with what he does, Nixon has had to tone down his cases after he got married. “I used to take whichever case came my way when I was a bachelor. Now I don’t want to put my wife and 7-year-old daughter in danger because of my job, so I don’t take cases involving high profile people and those which I know can have messy endings,” Nixon says.

Tharun has even taken his wife on some of his shadowing assignments. “If the subject is going into a pub for example, stags are usually not allowed. So my wife and I go inside as a couple and because selfies are so common these days, taking pictures becomes easier,” he chuckles

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