Avirook Sen’s ‘Aarushi’
By Neha Malude
Every book — good, bad or even mediocre — affects a reader. There is no book that will leave you devoid of thoughts or feelings. Few books, however, leave you in turmoil, your nerves left feeling raw and taut, as though there’s something deeply wrong with the world. Avirook Sen’s Aarushi is one such book.
When published, Aarushi, made tremendous waves. It is a journalist’s account of one of the most prolific murder cases that India has seen in recent years. I had never really followed the trial from beginning to end but everyone seemed to be raving about it. Curiosity finally got the better of me; so I decided to give it a go.
Aarushi is the story of a teenage girl named Aarushi Talwar, who belonged to a well-to-do Delhi-based family with two doting parents. She was a good student and a wonderful person who was liked by everyone who knew her. But one day, she was found murdered in her bedroom. The body of Talwars’ house-help was discovered a day later. It was a case of double murder, with the parents being the prime suspects, who allegedly killed her because she was suspected of having an affair with him. The question is: Did they?
Needless to say, the Indian media had a field day with the sordid story — that two educated, well-to-do parents could murder their only child to safeguard their ‘honour’! There’s nothing we humans like more than tragedy, and even better if it’s the controversial kind peppered with shocking incidents.
What sets the book apart for me, though, is the almost cut-and-dry writing, almost like reportage. Somehow, that kind of ‘clinical’ writing touches me more than the ones dripping with emotion and drama.
Before I read the book, I had a general idea in my mind about how things work in the Indian criminal and justice system. But it was while I was reading Aarushi that I got a full-blown idea of really how hopeless things are. Consider for example, the police officials, whose idea of investigation is laughable. At one point, the police believe that the Talwars’ characters are iffy because they ‘ate non-veg on Thursdays’. Additionally, consider the horribly inadequate infrastructure that riddles our investigative institutions or the judge who writes a judgement that is akin to a child’s effort to make an exam paper look good by applying a thesaurus to each and every word. Here’s an excerpt of the judgement:
“The cynosure of judicial determination is the fluctuating fortunes of the dentist couple Dr. Rajesh Talwar and Dr. Nupur Talwar, who have been arraigned for committing and secreting as also deracinating the evidence of commission of the murder of their adolescent daughter.”
And all through this whirlpool stand the two people squirming under the merciless light of the police, the courts and, of course, the people — Aarushi’s parents. They are judged, shunned, vilified because we’d much rather believe in the worst a person can be, not good, right? Because it is easier to believe in ‘honour killing’ than it would be to think that a parent couldn’t possibly murder his or her own child, no matter what the deed.
At one time, for instance, the couple’s lawyer argues that the two have been model citizens, with no past criminal record, and weren’t going to repeat the crime they had supposedly committed. To this, the judge replies, “Your clients cannot repeat the crime because they don’t have another daughter to murder.”
There are many, many such instances in the book that leave you stunned: stunned for the lack of sensitivity, for the lack of compassion, for the avarice that most of the media showed during the course of the investigation with no regards for the family’s feelings or privacy, for the lack of faith shown by the very people who knew the Talwars, for the blatant disregard for proper procedures during the investigation. I could go on and on.
The whole process makes one think, doesn’t it? You’re supposed to be the citizen of one of the greatest democracies in the world and yet, you don’t have the freedom or the means to defend your dignity or that of your child. It raises the very real question: “What if this had been me?” or “What if it had been a lower middle class person, unlike the Talwars who still had the financial means and education to fight this case, like your maid or the watchman?”
Amidst all this negativity though, there are small rays of hope I could cling to. Not every single police officer is inept or corrupt. There are people willing to go the distance to make sure that Aarushi’s murder could be investigated in a fair manner. It was heartening to see that a journalist like Avirook worked hard and meticulously collected each and every aspect of the case and painfully wrote this book for everyone to see the other side of the case — the Talwars’ side.
Unfortunately, it helped little. And this story did not have a happy ending. Neither is it proved that the parents did, in fact, murder Aarushi nor are they acquitted. At present, the couple is serving a sentence in a jail with no hope of an acquittal in sight. They stand behind the bars, waiting for a miracle that might someday help them to prove their innocence. But I think they know it’s futile.
The case has long been forgotten since, with everyone amply satisfied that justice was served, irrespective of the evidence. The media has moved on to greener pastures. Everyone has. But when I read the book, it hung over my head like a dark, menacing cloud that refused to disperse. It left me — and I’m sure many others — with an all-pervasive feeling of helplessness and anger. “Would I want to raise a child in a country like this?” — that’s the question that lingered in my mind. It still does.
Neha Malude is a writer, and so, spends most of her time daydreaming. She is a diehard Jeffrey Archer fan, obsessed with journals and fountain pens, and is currently toying with an idea for a book, but hasn’t had the courage to start writing it.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.