Never judge a book by its cover. Or so the rule says. Aarushi is certainly an exception. It’s cover blood-splattered, cheesy—like the cheap railway pulp fiction—is sensational. The book is like a bad Bollywood film. In this, the Talwars, Rajesh and Nupur, are the hapless victims who have lost their daughter. The system is against them.
If you want answers in the murder that India became obsessed with, the book provides you none. Avirook Sen starts the book promising the truth: “I hold no brief for anyone—but that objectivity dissolves faster than a digestive in hot tea. It is a crusade, where Sen abandons any sense of journalistic distance, and it is a PR job for the Talwars. At no point in the book, ever, does he ever entertain the thought that the Talwars could have even done it. These are the facts in the book: The Talwars were framed by bumbling police officers from UP. Then, the CBI and judge Shyam Lal were biased against them.
All this may be the truth. Or some part of it. But the problem is the biggest question of them all is why? The author establishes no motive. Apart from corruption, the incompetence of an agency that chooses confessions even coerced rather than investigation. The only possible motive that the CBI could have against the Talwars is that Nupur refused to be intimidated by A.G.L Kaul who investigated the case. Krishna, of course, in the narco test proves that he is manipulative.
There is nothing in the book, despite the kind of access he had, that brings you closer to either understanding Aarushi or the Talwars. In a case that was polarising; that brought out ugly prejudice of the Indian class divide, Sen resolutely refuses to go beyond the obvious.
Their story is so powerful that “top lawyers chose to do it for free”. “Starting at the top, the Supreme Court, where Nupur Talwar was granted bail….there was the distinguished law firm—Karanjawala and Co.,….and a set of redoubtable (and very expensive) lawyers who appeared at the Talwars’ behalf. Among them were the former solicitor general Harish Salve, Mukul Rohatgi, K.V. Vishwanathan and Rebecca John. “Salve was unaffordable, but he agreed with a nod and no money.” Others charged less than their rate card. This is probably one the rare cases where lawyers, even top ones with a conscience, chose the righteous path of justice over fees.
There is evidence from the defence which he offers up triumphantly from the trial. Again not new. In the maze of the evidence that the author dismisses with the conviction of Arnab Goswami on News Hour, it is easy to identify the ‘bad guys’—in this case the system.
The outrage of the miscarriage of justice is only matched with Sen’s indignation over the accent of the officialdom. The magistrate, Preeti Singh, who turned the CBI’s closure report into a charge-sheet cited as another instance of the Talwars had been unfairly treated kept referring to the 'suspicious bottle of ‘Valentine’s (meaning Ballantine’s)'. Dr B.K Mohapatra, a scientist who conducted DNA tests on all the evidence of what was found on the crime scene—he testified against the Talwars—had a “thick Oriya accent that confused people from the north (‘blood’, for instance, became ‘blawed’); the acting chief of CFSL lab was a “charmingly simple man”…. “He assumed, for instance, that everyone spoke and understood Bengali..“His ‘Mrs’ hadn’t arrived in Delhi.” Dr. Dohare—one of the key witnesses for the prosecution—who had conducted the autopsy is described with “thick glasses, through which his eyes seem to bulge, and a weak chin.” His accent, seem to have met with Sen’s favour. In contrast, Nupur strides into court. She is determined. Rajesh is broken.
The system is corrupt, twisted and rigged in the favour of the influential. Sen raises points and tears apart the prosecution’s case: his argument that they faked every bit of evidence. What they didn’t fake, they manipulated. The legal system in India is rotten. It is overburdened. It is opaque, it is impossible. All that is true. The question he refuses to answer is why? Wouldn’t it just have been easier for the CBI to frame charges against the servants? After all, no one seems to care about them. Not even Sen looking for the truth.
Aarushi by Avirook Sen
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs 299