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COVER STORY

Suffering made us fully human

Savouring freedom: Rajesh and Nupur Talwar after they came out of prison.

FOLLOWING THE INVESTIGATION, trial, and, finally, conviction, we were sent to Dasna Jail [in Uttar Pradesh] in November 2013. The first thing that strikes you upon entering the jail is how many people there are. It was a pleasant surprise that both the jail officials and the inmates welcomed us with sympathy. Having suffered harsh investigations, court battles and the media glare, we felt immediately loved in jail.

The jail is, of course, overcrowded, probably holding three times its capacity. The constant noise and hubbub get to you. Cleanliness is an issue, as are the overpowering smells. We were faced with many other hardships. But we did feel the warmth of the people inside. The loss of Aarushi and the loss of self-esteem because of the erroneous judgment were very hard for us. Life had no meaning left. We spent many nights gazing at the sky and asking: why, why, why? But, no answer came. Probably, as we learnt later, that was a bad question.

Under these circumstances, our only option was to seek the help of God, and we tried to connect with our spiritual master, Shirdi Sai Baba, hoping to change our outlook towards life. From there came the desire to help and ease the suffering of other inmates. And that is how we began to help out in the dental clinic of the jail hospital, in accordance with Baba’s teachings of sewa.

There was already a basic facility, and with the help of ITS Dental College, Muradnagar, we got better equipment, materials and other facilities in the clinic to provide the inmates with improved dental care. The jail officials were very helpful and supportive.

The dental clinic became a much-appreciated endeavour, since there were many who were suffering from dental pain. Rajesh got a lot of patients, and soon he became friendly with many of them, and they looked upon him as some kind of godfather. He would listen patiently and offer advice and whatever help he could.

I then started to see a little of dear Aarushi in other young girls. I began to feel like a mother once again.

In 2015, after two years of being in Dasna, we were becoming pessimistic and losing hope of coming out because of the backlog of cases. That is when a Sikh gentleman from the US, a complete stranger whom we call our happiness messenger, entered our lives. Since then, we started getting a new purpose and meaning in life. He had read Avirook Sen’s book and was very moved by it.

I vividly recall the first time he visited us in Dasna. He introduced us to the beauty of the gurbani (compositions by Sikh gurus) and the power of ardas (prayers). Then, I could not really understand or grasp much, but something inside me stirred; I got a feeling of positivity and fresh hope. He started visiting more frequently. We started exchanging letters. Rajesh and I wrote long letters to him expressing our feelings, and he, in turn, counselled, supported and advised us on how to cope with the situation. During these visits he took us through more gurbani, and soon the words of the Guru pierced our hearts, took away the sadness, and there emerged a new feeling. One of hope and faith.

Our happiness messenger and the gurbani became our mainstay, our lifeline. He also instructed us on the science of happiness and positive psychology. He helped us understand that happiness comes from within. One can be happy even in the most adverse circumstances.

With this understanding, we soon felt that the heart and mind were becoming lighter, despite all the hardships and struggle of jail. There emerged in us a new hope, and the dark clouds in our lives seemed to be disappearing. It was at this time that we vowed to continue to offer our dental services to the jail inmates after being released. And today, we continue to go there on a regular basis.

Days passed, and one day, the first ray of sunshine pierced through. I was granted parole by the Allahabad High Court to take care of my parents, who were old, ailing and completely broken. While on parole, the Sikh gentleman took me to the Sis Ganj Gurdwara in Old Delhi many times, and to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to offer our gratitude to the Guru.

It was at the Sis Ganj Gurdwara that I felt a deep connection with the Guru. My heart and soul were lifted, and I felt the strong and beautiful presence of lovely Aarushi giving me unspeakable joy! Here, Shirdi Sai Baba’s teachings and messages were also always flowing through the beautiful shabads (hymns).

I carried this fragrance of Aarushi back to Dasna. To my surprise, I then started to see a little of dear Aarushi in other young girls. I began to feel like a mother once again. I learnt Gurmukhi and felt more connected to the gurbani and the Guru. Things began to look up, now that our appeal was taken up. The hearing lasted for nearly a year, finally the truth emerged, and we were acquitted. We had spent nearly four years in jail.

Nobody would want to be in jail. But, that is where the sadness and pain of having lost our dear Aarushi broke open our hearts. We were given the courage to touch our own pain and suffering which evoked empathy for the pain and suffering of others. Our suffering and their suffering had become the same. And this made us fully human.

We understand now that life is not about wanting, possessing, accomplishing and getting. It is about gratitude, of interconnectedness, of watching how nature does things and of accepting God’s will, whether he gives imprisonment or freedom. Helping and bringing peace to others in turn reduces our own sadness.

Jail is jail, and, there, within its four walls, with all the accompanying difficulties, problems and hardships, what can emerge, as it did for us, is a deep connection with a spiritual source that has made us stronger and given us a feeling of peace and a sense of being protected.

We are learning to accept the loss of our dear Aarushi, and we pray for sweet memories of her.

Nupur Talwar and her husband Rajesh were accused of murdering their daughter Aarushi and servant Hemraj Banjade in 2008. In 2013, they were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2017, they were acquitted by the Allahabad High Court. On August 10, the Supreme Court admitted the CBI’s appeal against their acquittal.