Authors: Avirook Sen
Tags: #Non-Fiction, #True Crime, #Essays, #India
Vaya told Arun Kumar that there was enough material in tests done on Krishna and Rajkumar for the CBI to investigate and frame charges even without a confession. They would just have to work hard on the investigation.
There was a press outcry over Krishna being forced to take his narco tests. The media asked if the ‘confessions’ the CBI claimed to have from the servants would pass muster in court. (They wouldn’t: the only kind of confession that is legitimate is one where a magistrate records a suspect’s story under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, CrPC. This wasn’t anywhere close to happening.) Krishna’s family had also approached the National Human Rights Commission, saying he was forced to undergo invasive narco analysis and a confession was beaten out of him.
Arun Kumar’s team made some attempts to find incriminating evidence such as the cellphones of the victims, but these were unsuccessful. Kumar turned his attention to the weakest link: the tests on Vijay Mandal pointed to his being part of the crime scene, but as a witness rather than as a perpetrator. Kumar felt he could extract a statement under Section 164 from Mandal which would form the basis of the charge sheet against Krishna and Rajkumar. Mandal would get off lighter if he agreed. Kumar felt this was his best chance.
Most Indian investigators work towards getting a confession rather than investigating the case. It is the easiest way to get a conviction in court—and the laziest.
Given the nature of the media involvement, Vijay Shanker would get a number of direct inquiries about the case, even though it was being investigated by a subordinate. He told Arun Kumar to hold a press conference to clear things up.
‘I remember that there would be twenty cameras outside the CBI office,’ Vijay Shanker told me later. ‘And you know these poor television reporters, they would have to stand out in the heat all day. So I told Arun, these people come every day, why don’t you tell them about the progress, how you’re going about it. Whatever you can say. What you can’t say, you can’t say.’
On 11 July 2008, with the servants and Rajesh Talwar still in custody, Arun Kumar held a press conference. The media sought a lot of answers, and Kumar wasn’t able to provide all of them—he could not, he said, say who committed the crimes. But on the basis of the investigations till then, the CBI had found no incriminating evidence against Rajesh Talwar. Two polygraph tests were done on him and while the results of the first were ‘inconclusive’ (a technical term that means the interpreting scientist cannot draw conclusions, not a sign of guilt) the second test made it clear that the dentist was not being deceptive on any count. The CBI sought Rajesh Talwar’s release.
Arun Kumar also said that the scientific tests on the servants had opened up a new line of investigation: Krishna, Rajkumar and Vijay Mandal were suspects. With no reason for the agency to keep Rajesh Talwar in custody, the CBI applied for his release. Fifty days after he was arrested Rajesh Talwar walked out of prison.
Rajesh Talwar would later speak about those days to me and other journalists. Of the nights he spent on the floor, covering his face with a stinking sheet to keep the mosquitoes away. Of the rudimentary dental chair the jail authorities allowed him to eventually set up, where the few hours of work with patients helped him keep his tenuous hold on sanity.
But of all his experiences from that time, one incident haunts him most. While he was in custody he would be taken to court for his plea for bail. All undertrials who were to make their appearance in court that day would be handcuffed and bundled into the same vehicle. This was uncomfortable enough, but on this particular day, the police handcuffed Rajesh and Krishna together. Rajesh said he wept and pleaded with the policemen: ‘Don’t do this, this man has killed my daughter!’ Krishna didn’t respond at all. All the police said was, ‘We have only one pair of handcuffs.’
On the evening of 15 May, the Talwars’ driver Umesh had come up to the flat to deposit the car keys at 9.30 p.m. This made him the last person to have seen all four people in the house alive. The Talwars were preparing for dinner when he left. That evening Aarushi’s parents had a surprise for her. She would turn fourteen in a few days, and the digital camera Rajesh had bought online had arrived. Rajesh had ordered an extra special camera—while Aarushi’s friends all had 5 megapixel cameras, this one was 10 megapixels. The excited father wanted to hide the camera from Aarushi, and told Nupur about it. She said she wouldn’t be able to keep this little secret and the two decided to give her the camera that night.
Just as her parents had hoped, Aarushi was thrilled. She spent the rest of the evening with Rajesh and Nupur, taking pictures of her parents and herself, keeping the ones she liked, deleting the ones she didn’t. She complained that her cellphone was giving her trouble, and there was some talk of getting her a new handset. What we know is that her phone was turned off.
There could be a reason for this. There were two boys, Anmol Agarwal and Sankalp Arora, who had a crush on her and would speak with her regularly. Anmol was in her grade; Sankalp was a bit older. She had earlier had a crush on Sankalp but was now becoming a little interested in Anmol though she worried about his love for partying. In any case, these were matters that were confusing to her more than anyone else and she probably didn’t want to deal with all of that this evening. She was more excited about her camera.
Sankalp tried to contact her several times that evening, but Aarushi’s phone was switched off, and no one was picking up the landline. At school that morning, there had been talk of a bunch of them going out for a movie and lunch to one of the malls, plans that did not materialize. Aarushi wasn’t very keen—possibly because Sankalp would be there too—and told her friends, ‘I may not be there physically, but I’ll be there mentally.’ She was, however, looking forward to the bash Rajesh had organized for her on the 18th, a grand 1000-rupee-a-plate affair at the Superstar restaurant, to which many of her friends, including Anmol, had already been invited.
The Talwars ate their dinner happily that evening, and at around eleven went to their bedrooms. Hemraj had served himself his dinner too, but he never ate it, as his post-mortem later showed. Rajesh had a few things to do before retiring. He needed to confirm whether the American Dentistry Association had received a payment he had made for a fellowship, but the Internet connection was slow. He asked Nupur to go to Aarushi’s room and switch the router off and on. Nupur remembers entering Aarushi’s room, and seeing her daughter reading. What she cannot remember is whether she locked the door from the outside as she usually did. Neither was she sure where she kept the keys to Aarushi’s door that night (they would usually be kept in the parents’ bedroom). After the murder, the keys were found in the drawing room.
Shortly thereafter, Nupur fell asleep. Rajesh was on the phone till a little after 11.30 p.m.; Nupur’s brother had called. When Rajesh was done, he too fell asleep.
Half an hour later Anmol Agarwal, having failed to reach Aarushi on her cellphone, tried one of the Talwars’ landlines—one that he usually spoke to Aarushi on. The handset and its base were kept in the parents’ bedroom, with its ringer volume turned down at night. Anmol’s call, a little after midnight, went unanswered.
Nupur Chitnis and Rajesh Talwar had met as students in Delhi’s Maulana Azad Medical College in the mid-1980s. They fell in love and were married in an unusual ceremony in 1989. Rajesh was of Punjabi stock, Nupur was Maharashtrian, so two pandits came and struck a compromise. They got married at midday instead of the customary morning or evening. Aarushi arrived on 24 May 1994, after five years of trying to conceive, and, to Rajesh, her gender was irrelevant. He doted on her.
Rajesh’s dad was a prominent Delhi doctor, and Rajesh remembers his childhood as being happy. He had a few problems adjusting to school early on, but then settled down to become a very good student. His elder brother Dinesh was a constant protective presence.
Bhalachandra Chitnis, Nupur Talwar’s dad, was an air force officer. His postings took him to various places. Nupur grew up as a reserved and collected little girl—qualities that would remain. Chitnis did a stint in London, when Nupur was about six, and remembers a spell when his wife Lata was away in India, and it was just him and Nupur. ‘Even at that age, she was extremely considerate. She would never ask for anything. And I don’t remember seeing her cry unless she was physically hurt.’
Because of her father’s transfers, Nupur went to various schools. ‘She was always very straight-talking, and insisted on correctness. If the teacher said “matchbox”, for instance, she would say it was “a box of matches”. When they said “have a glass of water”, she would reply “I’ll have a drink of water”,’ remembers her father. One could call this childish or pedantic, or both, but it showed a certain assertiveness—a trait for which she was both admired and respected within the family. The other little girls all wanted to be like Nupur. When Aarushi’s body was discovered and Rajesh was lost and helpless, banging his head against the wall, it was Nupur who informed their friends.
Any reasonable background check on the Talwars tells you that they were a snug, happy unit. This is the opinion of all those who know them. These are the people who don’t authoritatively describe them as depraved and degenerate. Aarushi has left behind a fair amount of proof of what her life was like with her parents. A Mother’s Day card to Nupur four days before she was murdered says: ‘Mom . . . what should I say. . . You are the B.E.S.T. . . . We have had a gazillion fights, a million “I will never talk to you”. But after all u r the one who will always be there for me.’
The ease of communication in the family can be seen by the way that Aarushi, who was often dropped or picked up from school by the rotund Rajesh, teasingly threatened her father that she would forbid him from coming to her school unless he went to the gym and shed some pounds like the other dads. She would write, in school essays and cards to her parents, about humorous and happy things that happened in the family when she was an infant. Like the time Nupur slipped on the stairs while carrying her: ‘My father just took me with him and forgot my mom . . . Then we found that my mom had a broken leg and I was fine with not even a scratch!!!’ There were parties and holidays with friends like the Durranis. Trips to Kasauli and Manali and a memorable one to Singapore and Malaysia a year before her death.
Her demands from Santa on her last Christmas distils who she was:
Merry Christmas to you. I know you will be tired from running here and there giving children what they wanted but I want something totally different. I want the well-being of my family. I want no harm to reach them. Please fulfill my wish. My second wish is that I want my parents to always be with me and my friends too!!
My third wish is a bit silly—I WANT A DOG. Not from you but from my parents. I wish they agree!!!
‘He didn’t fulfil even one of her wishes, did he . . . ?’ Rajesh asked plaintively as he and Nupur recounted their memories to me in their flat in Delhi.
The Talwars had reason to be proud of their daughter. ‘She was always in the first three in her class, first, second or third . . . Below that was too much to handle for her,’ Nupur said.
In an essay about her schooldays, Aarushi berated herself for slipping from 92 per cent in one year to 89 in the next. She got her precious scholar badges every year, and having done so consistently well over three years, she was awarded a blue scholar blazer by the school.
She was intensely proud of this, but Nupur said, ‘She never used to wear it . . . She’d say she wanted to be like everybody else.’
Yes, there were boys. But having a boyfriend at thirteen or fourteen did not mean physical intimacy; that was something Aarushi’s schedule did not allow in any case, going from school straight to her grandparents’, and then to her own home when her parents returned home for the day. Having a boyfriend was, instead, a gauge of popularity, something played out in polls and other means on social media networks. It wasn’t as if the parents didn’t know about the boys. They were protective—Rajesh a little more so—and often insisted that she went out with her friends in the company of at least one adult, but there were times they gave in. She would go through the highs and lows of puppy love like any other teenager from the same milieu, but her biggest, most serious crush, Nupur told me smiling, was on Johnny Depp.
‘We had a tree growing outside, a big tree. So she used to call it Johnny Depp. And every night it would be “Good night Johnny Depp”. This was a ritual in our house. In school she was asked to write about her room, so she wrote that she had this tree and she called it Johnny Depp, and her teacher sent it to every class to be read out . . . She must have been in class six or seven.’
We were sitting in the drawing room of the Talwars’ South Delhi flat. Nupur across from me, Rajesh to my right, Aarushi on every wall. It was 24 November 2013, the day before the court judgement, and our conversation was subdued. I had interviewed the Talwars many times and was having trouble thinking of new questions to ask.
I chose to just listen. In the past, Nupur usually spoke when she had a point to make, and she seemed to relish the tough questions. I remembered asking her earlier about the strain the murders might have put on her relationship with her husband. Did it ever cross her mind that he might have done it? She’d looked me in the eye and said that if she had even a decimal point of a doubt, she would have led the way to prosecute Rajesh. Her daughter had been murdered, what possible reason could there be to protect her killer?
Nupur would always look people in the eye—and this troubled some—but today, I found her looking away a lot. Rajesh went through his usual cycle of indignation and despair—his pitch would rise as he spoke of injustice, he was often close to tears, and then he would become quiet and stare blankly, perhaps at a future that was bewilderingly real and inconceivable all at once.