“You are a lawyer, will you moderate the discussion we intend to have with Avirook Sen,” asked Upasana in our weekly meeting. I should be able to do that, I thought to myself. I had read the book almost as soon as it was published and had a fairly strong opinion about the case and the book. Reading the book again for this interaction left me with even more questions than the first time around. I prepared myself for a sombre discussion with the author. But the minute he walked into the room, that thought went flying out of the window. Avirook Sen walked in wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and a look of complete ease. He was there at our event with his father, “I needed my father by my side given the number of women here,” he joked.
We observed a minute’s silence before we started the discussion. “I was particularly moved by this gesture. I have attended so many discussions surrounding this book and not one place thought of doing this,” he said. “Well, we are all mothers first,” came the reply. I started by asking him about how he came to be a journalist and his answer was rather interesting. “It was by sheer accident,” he said. “Being born into a Bengali household, academics was given a lot of emphasis, however, I wasn’t the best of students. I sat staring at the JEE paper and wondered to myself what I was doing with my life. From there I stumbled upon writing and then journalism.”
Kanchana Banerjee, an avid reader, a writer herself whose book is being published in 2016 by Harper Collins had this observation to make, “In the last year and half that I’ve been in Gurgaon, after moving from Mumbai, albeit very grudgingly; I have attended many literary events organized by GurgaonMoms Book Club. The enterprising ladies do a marvellous job of organizing interesting book events which gives us the opportunity to interact with authors. This event was something different, given the nature of the case. It needs no preamble, the case has flummoxed and grieved us for about 8-9 years now. Who killed the 13 year Arushi Talwar and the domestic help Hemraj? As parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar languish in jail, a young life snuffed out much before her time, maligned and tainted memory; this is what nightmares are made up of. Who is the guilty one? Did the parents commit the heinous and horrific crime or were they mere convenient scapegoats for the unscrupulous government agencies who wanted to sign off the case at the earliest? Many in the gathering had lots to ask and contribute; obviously they had been following the case very closely. In a group of moms, it wouldn’t be out of place to expect a very passionate and from-the-heart reaction to the case. This isn’t a book that you’ll read, forget, and move on. Not because of its literary value but because of the case itself.”
Talking about the book, we asked him why he chose to write this story in particular. He spoke about hoe it was his then editor who pushed him to attend all the hearings at the Ghaziabad Court premise and cover the story extensively. “She saw a story in this sordid tale,” he recounts. “Once I started attending the hearings I just got sucked into it deeper and deeper. He shared with us so many instances that left us questioning the systems we are part of. Avirook shared with us one incident where a group of miscreants in broad daylight entered the court premise and shot a witness, injured a constable and walked away scot free. He emphasised on how through his dealings with the system the Court in itself took on the role of a character in his mind.
As a group of mothers our interest in Nupur Talwar was only but natural. Nupur Talwar has been painted in a rather unfavourable light thanks to the media. We wanted to understand from Avirook, given his interactions with the family what he thought of her. “She is a very assertive woman, and that too many of us is an issue.” He asked us all to replay the interviews with Nupur and listen to them as opposed to watching them. He asked us to then question these notions that we have formed of her.
Anupama Jain, one of our most active members online when asked about what she thought about the book discussion and the author said, “ It was interesting to hear the behind the scenes narrative – a story that has gripped like nothing else. Frankly speaking, he has managed not to scar even after witnessing scum, a supreme ability to switch off. A very tuff attribute for any seasoned writer.”
Avirook Sen, with his sense of humour managed to infuse more than a few laughs into an occasion which one assumed was going to be all serious. “It’s important to keep that sense of humour intact. Difficult to deal with life otherwise,” he said as he concluded the discussion.