THE SOFTEST BUBBLE OF ALL
The Talwars were one of the lucky Indians living inside the country’s expanding bubble of middle class urban life. They were successful professionals who lived with their pretty teen daughter outside New Delhi in UP’s Noida city. They employed a cook, a maid and a driver. Rajesh, 46, is a dental surgeon from a Punjabi family. Nupur, 45, is an orthodontist from a Maharashtrian family. Based in Delhi, Rajesh’s father had been a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon while his mother was a homemaker. Nupur’s father had been a Group Captain in the Air Force who often moved his family from post to post. Both the Talwars had grown up squarely middle class in an insolvent India, and had designed their adult lives to mobilise their fortunes — in both senses of the word — to provide a better life for their Aarushi in a solvent India.
The pair had fallen in love at Delhi’s premier Maulana Azad Medical College and married, with easy familial consent, in a ceremony with both Punjabi and Maharashtrian pundits. Nineteen years after their inter-community marriage, they were shocked that the media alleged they’d killed their daughter because of her imagined romance.
Rajesh is a mild man, quick to get emotional, a rabbit somewhat lost in the circus he and his family have got trapped in. He swings between being nonplussed and indignant about the authorities’ and media’s smears against them. Nupur is an army kid, more measured and reserved in her reactions, a resolutely tough hedgehog without any airs. Both are fiercely protective of each other.
Rajesh and Nupur practised together at their Noida clinic along with their friend Anita Durrani, at their Hauz Khas clinic and at Fortis hospital. After more than a decade of intense work, they’d finally begun to feel a plateau of success. Rajesh had been heading Fortis’ dental department. He also taught at a college.
Why was the CBI’s first team changed, especially after announcing it was about to chargesheet the culprits?
Their life had been their work — there is no time off for serious doctors trying to build a practice — until Aarushi arrived, and then their life had been their work and their child. They were delighted with their girl child and had no yearnings for a boy instead. They had a few close friends and a small social life. 2008 had begun well. Rajesh had just become one of the first people from north India zone to clear a prestigious qualification from the American Academy of Implant Dentistry — for oral implantology. To celebrate, in March the Talwars had thrown their first proper house party in a decade.
And they had just begun a new phase of enjoying life with a daughter who was entering her teens. Rajesh doted on her. For the birthday she never saw, he’d got her a Sony 10-megapixel camera, something much better than she had asked for. Every Saturday father and daughter would lunch together since he’d get off work early. The weekend before her murder, they’d trawled about a dozen places before paying an advance at Superstar, a local restaurant for Aarushi to throw her upcoming birthday bash. This year, Aarushi had said, she wanted to just celebrate with her friends and wanted her parents to swing by only later. Rajesh chokes up at the memory.
The Talwars also had the piquantly old-meets-newworld arrangement of being a nuclear family with benefits, living with the support system of relatives and friends in the neighbourhood. Their friends, Praful and Anita Durrani, were practically family who lived close to them and had a daughter the same age as Aarushi. The Talwars moved from Delhi to Noida a few days after Aarushi’s birth just to be closer to Nupur’s parents, and shared parenting timetables with them and the Durranis.
In their Delhi home, to which they relocated in 2009 about a year after the tragedy, Rajesh and Nupur have recreated Aarushi’s bedroom. Her books are in her shelf, her photos are on the walls, her desk is arranged and her stuffed Bart Simpson squats at the top of her bed. Every room has small and poster-size images of Aarushi. The Talwars look much younger in these photos.
Rajesh and Nupur have suffered a ruin everyone in the middle class dreads, no one expects. Their child vanished, and with her the life they’d built. The police and the CBI arrived, and with them came a new life accorded by a clumsily scathing State. The media hunted, and with it came original and fantastic judgements upon their lives. And now, finally, a cleaver-wielding youth appeared and tore into Rajesh’s face and his delicate surgeon’s hands, belching up the schizophrenia — let’s allow that easy journalese word — always lurking inside our peaceful bubbles.