27 nov 2013
He was the friend Aarushi spoke to most
Noida/New Delhi: He was 14 when he first met her at an after-school tuition class in Noida.
“She was sweet. I liked her smile and the way she talked to me,” he says, standing at a parking lot near his house.
The girl he would come to know well was Aarushi Talwar. He met her a month before she was found dead in her bedroom in her family’s apartment in Noida.
In the weeks after that, he was interrogated by the police and the CBI. His privacy was invaded by relentless reporters and their intrusive cameras, no allowances made for the fact that he was just a boy trying to grapple with the crushing fact that his friend had been killed.
Today, he says, he wants to talk about her. It has been five years since she died. He is 19, a student of Delhi University. He doesn’t want his name to be revealed, but he wants the world to remember her as he does.
“I didn’t know at first that she was in my school. But I showed interest and soon figured out she studied in the 9th grade of DPS Noida, I was then in class 10. She was reserved at first. She did not open up to me immediately, but she had a positive vibe. We got talking.”
Soon, they began spending a lot of time together. In school, after class, and with groups of friends to the large malls nearby where they would watch movies, making it a point to be home before their curfew.
Aarushi was found with her throat slit in her bed on May 2008, just two weeks before her 14th birthday. Hemraj was missing from the room that he slept in at the Talwar home.
“I never went to her house but she seemed to have a normal relationship with her parents like other kids. There were no major restrictions on her,” says her friend.
He says they would usually speak to each other every night going to bed, logging long hours and plenty of text messages on their cellphones, like so many other kids in their school.
On the night of May 15, she didn’t pick up.
“I went to school on the 16th hoping to talk to her, since I couldn’t the night before. It was our last day of school just before summer vacations. But as soon as I reached, a friend who lived near Aarushi’s house came up to me and told me Aarushi was dead.”
The friend then corrected herself – “She has been murdered.”
He looked immediately for some confirmation that she was wrong, that the school grapevine was buzzing, as it so often did, with half-truths, or exaggerated misinformation.
“I called up another friend, but the moment she picked I could only hear her sobbing. She repeated the same words. I went to the 9th grade classroom and saw most of her friends were crying. I couldn’t handle it. I went into shock, and called my mother to come and pick me up immediately.”
Within hours, his name and phone number had been leaked to the media by the Noida Police, which said he had called Aarushi the most in recent weeks.
He skipped school for a few days, but his bedroom offered limited sanctuary.
“One day my father picked up my phone, and the woman on the other end said she was calling from a private channel and that he was on air and would have to answer questions live on television. I had to change my number shortly after that. Because not just journalists, even random people were calling up as my number had gone public.”
On May 20, he decided he would not miss a prayer ceremony organised for Aarushi at the local community centre.
“As soon as I got out of the car, someone shouted my name, saying ‘look, there he is!’ My friends just surrounded me and rushed in to the hall, saving me from the TV cameras.”
Five days after Aarushi’s murder, the Noida Police arrived at his home at 7 am. They ordered him to accompany him to the police station.
His father was at the golf course. His mother argued that as a minor, he could not be taken away without a parent. But the boy was bundled into a jeep.
“There were seven cops. And just my mom trying to stop them. I got a little scared and thought it’s best to comply, so I got in the car.”
For the next eight hours, he was not allowed to answer his cell phone, nor were his parents informed about where he was being held. “They were trying to scare me a little. They made inquiries about my relationship with Aarushi. But otherwise they were fine with me, they gave me food and time to rest in between questioning.”
By that evening, word reached senior police officials that he had been kept at a police station and interrogated without either of his parents. He was taken to meet a senior cop – he does not want to say who or where – and was urged not to reveal “the episode.”
On May 31, exactly a fortnight after Aarushi died, the case was transferred to the CBI. He was interrogated again, but this time, the law was followed. His parents were present as he answered how well he had known Aarushi, whether she had discussed her relationship with her parents. Through the grim prism of how it had ended, he relived the month that they had spent getting to know each other.
At Delhi University, he says, many students know of his association with Aarushi. Many are not shy of asking him what really happened. He says his answer is always the same. “I really don’t know. And I don’t want to guess either. Let the court decide.”
Sometimes, he says, he revisits the notes he wrote in his diary in the days after Aarushi died. This entry he wants to share: “I still cry nearly every day thinking you are no more in this world. I sat today at the park alone where we used to go after our science tuition, remembering all that we did there. …I’m overjoyed even though the time was brief.”