Sunday, November 8, 2015

Talk at Vidyaranya School - Avirook Sen

I attended a talk by journalist and bestselling author of 'Aarushi'. Avirook Sen, at Vidyaranya school yesterday evening. It was organised by Manthan and was well attended with over a hundred people present. Avirook spoke on his book 'Aarushi', his experiences during the trial and why he wrote the book.
Somewhere in the haze stands Avirook
Avirook spoke well - he has so much content to talk about he can go on for days. But he had to deal with an audience that may not have read the book yet - so I felt he tried to balance the talk without going too deep into technicalities. I do wish he'd unfolded the story a bit as it happened so we hear it like a story - more so since most don't know the sequence of events - the importance of the door, the initial bungling in the investigations etc. He kept it light, laughing at himself, the system and our attitudes. On a serious note Avirook threw up some questions which bothered him and which he felt could have been answered. He said he has faith in the system. However he feels questions should be asked by society - as a correction mechanism. After all the system exists for the society.
Birla Mandir at night
Apart from the many interesting facts he mentioned about the case (which are written in the book) a couple of other things he mentioned were - how a person was arrested in Mumbai for drinking chai suspiciously and is serving a sentence now, and another about how police tried to crack a case involving the murder of a rationalist in Pune through a seance. Avirook spoke of how experts do not much have the exposure or expertise to investigate, deal with or present a case and cited the case of how vague some of the ideas were about DNA. The core theme - it can just go bad to worse if we believe in the expertise of experts because the procedures and processes they apply have no integrity or accountability. There are huge biases that creep into their decision making processes and judgements. And one one side technology is growing at a rate we cannot handle and on the other we have systems that are not equipped to cope with all the evidence presented. Not equipped is forgiveable but not following procedure and worse, manipulating it, is not. The case of switching labels on the key evidence in the Aarushi case, and then correcting it when pointed out - evidence that was being handled by the CBI and its forensic wing and on which hung evidence of the guilt of someone else and perhaps the innocence of Talwars is a glaring example.

My good friend and ace lawyer, photographer and man of many parts, Pramod Reddy who was in the audience commented about the OJ Simpson case and its similarity to Aarushi's case in many ways. The public scrutiny, media trial, salacious bits and pieces that are not related to the case that mislead public opinion and cause bias - both had similarities. I got my copy signed by Avirook and we were on our way.

It was a first time at Vidyaranya for me so I enjoyed being on the premises of this lovely school. I got directions from Jaleel just in case! There is a lovely view of the Birla mandir from the school grounds.

It was great meeting Pramod after a long time and discussing his views on both cases - OJ and Aarushi. We were deep in conversation when we were waylaid by a young man who butted in straight, edged me out and spoke to Pramod for a while without a moment's hesitation. How he does it I wonder? I'd love to do that too. On the way out we found Avirook heading alone for his car too and chatted him up a  bit - before we were waylaid again by another heavy who told us about how many books he reads. Fascinating stuff. It cut off some talking time with Avirook who was nice enough to offer us a ride if we did not have one. I wondered why the organisers let him off on his own without anyone walking him to his car. He did look like someone who was chilled out enough to have an Irani chai. And I do like his sense of humour.

Ramaraju completely loved the talk.

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