Dr Rohit Kochar, a denist who taught alongside Dr Rajesh Talwar, appeared in court for the remaining part of his cross-examination on Wednesday. Kochar didn't make any startling revelations, but over the last week, a series of witnesses who knew the Talwars well have deposed—as witnesses for the prosecution.
This is necessary in the interest of justice, but "friends" would ideally not want to be in this position. The dynamics at play in the courtroom thus changed quite dramatically—for everyone involved. After 'strangers' such as the post-mortem doctor, a forensic scientist, a morning walker and a forgetful photographer, came the turn of people who were part of the Talwars' lives in one way or another, from a time before the murders they are on trial for.
Dr Kochar and Dr Talwar, for instance, had known each other for less than a year but had become friendly enough to meet for drinks and dinner every Thursday. In fact, on the evening of the 15 May 2008, a Thursday, their weekly appointment was on, till Dr Kochar called to cancel.
Aarushi and Hemraj would be killed not long after this. Dr Kochar and his wife would rush to the Talwars's NOIDA flat early next morning, the moment they heard the teenager had been murdered.
Dr Rajiv Varshney, another teaching colleague, arrived some time after Kochar. He, too, knew Rajesh Talwar well enough to drop everything and reach the Talwar home to offer support.
For the prosecution, the value of Kochar and Varshney's testimonies lies in the fact that both say Rajesh Talwar took a few steps toward the terrace once it was known that their were blood stains on its lock and door, but that he returned immediately to his flat. Kochar has said that Dr Talwar was asked for the keys, but these never arrived. This is why the CBI applied to record Kochar and Varshney's statements under section 164 of the CrPC during the investigation. Recorded by a magistrate, the aim of this procedure is to hold the witness to account for a testimony, and prevent him from changing it in court.
According to the CBI, the depositions of the two doctors suggest Dr Talwar deliberately avoided opening the terrace door: he knew that Hemraj's body would be found. The defence denies all of this.
The Ghaziabad special court hearing the case is about the size of the 'H' in the standard '3BHK' of real estate advertisements: it puts very little physical distance between combatants. From all accounts, the two dentists who have appeared for the prosecution, exchanged polite but awkward greetings with the Talwars. During the actual proceedings in this court, however, witnesses face the judge and have their backs to the accused.
Puneesh Tandon, the witness who preceded Kochar and Varhsney, was different: he was a neighbor who lived a floor below.
He told the court that he had known the Talwars since 1996-97. That Rajesh and he were active in the upkeep of the common areas in their cluster of flats. He had seen Aarushi since she was a toddler, but only as they "passed each other on the stairs". In a curious statement made earlier to investigators, Tandon had said the Talwars were a notch above his family socially—he was from a "defence background"—so they didn't really interact much.
Puneesh's father, Avinash Rai Tandon, was a vice admiral in the Indian Navy, and now lives in a lakefront home in the resort of Naukuchiataal. Nupur Talwar's dad, Balchandra Chitnis, took early retirement as a group captain (several rungs below vice-admiral in armed forces rank) from the Air Force; he lives in NOIDA.
Being the Talwars' neighbour could not have been easy after the murders. The media was all over anyone remotely connected, and the Tandons bore the brunt. The CBI was no less interested.
The agency questioned Tandon on several occasions, including at a "safe house". His father, the retired vice-admiral, accompanied him to these sessions at least once. It doesn't take much to work out that the Tandons would like to put some distance between themselves and the case.
Last week, outisde court, vice-admiral Tandon asked a CBI officer when his son's role would be over. Inside, Puneesh Tandon never once made eye-contact with Rajesh or Nupur Talwar.
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Currently a visiting fellow at INSEAD, France, Avirook Sen has been a journalist and writer for over 20 years. A former resident editor of Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and editor of Mid-Day, he has written with passion and insight on subjects as varied as sport and terrorism for top publications across the world. His first book, Looking for America, was published in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org