Thursday 27 August 2015

An Interview With A Wiccan, An Author And A Lawyer

Deepta Roy Chakraverti’s is a Wiccan, an author and a lawyer, all rolled into one. A few weeks ago, I had reviewed her book, “Bhangarh to Bedlam - Haunted Encounters”. Those who have read my review would know what Wicca means and how Deepta’s mother Ipsita is an established practitioner of this newly revived ancient religion. What would be of great interest to many of my readers is that Deepta is a corporate lawyer who obtained an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Delhi University and went on to do her undergrad law degree from Kings College, London and now works for an oil and gas major in Kolkata. I managed to persuade Deepta to answer a few questions about herself, Wicca and her book for the benefit of Winnowed’s readers.

Winnowed: Have you been interested and involved in Wicca from birth?

Deepta: I think Wicca happened to me very naturally and gradually. I remember, as a very young child, being aware of Ipsita’s books, her papers and her work. I would come home from school, and spend time in her study, where as long as I was quiet, I could sit there and go through some of her papers. I remember the glow of the silk shaded lamps, the glint of crystal and the red roses strewn in crystal bowls. A beautiful combination of the monastic, the scholarly and the aesthetic which appeals to the senses. I think that what Wicca is, seeped into me, through the way of life and Ipsita’s attitude to what happens in the world around us. Wicca is about strength, about dignity and about the individual. It is an ancient branch of learning, which delves into esoteric lore of old, into comparative religion, anthropology , and much more. It is about a perspective which delves into the unexplained, without the blinkers of superstition. And it is that whole which came within me from an early age.

Winnowed: Let’s forget Wicca for a bit. When did you become interested in the Law? When did you decide to become a lawyer?

Deepta: Perhaps I first thought of Law when I was completing my Mathematics degree at Delhi University. That’s when I applied to a couple of law schools abroad and started my course of legal studies.
What made me go into the study of law? I think there were two very strong individuals who I had grown up hearing about and who influenced my decision to go into law. And even though I myself had never met them (they had passed away earlier) their imprint remains as strong today as in their lifetimes. One of them was Nisith Chandra Sen, my great grandfather. He was a renowned criminal barrister, who was feared and regarded equally. I grew up hearing about how at the time of the freedom movement, he would fight for the downtrodden and those the administration of the day tried to choke off. He was a rebel, a fighter, and the British authorities of the day were afraid of him. They had no control over him, and they could not buy him off with a peerage.
The other remarkable person who I feel influenced my decision to go into law, was the enigmatic Carlotta (written about in Ipsita’s ‘Beloved Witch’). She was the one who initiated Ipsita into the Wiccan way, many decades ago in a chalet in the Laurentians in Canada. Carlotta was a lawyer who had studied law in Madrid. Her husband was high ranking officer in the Spanish army and came from a political background. They were living in Montreal at that time. She was, apart from being a lawyer, a scholar of the esoteric and ancient traditions of the world. I remember hearing about her, and seeing a few black and white photographs. Her strength, her scholarship, and her compassion. My mother’s Teacher. When I looked at her picture, and when I heard about her, I felt tangibly as if Carlotta’s knowledge was living on through Ipsita’s teachings.

Winnowed: Would you say you are a different lawyer on account of your practice of Wicca or are you just another corporate lawyer among the hundreds of Indian corporate lawyers?

Deepta: Is a Buddhist a different lawyer because he or she follows that path? Is a follower of the Sufi way a different lawyer because he or she is a Sufi ?

Winnowed: Point taken. Which year did you complete your law degree and what did you do after that?

Deepta: At the time I went to study law, I had just completed a first degree in Mathematics Hons from Delhi University. I graduated with an LLB Hons from King’s College London in 2005. After that I worked for a few months in the area of film production. Then I worked briefly at a law firm in London. Then I joined an FMCG in India. Then I switched to an oil and energy major – where I am currently.

Winnowed: What’s your average working day like? Does Wicca have any space in it?

Deepta: Wicca is the way I live my life. It is not something one can switch on/off. It is part of the person I am.

Winnowed: What’s your average week-end like? Does Wicca have any space in it?

Deepta: I love Sunday evenings- that’s when we (usually) have our Wiccan Brigade meetings led by our Teacher Ipsita. We do out study, our discussions, and come together. Throughout the week, all of us in the Brigade lead our day to day lives. The members are of all ages and from all walks of life. Some are 25, and some are 65. Some are in academia, some are in medicine, some are in finance, some are engineers, and many more. Some have large families and some are single. But we are all together and part of the Wiccan way in the gurukul system of old, a bond which perhaps was forged many lifetimes ago and still endures. We walk together on this path, which is a quest.

Winnowed: You are based in Kolkata. You have worked in Delhi and London. Do you miss either of these places? Are you at a disadvantage because you are in Kolkata?

Deepta: Let me put it this way. The Wiccan Brigade and Ipsita’s classes are based in Kolkata. As far as I’m concerned, this is the centre of my world!

Winnowed: Do you have any advice for budding lawyers/law students who may want to explore Wicca or other similar belief systems?

Deepta: As I see it, a belief system does not have anything to do with your profession. It impacts who you are as a person, and your perspective generally. But how can it change your skills in say law, or engineering or accountings, or medicine or any other profession?
Any advice? I would say, always have a mind which is free and unencumbered by conditioning. Think your own thoughts. Draw your own conclusions. Explore. Don’t follow. Lead.

Winnowed: How do colleagues in the legal fraternity look upon your Wiccan identity?

Deepta: There is interest, and sometimes there is curiosity. I think many lawyers appreciate the academic aspects of Wicca and the learning which goes into it. The fearlessness with which one looks at new ideas and new perspectives. The overcoming of conditioning. The spirit of adventure.

Winnowed: Do you find that people view your area of research (the supernatural) as ‘irrational’? Given that you are qualified with two very orthodox degrees (mathematics from Delhi University and law from King’s College London) , what do you feel about it?

Deepta: I think it is mostly superstition and fear of the unknown which makes people call the supernatural irrational. Almost like a defence mechanism. Perhaps even a lack of awareness. If you look at it, in the west, we have scientists from NASA, experimenting (successfully) with spirit orb photography. We have string theory of physics which talks of parallel dimensions. We have researchers from universities in Berlin and Southamptom, who are delving into survival of consciousness after death. And in India – we have superstition and fear.

Winnowed: You had some trouble with your publisher and you had to find a new publisher. What happened?

Deepta: I was shocked when a south Kolkata mall threatened and bullied the first publishers (Alchemy) into withdrawing the book in April this year. In fact, I couldn’t believe it when Alchemy wrote the mall an apology along with notice of their withdrawing the book! This was all against the backdrop of the mall not having read the story. I had referred to newspaper clipping which named the mall, in context of certain tragic accidents which have taken place there in recent times, and whereas the mall had not objected to national dailies reporting on it, they reacted to my book and wanted to stop it. Their management later admitted the same to the press, that they had not read the story.
When Life Positive Books took up this book, they did so completely. The mall had again written to them (Life Positive), but this time, the book was supported fully by the publishers.
When the book was withdrawn under pressure from the mall, Kolkata’s youth erupted in outrage, and this movement, “right to read” garnered tremendous support. Social media went wild, and I was deluged by people writing in to me, in support. The press in most major cities covered this news, but in Kolkata it was silent. Given that the mall is a big business conglomerate, there was much speculation amongst the people in Kolkata as to why the press in the city did not cover the issue.
The book was formally launched by Life Positive at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi on 15th July. Within a week of the launch, the book was rushed into first reprint! Then on 9th August, there was a city launch at the Taj Bengal in Kolkata, hosted by The Wiccan Brigade. The book was sold out at major retail outlets in Kolkata within about 5 days of supply!
I believe this book has a strange destiny of its own.

Winnowed: Is South City Mall one of your favourite haunts? Do you still go there?

Deepta: Oh yes, I definitely go to South City Mall. It is unfortunate that South City has such a tragic past and has seen so many deaths. In January 2014, newspapers reported a horrible accident where one worker was killed and three injured when a stairway from which they were hanging up banners suddenly collapsed. In June 2013, a young autistic girl fell to her death from the 20th floor of one of the high residential towers of South City. In August 2012, a woman with her two daughters jumped off the 35th floor of one of the residential towers there. In October the same year, a man jumped to his death from the 30th floor of one of the towers. In January 2012, a young man in his 30’s jumped to his death from the residential towers. The Hindustan Times Kolkata called it the “death parade of South City” (in article ‘Girl jumps to death from South City’, June 18, 2013 , Hindustan Times Kolkata). And to come to present times, just a few weeks ago, in August 2015, newspapers reported how the blood splattered body of a young 25 year old man was found in the parking lot of South City mall. So many deaths, so much blood. It is a place which has seen much tragedy.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Book Review: Aarushi by Avirook Sen

The Madeline McCann Kidnapping took place in Portugal around eight years ago and the then four year old remains untraced even now. A few months after Madeline disappeared, the Portuguese police declared that Madeline’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were suspects in her disappearance. The police theory was that Kate and Gerry, British doctors who were visiting Portugal when Madeline disappeared, had accidentally killed Madeline and had hidden her body. At that point in time I was living and working in London. During a casual conversation with a colleague, an Englishman who did not have much faith in the Portuguese police force, I suggested that it was possible the Portuguese police were right, that the McCanns may have accidentally killed their daughter and then hidden her body to avoid punishment. I could make out that my colleague was staggered to hear my views, though he maintained a stiff upperlip. He was also angry and annoyed, though he remained silent for a bit, only to curtly ask what made me so sure. I wasn’t. Parents Kate and Gerry belonged to the same social class as my colleague, who was also a parent and he did not believe that it was possible that the McCanns were lying to the police and trying to fool everyone, even if they had accidentally killed their daughter. Over the years, the cloud of suspicion has lifted from the McCanns and having followed this case very keenly, I am now convinced that the allegations made by the Portuguese police were completely baseless.

I was reminded of Madeline McCann’s case as I read Avirook Sen’s book on Aarushi, the almost fourteen year old who was brutally murdered in a Noida flat in May 2008, almost exactly a year after Madeline disappeared. Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were well-to-do dentists in their late forties and Aarushi was an only child. Hemraj, a Nepalese manservant who lived with the Talwars was also found murdered on the terrace of the same flat, though his body was detected only after a day. Pretty soon after the murder, the Talwars came under suspicion, the police theory, which was later taken on by the CBI, being that they had caught Aarushi in a compromising position with Hemraj and had killed her, a classic case of honour killing. Additional Superintendent AGL Kaul of the CBI was so convinced of the Talwar’s guilt that he went out of his way to pressurize various witnesses to give evidence damning the Talwars. Dr. S. M. Dahiya, director of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Ahmedabad, the same clever gent who examined the Godhra carriages and decided that they had been set ablaze by a mob, also toed Kaul’s line and declared that the Aarushi murder was a classic case of honour killing.

As soon as I heard of the honour killing theory in connection with Aarushi's murder, I knew that the police had got it totally wrong. A man like Rajesh Talwar would not do it, I had told myself and everyone else who was interested, just as my English colleague had refused to believe that the McCanns could be lying to the police. Avirook Sen’s book backs up my gut feel regarding Aarushi. The UP Police who commenced the investigation assume that Aarushi led a “loose” lifestyle with many boyfriends. The fourteen year old was actually no different from any other fourteen year in this day and age in a big city like Delhi and her male friends were just that, friends. Rajesh Talwar was said to be having an affair with Aarushi’s friend’s mother. Sen goes to the extent of saying that because Dahiya is a Jat, a community known for its Khap panchayats and honour killings, he assumes that Rajesh Talwar too shares his own belief systems. Nupur’s unwillingness to show the slightest subservience to police officials, her putting on make-up when the investigation was on, not crying enough, all of these pointed to her guilt in the eyes of the investigators.

When the McCanns fells under a cloud of suspicion, they too were criticized for doing similar things, for exercising, putting on makeup, having emotional resilience etc.

The various narco tests and polygraphs done on Rajesh and Nupur show them to be innocent. On the other hand, the tests done on Krishna, a Nepali youth employed in Rajesh’s clinic and two of his friends, suggests that they were around when Arushi was killed and they were probably the murderers.

If the Talwars were unlucky in having a set of biased and prejudiced investigators gunning for them, they also had a bad press which reported everything parroted by the investigators. The judges were equally unfriendly and the district judge who gave the verdict against them seems to have been cut from the same cloth as Kaul and Dahiya. Sen goes to the extent of claiming that Judge Shyam Lal, who is very proud of his English, actually started writing his lengthy judgement in atrocious, cliched English, much before the defence counsel started his arguments.

It is the prosecution’s job to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Talwars committed the crime they have been accused of. The Talwars do not have to provide an alternative narrative or find the real culprit. They only have to show loopholes in the prosecutions case. And there is a big loophole, in that, Hemraj’s blood was not found in Aarushi’s room. Since Hemraj was found murdered on the terrace, fully clothed, it is quite likely that he was murdered on the terrace. Dahiya’s honour killing theory is based on the mistaken assumption that Hemraj’s blood and pillow were found in Aarushi’s room.

I also knew that our policemen were corrupt and inefficient. However, the miscarriage of justice in the Aarushi case is not a result of corruption, but prejudice, arrogance and wanton nastiness, a sheer unwillingness to accept mistakes even when pointed out. For me the most heart breaking scene is when Rajesh Talwar is on one occasion being taken to court from jail and has to be handcuffed. Since the police do not have enough handcuffs, they handcuff Rajesh and Krishna (the man who probably committed the murder) together. ‘Don’t do this, this man has killed my daughter,’ Rajesh Talwar pleads, but to no avail.

In Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, she has documented a specific case of police officers lying to falsely implicate a poor man in a case of attempted murder, though it is actually a case of attempted suicide. Though Boo has named the officers in question, one is sure that no action will be taken against such officers. However, I believed that the poor and underprivileged alone are victims of such corruption and inefficiency. The rich can buy their way out of trouble and the middle-classes can stay out of trouble, such as from being indicted for an offence they did not commit, or so I thought. In that sense, the fate suffered by the Talwars comes as a rude jolt. Here’s a case of an upper middle-class couple being not only falsely accused of murdering their own daughter, but also being convicted by a trial court.

I am convinced more than ever that the Talwars are innocent. I would rather not give more reasons for why I think so and end up summarizing Sen’s excellent book, written in simple, but incisive prose. If you are too busy to read it for yourself, here’s a list of ten reasons why Sen thinks the Talwars are innocent.

I have blogged about the Talwars in the past.