My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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20 July 2015

Aarushi by Avirook Sen, a review & a cold case totally solved

I found out about Avirook Sen’s Aarushi while I was on holiday in the hills of Tamil Nadu last week. Saying a thankful prayer to technology, I instantly got it on my Kindle and began reading as soon as I possibly could. {Man, don't you LOVE the Kindle? I do. I've never understood the debate between people who are all like "oh books are so physical" because the Kindle is a true reader's best friend. You can carry your whole entire library with you on holiday--very important as someone who used to lug around five extra kilos just in books, and now the new airline handbaggage limit has gotten so strict. It lasts for aaaages without a charge, and when you do charge it, it only takes an hour or so to fill up. AND best of all, you can be in the middle of nowhere, no bookshop for miles, and buy the book everyone's talking about. [For this, you should ideally invest in the 3G + WiFi model, if you find yourself frequently in places without connectivity.] Go on, treat yourself (No, Amazon's not paying me, but they totally should.) (This is my second Kindle, the first one got loved-to-death.) (Now even my un-tech-savvy mum wants one.)

More about my trip SOON, with KITTEN PHOTOS!

I’ve been kind of obsessed with the Aarushi case since it first happened—and that’s a feeling I share with several other middle class Indians jolted into fear, disbelief and a certain amount of “schadenfreude” by the fact that your typical people-next-door, People Like Us, could conceive of killing their beloved only daughter. Not only were the Talwars perfectly respectable, they were also part of the new “liberal” Indian—they had a love marriage, one daughter they doted on, they both worked out of the home, and liked the good things in life. If the liberal Indian could kill their child, where did that leave the rest of us? Did we all have secret patriarchal leanings inside us threatening to detonate when a trigger situation happened? Or were liberal Indians just pretending to be liberal and actually masking a whole lot of traditional anger beneath the surface?

I’m basing all these questions on the popular version of what happened to Aarushi. When the 13-year-old was murdered all those years ago, there was a long and elaborate court case, and finally, the story that everyone bought, hook, line and sinker (this despite the fact that the parents were completely denying it and there were no eye witnesses, so why were we all so convinced about the sequence of events?) was that Aarushi was caught in a compromising position with the 50-year-old help, Hemraj, and when her father discovered them, he flew into an impassioned rage, killing them both with a golf club and then working with his wife to hide the bodies in possibly the worst way a body has ever been hidden.

I took most of the stuff I read in the newspaper as fact—this despite being a journalist once upon a time and knowing exactly how news can be manipulated—a crime story like this one? Surely the reporter had followed up and fact checked and all that. Sen’s book however, hinges on the fact that no one did. There is a very clear villain of the piece who emerges shortly after the murder investigation begins, a CBI cop in charge called AGL Kaul. Kaul is such a villain in fact that you sometimes forget you’re reading non-fiction at all. In fact, I’m just going to damn him with a tribute to him I found online by CBI director Amar Pratap Singh, upon Kaul’s death. The tribute says: “He had methodically investigated the case in such a manner that by eliminating all other theories there was only one conclusion, that the parents were responsible.” Actually, Sen says, he decided on this conclusion and then deliberately twisted or suppressed evidence so the Talwars were guilty. No other testimony counted but the ones that fit his own pet theory—the story I mentioned above.

The fact that the Talwars were guilty seems to have been a foregone conclusion, not just by the police investigating but also the judges trying their case. No one actually believed in the theory that outsiders did it, despite multiple evidence to that account. We saw the people-next-door and we hanged them because we were guilty of rubbernecking on this sordid affair, pausing to gasp from doorways: “You know their daughter was having sex with the servant?!?” “Who can say what goes on behind closed doors?” “It’s a sad world, that’s what it is.”

Of course, I need to also mention that I brought up the book to a friend who had been working in an NGO in Noida during the 2006 serial killer case in that area. Businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his manservant Surinder Koli were accused of killing over 40 children and hiding them around their house. “Where are the Avirook Sens writing about those kids?” asked my friend, “Aren’t 30 or 40 murders more important than just one?” To which I say: yes. But sadly, those kids weren’t Indian middle class and so didn’t capture the imagination of the Indian middle class as much as the darling only daughter of two high profile dentists.

In all that, Sen’s book stands out for its honesty and ability to cut through the drivel. He says in the very beginning of the book that we may never know who killed Aarushi, but he is quite convinced by the end of his investigation that it wasn’t her parents. And I was too. 

Buy it here
(A version of this appeared as my column on


  1. Thanks for the book recco. I very much love my Kindle-on-the-phone/laptop too! I can carry SO many books without adding to the baggage... without the device even! :)

    About Arushi... I'm sure you've seen this one too, but I really like this article:

  2. And this one too:

    I like how they raise questions, not just posting their opinions as facts like most other mediapeeps do.

  3. hi, for some reason the links on this post appear to be broken!

  4. Since I haven't read the book or any other material in depth about this matter, I am not in a position to comment regarding the innocence or the adequacy of the investigation conducted. What disturbs me more is the hypocrisy of the Indian middle class. My objection to the opponents of this media trial, which fueled the conviction of the Talwars, is that, they did not stand up for such rights of the nirbhaya rapist or the Uber driver, when the very same media conducted the trial for the public. The media was intrusive, speculative and at certain point of time even conjecturing. When the perpetrator is from the middle class, it is a trial by media, but if the perpetrator is from the lower strata, it is responsible journalism. Media is a double edged sword, you can't clamor for restrictions just when the strike is closer to home.

  5. @Sachinky: Fixed! Some HTML problems. :)


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