They had met two years ago, on December 20, “through a mutual friend in Delhi”. She, a physiotherapy student in Dehra Dun, and he, an electronics-and-communications engineer in Delhi.
“She had got my number from our friend. She sent some blank messages. I thought they were from a guy and I sent back an angry text message telling him to lay off,” he says. “I was taken aback when she replied saying she was a girl, not a boy. Curious, I called back and later, apologised,” he says. This triggered a series of telephone conversations, text messages, meetings, movies and shopping trips, till that day on December 16, 2012, when their evening went terribly wrong.
After a movie and a mall outing, they had boarded a bus from Munirka in south Delhi and over the next half an hour, six men in the bus had raped his friend, brutalised them and thrown them off the bus near Mahipalpur flyover in south-west Delhi. After battling for life for 13 days, his friend had died in a hospital in Singapore on December 29.
It’s just days after her death and the wounds are still raw. At his home in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, where his parents live, he sits with his right leg in a cast. “She trusted me to guide her,” he says. Over the months, he would start speaking to her family on the phone, offering her brother advice on the choice of his engineering course—electronics and communication, not computers—offering to help her father file an FIR when someone threatened him in the colony, offering her money when her mother underwent a hysterectomy in April last year.
He visited her in Dehra Dun a few months ago, even met her HoD, and took her shopping. He helped write her resume for her internships and they were researching on colleges where she could apply abroad for her post-graduation, while he prepared for the civil services. He was her friend, philosopher and guide.
She often accompanied him when he went shopping—she had “great taste”, he says. On December 20, 2012, four days after she was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, he came in wearing a jacket she had bought him. “Dates were important to her. December 20 was a special date because that’s when we met for the first time. So I went to meet her that day, but she was sleeping and I had to come back,” he says. He went again the next day. “She was so happy that I remembered December 20 and had tried to visit her that day,” he says. Did she like the jacket? “I asked her how I looked, she said I looked good.”
He took his ‘philosopher’ role seriously, often impressing her with his knowledge of the Bhagwad Gita. “She was worried about her final-year results. One night, she sent me a message saying she had chanted Hare Krishna the customary 108 times and had instantly felt better,” he says, smiling. She joined classes at the Art of Living Foundation after him, and had even started reading books like the Alchemist that he bought her.
On December 16, she cooked rice, rajma, puri and dahi bhalla at home, and then called him around 1.30 pm to wake him. They made an impromptu plan, he took an autorickshaw and picked her up from her home in west Delhi and they left for a mall in Saket, south Delhi. She, in a black-and-cream coat and black tights and he, in a khaki coat she had bought him. She asked him how her newly streaked hair looked and he gave her a sceptical nod. At the mall, they ate ice creams and window-shopped. She wanted a pair of boots. “She had a weakness for shoes. She showed me a pair of high-heeled boots and said girls from the northeast wore them in Delhi and they look very smart. Maybe next time, I told her,” he said. They filled a lucky-draw coupon that promised a trip for two abroad. “Of late, she had begun fantasising about going abroad. She wanted to do her post-graduation abroad, even wanted to take her parents abroad,” he says.
The mall was done up in Christmas decorations. They went to watch Life of Pi in the same hall they had seen Gulliver’s Travels when she last came to Delhi from Dehra Dun. “She loved English films, especially 3D movies. She kept playing with her 3D glasses,” he says.
His parents did not know her, but he had once got her to speak to his mother. “My mother has rheumatoid arthritis. One day when she complained of pain in her ankle, I made her talk to my friend. I told my mother that this doctor sahib will tell you about the exercises you need,” he says.
His father is a lawyer in Gorakhpur and his mother a homemaker. “Though she sought my advice frequently and I had spoken to her parents and her brother on the phone, she never invited me home. She was very conscious of the economic disparity between us. I did not care, but since she was conscious, I avoided going there,” he says.
The click of high heels signaled her arrival. She was always in a hurry, rushing about in her heels, dropping in with morning chai, advice and gossip for her friend, neighbour, confidante, and “soul sister”. This was the friend she had grown up with—they had gone to the same schools, carried identical lunch boxes, bought cycles one after the other, competed over marks, heights and weights, and teased each other about boys. They even had the same hair styles, till she went to Dehra Dun.
After Dehra Dun, her taste in Bollywood music gave way to Bryan Adams’ songs. Green Day’s I walk a lonely road and Enrique Iglesias’s Ring my bells alternated as her cellphone ring tone. Her tailored kurtas were replaced by readymade short kurtis and tops, mostly in nets. In college, she discovered her oratorical skills and was the emcee for many functions and parties, including for the farewell in October.
Her “best friend” calls her an “expert in giving English interviews”. So when the friend had an interview with a private airline company on December 13, she wrote out a page of instructions on how to impress the prospective employer, complete with a dress code. Black heels—“not too high, not too low...mid-level heels”—were a must so she loaned her a pair from her own collection. “My name is XXX. My father is a business (cut) service man and my mother is a homemaker…My hobbies are…” she had scribbled for her on a paper hurriedly torn from her brother’s notebook. “She told me the interviewer is not interested so much in what you say, as how confident you are when you say it,” says the friend.
After Dehra Dun, the long, wavy hair that dropped to her waist gave way to a layered cut and became progressively shorter, till it dropped a little below her shoulders. “Once, when she returned on holiday from Dehra Dun, she got her hair straightened for Rs 7,000. Thankfully, her mother did not notice,” the friend says. She loved experimenting with her hair. Once, she cut herself a dainty fringe. Three days before she was raped, she got eight hair highlights done, each for Rs 100, at a Rajouri Garden beauty parlour—in “fire red”, “golden” and “snow white”.
A room of her own. She had always wanted one, so two years ago, her father added another floor to their two-room house that he had built 22 years ago.
Neurology and Neurosurgery Illustrated by Kenneth W. Lindsay lies open on page 264, the definition of myoclonus—“a shock-like contraction of muscles”—underlined with pencil. As a physiotherapy student, she did not have to read about brain surgeries, but the subject fascinated her. Her course books, piled on a shelf, have her name scribbled in her neat handwriting on the first page, with the prefix of doctor before her name.
Time has stood still in her 7-foot by 8 bedroom since the afternoon of December 16. Her red suitcase is half open, overflowing with clothes she brought from Dehra Dun in October. The pair of black sandles she wore at home lying near her bed, a face-wash on the table, resume saved on her laptop.
As a child, she was scared of her mother. But as she grew up, they became friends—sharing secrets one moment, squabbling the next. “When she was young, if I raised my voice, she would drop whatever she was doing. I hit her once or twice, but her father hated it. He said we should never beat our children,” her mother recalls.
Their last fight was over her hair streaks. “I was angry with her because it was a shock at first, and she had wasted Rs 800 on them. But after a while, I got used to the look, even thought it looked nice. How she would have laughed to hear me say this! She loved winning every fight, convincing me that she had been right,” her mother says.
The mother noticed how Dehra Dun had changed her little girl. “Earlier, she did just as I told her. She would come home when I said, go where I said, wear what I told her to. But after going there, she started wearing jeans and tights. I thought they suited her better than her salwar kameez. So, I did not object,” her mother recalls. “She loved wearing black. She had a wheatish complexion, so I did not like her wearing black, but she said it was for style.”
When she returned home after her final-year exams in October 2012, she asked her mother for some money. “She said she wanted to buy a new face cream so I gave her Rs 1,000. The badmaash that she was, she came back with a sari for me. I never wore it. I said I would save it for her shaadi,” she says, fighting away tears.
At 5 feet 4 inches, she was petite, barely weighing 45 kg. “She had lost a lot of weight last year and I used to tell her she looked more like a patient than a doctor and she would shoot back, ‘Girls die to get such a figure’. She loved sweets. She would want sugar or jaggery with her rotis. Of course, that was before she became figure-conscious,” says the mother.
Three decades ago, her parents left their village in Ballia district, Uttar Pradesh, to go to Delhi. Life in the big city was tough. The father did odd jobs—a mechanic and a guard, till he became a cargo loader at the airport three months ago. Double shifts at the airport earned him Rs 11,000 a month. Money was never enough, but they didn’t let that come in the way of their aspirations for their children—they wanted them to go to English-medium schools. He had to take a huge loan to clear his other debts, a loan he is still paying off.
So in her mustard-and-white uniform, she went to an English-medium school in west Delhi. The principal who taught her English in class V says, “She always tried speaking in English. I remember how she would even try speaking to her mother in English.” Her friend followed her to the school and so did her her brothers, three and six years her junior. “She was the engine, her brothers were the coaches that followed her,” says her mother.
The monthly fee of Rs 225 was at times a problem for the family, so they paid a consolidated sum, whenever they could. But after their daughter’s class V, when it got too tough, they had to move her to a government school. The ‘best friend’ followed.
Around the time she was in class IX, her career goals got sharper—she wanted to be a doctor. “Before that, she had spoken about wanting to be a writer and a teacher. But she told me applications for medical courses were expensive, each cost about Rs 1,000, and asked if she could take tuitions,” says the father.
By the time she was in class XII, she had started teaching children in class X. “She would go to school at 7 am, come back by 1 pm, and start taking tuitions by 2 pm. She taught them English, Math and Science, about 25-30 children. The classes went on till around 6 pm,” says her mother. She taught her brothers too. Like his sister, the older of the two boys, now 20, also started taking tuitions after his class X.
She was a bright girl—scored over 95 per cent in math in her class X and an aggregate of over 80 per cent in her class XII. After school, she took a break for two years to prepare for medical entrances.
While she studied at home, she joined an English-speaking class for four months. The tuitions continued. In 2006, she could not clear the entrance test at AIIMS or the All-India Pre-Medical Entrance Test, but managed to secure an MBBS seat in a private college. But the fees were steep and the only way she could have managed was if she got an education loan. She applied for one, but when she wanted a guarantor, she found none. After this incident, she refused to visit her father’s village—a place she had never liked visiting.
“She last visited the village after her class XII exam in 2006, when her grandfather died. My wife and I and our youngest son would come every year, but she and my elder son didn’t want to,” says the father.
Her cousin in the village, an 18-year-old girl, says, “We would speak occasionally on the phone. Whenever didi came here, she stayed inside and kept reading. She used to tell me, try to get out of here as soon as possible.”
In 2008, she went to Dehra Dun for her Bachelors in physiotherapy. After classes, she worked at a Canadian call centre and barely slept for 2-3 hours a day. A year later, she bought a laptop with her savings. “She made the down payment herself. I paid the installments,” says her father. She made her resume on this laptop and completed her final-year project on neuro-physiotherapy on it.
The HoD of her department in Dehra Dun says, “Neuro-physiotherpay was her primary subject and orthopedic physiotherapy was the second choice. She wanted to do her Masters in neuro-physiotherapy.” She had downloaded on to her laptop several episodes of the Discovery channel show, Deception with Keith Barry, about a mentalist who delves into the mysteries of the mind.
In October, when she came home for her six-month internship—after which she would have earned her graduation—she had watched Amir Khan’s Talaash on her laptop with her brothers. She had also bought watches for her brothers and father and bed covers for home. While she gave interviews for the internship, she joined a call centre in Gurgaon on December 4. Barely two weeks later, she landed an internship at a private hospital in Delhi. She had only been going there for a week when tragedy struck.
When she was admitted in Safdarjung hospital after the gang rape, she asked for a wrist watch. One of her brothers tied his watch on her wrist—the one she had gifted him. “She would keep checking the time and when it got late, she would tell my mother to go to sleep. She would hold her hand while she slept,” says her brother.
In Singapore, during her final moments with her family, her brother took a loose strand of her hair as he held her—this was for keeps. “We kept staring at the flickering monitor. Gradually, the waves became a horizontal line and my sister was gone—just like that,” he says.
It’s January 12, the day of the tervi or the thirteenth-day ritual after death when the family prays for the departed soul. Her clothes in a bundle—black sweaters, tops in blue and red, black and green netted shirts, blue and red halters, a white-and-pink spaghetti top—are handed over to the doms, members of a community that lights funeral pyres.
The girl’s mother, who lay in a small room in the family’s village home, wakes up with a disturbing dream. “My daughter came running in, as usual in a hurry, in her blue jeans and white top. She asked me what we were doing. I told her we had to go to the village. She sat down in a huff, sulking like she always did at the mention of coming here, and said, ‘I will not go to the village at any cost’,” says the mother, breaking down.