From arriving as a refugee child in India during Partition to having Binatone, a successful electronics brand, named after her: from a nine-year-old sitting on her favourite black rock, watching the waves and weaving dreams in Bombay, to a passionate relationship with screen idol shammi Kappor; from a loveless marriage and a bitter divorce, to opening her own stores and changing the face of Delhi’s Hauz khas Village; form searching for her daughters across continents, to being taken in police custody and sent to Tihar Jail for being a stubbornly honest witness: from being vilified by the media to being lauded by the country for her heroic role in the Jessica Lal murder case – in this inspiring. No-holds-barred memoir, Bina tells it all.
Candid and fascinating Bird in a Banyan Tree is the account of Bina Ramani’s tumultuous journey through life, as she searches for deeper meaning spiritual enrichment and inner peace. And faces all obstacles with rare resilience, courage and faith.
Bina Ramani divides her time between New Delhi, Goa and New York and enjoys exploring the cultural roots of people of all races. She is passionate about Sufi music, painting. Photography, travel cooking and other good things of life. She currently works for the rehabilitation of Child victims of sexual abuse and networks with exceptional women in an effort to empower underprivileged women across the globe.
I had spent seven traumatic days and nights in police custody.
The police had found nothing more to hold against me. In fact, they
did not interrogate me even once during those seven days. Yet, their
daily bulletins to the media claimed, 'Bina Ramani is not cooperating'
offering no other detail. Now the police had issued a non-bailable
warrant against me, and I was going to jail! Jail! Unthinkable! Why?
Finally, the media were demanding explanations. They were
asking the same questions we were: why was the key witness in the
Jessica Lal murder trial being arrested?
In 2006, the retrial of the Jessica Lal murder case had been
announced due to unprecedented public and media pressure. An elite
Special Investigation Team (SIT), under the watchful eye of then
Delhi Police Commissioner K.K. Paul, had been hastily appointed.
We had heartily welcomed the move. Among the few witnesses
remaining in the seven-year-long sensational case, in which our role
had been frequently derailed by the powerful lobby of the accused,
we hoped finally to vindicate our stand and help achieve 'Justice for
Jessica'. That slogan was being chanted by millions who had been
unanimously roused when the six accused were mysteriously acquitted
of the 1999 crime.
Then, in an early step in the new investigation, the SIT, riding the
wave of heightened emotion throughout the nation, issued statements
to the media that 'The Ramanis' my daughter Malini, my husband
Georges Mailhot and myself-'have been put on an international
"lookout notice": I had played a critical role in confronting the
murderer on the night of the shooting in April 1999. We had
reported the crime, grappled with the murderer and taken Jessica
to a hospital. We were determined to cooperate with the police team
in their investigation. But throughout, we had to stoically stand up
to the mounting pressure to cave in and change our statements, as
most of the other witnesses had done.
Now here I was, seven years after the incident, and instead of
watching justice take its course I sat on a bench alone, in the centre
of a big godown-like hall in the Patiala House Court Complex. On
either side of me were packed cages, each holding dozens of men
and women prisoners of the day. They were to be transported to
Tihar Jail at 5.30 p.m. It was now about 3 p.m. Numb with shock,
I was trying to take stock of what had transpired in the last hour.
The atmosphere around me was totally alien. This hall felt like
a different world. Today, the authorities had brought me to court
before 2 p.m., almost two hours earlier than the routine appointed
time. During my seven days in captivity they had taken me to court
daily at 3.30 p.m., where my lawyers, family and friends would appear
to rally for my freedom. Each day, however, my custody would be
extended, thanks to yet another delay tactic successfully set before
the magistrate, Kamini Lau.
On this seventh day of my custody, I craved my freedom. The
two policewomen who always accompanied me had cheered me up,
saying, 'Try and be happy today, we think you will go home: They
had smiles on their faces, which I had never seen before. One of
them pressed a tika on my forehead for good measure. I could feel
The magistrate had not yet arrived, and the courtroom was
almost empty. I spotted Nafisa Ali, my true and loyal friend, who
had always been the first to arrive in court. I gave her a warm smile,
feeling euphoric at the prospect of being freed from the nightmarish
As soon as the magistrate arrived, one of the police personnel
accompanying me, a senior cop, walked up to her desk with a sheaf of
papers. They engaged in a five-minute discussion, turned towards me,
and all of a sudden I was being hurriedly led out of the courtroom.
It all seemed so ominous. I was gripped with fear. I grabbed Nafisa's
arm as we passed her seat and pulled her along with me, resisting
the pressure my guards were using to separate us. Nafisa looked into
my eyes momentarily and, like a mother to a child, whispered, 'Bina,
be brave. I think they are taking you to Tihar, and it will only be for
one night. They have already announced it to the media’.
The media had fallen for every fabricated bulletin the authorities
fed them, sensationalizing my so-call misdeeds. Now, as we stepped
out of the courtroom, I could not believe my eyes. The empty lane
from which we had entered was choked with scores of photographers
and journalists, all falling over themselves to see Bina Ramani being
led away into the hall reserved for convicts of the day, to be transported
to the notorious Tihar Jail!
I had no idea what exactly I was being accused of, but I was
forced away by a police cordon amidst the jostling crowds, crying out
for my fundamental rights and demanding that my lawyers be given a
chance to hear the verdict. It was shocking. I lost Nafisa along the way.
Everywhere I looked, I saw cameras and eager bystanders squeezing
for a glimpse. A tall, burly uniformed man suddenly materialized as
the narrow lane took a turn towards an enclosure with heavy barbed
wire for a boundary wall. A doorway from there led us to a big iron
gate that opened to receive us. The posse of police parted ways with
me, as did the others who had taken me to court. The gate to this
large hall was pulled shut and the burly man opened a closet near
the entrance, pulled out a bunch of the largest keys I had ever seen
and motioned me to follow him.
With nothing more than a bottle of water and my asthma
inhaler in my hands, I simply surrendered to my fate, numbed my
senses and tried to forget 'me: The burly man, his large keys now
thrown menacingly over his left shoulder, led me towards a dark cell.
Behind several iron bars, I saw dozens of scrawny, bedraggled and
helpless women with desperation in their eyes. They rushed forward,
clutching at the iron bars to get a glimpse of their newest cellmate.
I was flabbergasted at the sight, but luckily, rose to the occasion
and found my voice. 'I am not going in there; I am not a prisoner:
I glared up at him. He looked at me in shock for having dared to
challenge his authority. I refused to buckle, and raised my hand. 'Do
you see this-it is my asthma inhaler: I waved it in his face. The
other convicts silently watched our confrontation. I continued, 'Do
you know I am a serious asthma patient?'
The man now showed his wrath, taking a deep breath, ignoring
my plea, and started to unlock the door with one of his giant keys.
I was paralysed with fear. I had to win this battle of wills. Diving
into my deepest reserve, I gave it one more shot, hoping I would
either intimidate him or reach his human side. 'Okay: I offered, 'take
me in. Just remember, if I drop dead there in the next ten minutes,
you will be responsible for it: I looked into his eyes with a cold stare.
The man hesitated for a moment, then shut the iron door, and
again threw the bunch of keys over his shoulder. Irritation clouded
his face. He walked me around the corner to a tiny room where
they kept the cooling machinery. It was equally bad, if not worse
than the cells, being no bigger than a closet and covered with dust. I
was horrified. Now I reacted fiercely. 'Oh no, I'm not going in there.
I will die here even faster! There's no standing room and it's filled
with dust!' I ranted, waving my inhaler in his face again. I spoke
in English, knowing it gave me a better chance of intimidating and
I saw an annoyed resignation creep into his eyes. A young
uniformed woman, who seemed to be in charge of this space, also
looked at me in scorn for challenging such a senior officer. My mind
ticked at high speed as a defence measure. It was all happening so fast.
The burly man now looked at me as if he were weighing whether
to bash me up. It certainly would not have been the first time for
him; he seemed to enjoy his job. Wordlessly, with a motion of his
hand, he walked me over to the centre of the big shed where there
were three long, worn benches, all empty. He pointed to the benches
and said, 'Go sit there: He seemed eager to disappear from my sight.
I chose the furthest of the three benches, which offered a minimal
view of the caged prisoners. Numerous official-looking men walked
along two open corridors on either side of the benches. I was suddenly
gripped with the reality of my situation. My mind reeled with a
Who were all these people? How many were victims of a
conspiracy, perhaps like me? What had they done to be locked up?
Had they actually committed the offences they were being charged
with? What sad and tragic stories could they tell? Would I be with
them long enough to get to know their personal stories? Those
thoughts filled me with a dreadful sinking feeling. I looked up,
hoping to receive an embrace from the sky or something. I saw a
dusty, sagging, water-stained asbestos ceiling. Thankful for my tinted
glasses, I let my tears flow, wondering for the umpteenth time how
and why I was in this mess. How could my life have gone so wrong?
Suddenly, I sensed someone standing next to me. I snapped back
into the present, quickly brushed away my tears, adjusted my glasses
and looked up. A tall, authoritative-looking man was staring at me.
He looked elegant in his crisp white shirt, starched white pants and
tan loafers. His incongruous appearance, seemingly out of nowhere,
baffled me. Seeing my tear-stained face, he offered me some tea. Even
as I accepted his offer, he sat down next to me and gestured to a
man who had been standing behind him to bring two cups of tea.
Startled as I was, his presence somehow put me at ease. He
introduced himselfbut I did not register his name. Feeling embarrassed
to ask him to repeat it, I simply sat there, alert to whatever news he
was about to deliver. Even though his appearance had bewildered me,
I felt he was a good omen. It seemed like a mirage.
Taking a sip from his cup, he looked around to ensure there was
no one within earshot. I observed that a pall of silence had blanketed
us. Everyone kept a respectful distance, indicating that he must be
a very important official. Then, in a kind but matter-of-fact voice,
he started to speak. 'You must not be afraid. There are some people
in high places watching over you, and you can rest assured that no
harm will come to you. We are proud of the way you have handled
yourself. Please continue to be brave. You will not be let down. Many
crores have been spent to destroy justice in this case and keep Manu
Sharma out of jail, but as long as you stick to the truth no harm
will come to you. We are watching. You have a key role to play. Just
have patience for another day or two. You will be safe in Tihar; you
are protected: He reached the end of his narration and placed his
empty cup and saucer on the bench at the same time. It was over
as swiftly as it had started.
I took a deep breath as I tried to digest what I had just heard
from this mystery man. Even as I framed a question for him, he
got up to take his leave. 'Please tell me your name again: I asked, as
I thanked him. It was all too much to absorb-was I supposed to
have blind faith in what I had just heard?
It was clear that he didn't want to reveal his identity to me, as
he mumbled his name incoherently for the second time. It made
no sense. I wished he would simply take me away to wherever he
was going. Then, desperately clinging to the moment and trying to
stretch it, I asked, 'Will the truth finally surface or not? When will
the public know about this terrible injustice I am being put through?'
He just raised his hand, offering a comforting assurance, and repeated,
'Don't worry, you are being watched and protected by good people
who are on your side: He paused for a moment, then before parting,
said, 'It's only a matter of days, the truth will be out. Justice will be
delivered: Giving me a reassuring smile, he hurriedly left the hall.
Whoosh-he was gone in an instant. A surge of relief ran through
me, like a balm for my broken spirit. It lasted only too briefly, then
the dreadful reality sunk in again. Feeling intensely alone, resigned
hopelessly to my fate, I was fighting back tears. What was I doing
in this dust-filled, asbestos-roofed enclosure, surrounded by a living
scene of Kalyug at its worst? How had I come to this? I wondered.
Suddenly, an old memory in the form of my mother's voice awakened
my spirit: 'One must learn to separate the "me" from the "self": She
used to quote this line from Guru Nanak's teachings. It was just the
wisdom I needed at that moment to ease the anguish I was feeling.
She would explain that the 'self is the permanence, the God within
you that would never let you down if you put your faith in it. The
'me' is the ego that has been created by the illusion of earthly wants
and needs. 'Learn to count on your self’, she seemed to be reminding
me now. I felt like a child again, reflecting on my mother's words.
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