A Macabre Story from Canberra with a Lesson
H. R. Pota
I just finished reading a book on a macabre factual story with
characters from Canberra (our present residence) and Newcastle (where
I lived for three years during 1982-85). What happened to the persona
in this story could happen to any one of us. I must admit, in similar
circumstances, I may do even worse. While I hope it might be possible
to learn from other people's mistakes but my experience tells me
otherwise. I put it to you for you to see if you would have done any
First let me quote two short passages from Joe Cinque's Consolation:
A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law, Helen Garner,
Picador, Pan Macmillan, Australia, 2004.
"Mrs Singh returned with a tray and invited me to sit on the
sofa. She and I drank tea, but Dr Singh could not seem to settle. He
crossed the room to a small table against the wall behind me. I could
hear the clink of glass. Still out of my eye-line, he suddenly burst
out, `Is there anything in this for us?'
`What do you mean?' I said.
`Any money? If it should be a best-seller' He came back to the other
sofa with a glass of scotch in his hand and sat down, planting his
feet on the pale green rug." p. 187
"In early October 1999 Maria Cinque called to tell me she was back
from Italy. She gave me a rapid account of the ankle operation she had
undergone in a Blogna clinic, another attempt to repair the botched
surgery she had had in Australia after the car smash twenty years
earlier. The surgeon had found a small piece of bone pressing against
a nerve, and removed it: she was hopeful.
I asked after Anthony.
`No good. He come to Italy with me, he come back, Nino kick him out,
I don't know where he is. I hope he's gonna get over this and have
some sort of life."' p. 193
This book by Helen Garner is a factual account of the death of a
twenty-six year old boy Joe Cinque in Canberra in October 1997. The story
has been recreated from the transcripts of the murder trials in The
ACT Supreme Court (in Canberra) and extensive interviews with the
family and friends of the Cinque family from Newcastle.
This death had attracted my attention in Oct 1997 - not because the
crime was committed in Canberra - but because the two persons
charged for the murder of Joe were two Indian girls studying Law at
the Australian National University, Canberra. The two girls, Anu Singh
and Madhavi Rao, were first tried in an aborted joint trial and then
they were tried separately in The ACT Supreme Court, presided over by
a Judge, but without a jury. Anu Singh was convicted of a lesser
charge of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in jail with an
eligibility for parole after four years. i.e., in Oct 2001. Madhavi Rao was
found not guilty of all the charges against her.
In brief the known facts of the matter, as told in the book, are as follows.
Joe and Anu Singh lived together in Canberra. Joe was a civil engineer
and Anu was studying Law. Madhvi Rao was Anu's friend and was also
studying Law at the ANU. On the weekend of 27 Oct 1997, Anu gave Joe a
heavy dose of a sleep inducing drug and then injected him with one or
two heavy doses of heroin while he lay unconscious. The overdose
killed him. Madhavi Rao had helped Anu procure drugs for this ghastly
killing. In addition to Madhavi Rao there were many others who
procured heroin and taught Anu Singh how to inject it and how much of
it would be sufficient to kill someone.
Why would normal law abiding citizens help Anu to murder her boyfriend
Joe? During the trials it came out that Anu was obsessed with her body
and she let it be known that she was unhappy about it and that she had
an incurable disease and that she was going to commit
suicide. Everyone involved thought they were coaching Anu Singh to
commit suicide; not murder. Anu Singh was attractive, she had used
drugs, she craved attention, she had one serious relationship before,
a few flings, and her colleagues had accepted her as a person with
serious mental problems. So when Anu was expanding her bizarre murder
plot, people just played along without actually being aware of the
seriousness of their involvement. They were tickled by Anu Singh and
the never to take place suicide but what they ended up with was a
murder. Not only Anu Singh's acquaintances but even the judge was
persuaded to believe that she had a serious mental disorder and hence a
diminished responsibility for the crime. Even after reading Helen
Garner's 328 page book one cannot be
sure of Anu's motive in killing her boyfriend. Helen Garner portrays
Joe as a decent, caring, and intelligent person. He was never a drug
user himself. In all this Madhavi Rao was so dominated by Anu Singh
that she just did whatever Anu Singh said, and from what the judge
ruled, without fully appreciating what Anu Singh was up to. Neither of
the girls took the stand and they refused to talk to Helen Garner. So
we know absolutely nothing about the girls' motive, remorse, or
I read about this tragedy when it occurred in Oct 1997 and thought no
more of it. The names Anu Singh and Madhavi Rao are obviously Indian
but I was somehow convinced that they couldn't be from India, i.e.,
either their grandparents migrated to Australia or they came to
Australia via Fiji or Malaysia or South Africa or some other country
to where Indians had migrated a century or two ago. Anu Singh freely
lived with boys without marriage and with her parents' knowledge. She
was a drug user and she frequented night clubs. The press at first
didn't report separately on Madhavi Rao so to an outsider both the
girls had a similar life style. To my orthodox mind, it was hard to
accept that these girls lived this life with their parents' approval
and financial support and that the parents came directly from India.
It turns out that Anu's parents migrated from Punjab and that they
both are medical doctors. They lived in Newcastle for about twenty
years and now live in Sydney. Madhavi's parents came from Hyderabad;
her mother is a medical doctor and father a teacher. They live in
Sydney too. Needless to say, I was wrong: they are as Indian as they
come. Even though my orthodox mind cannot accept many things, they
still occur all around me regularly.
But I didn't start this message to tell you the macabre story of Joe,
Anu, and Madhavi. As I was reading this book and feeling the
excruciating pain their families must have suffered, I was shocked to
read the passages quoted at the beginning of this message.
One can easily imagine what all the press must have written about Anu
Singh-her fascination with boys, drugs, and what not-and how it
must have felt to her parents to have their only daughter's dirty
laundry washed in public and here it is that very Dr Singh, a very
wealthy man, trying to squeeze out money from the author of a book on a
depressingly tragic story about his daughter killing her
Next we hear Maria Cinque, the mother of Joe, telling Helen Garner
that her husband Nino has thrown out their only surviving son Anthony from
their house. Picture the situation: their elder son Joe is killed in a
morbid situation and their younger and only surviving son transgresses
parental authority and is kicked out of the house.
My late maternal grandmother used to repeat again and again that to
change an individual's nature is not possible. It would be now at
least twenty-five years since I spent any extended period in her
company, but even then I considered myself a very wise person and
never agreed with her on this point. I used to see so many people
around me who were so miserable, and only a little adjustment on their
part could turn their hell around to heaven. I refused to accept that
they will or should live the way they are. I used to be beyond myself
thinking what little change they needed to make for an enormously
large return. My grandmother would always listen to this patiently and
repeat from her experience what she thought of human nature.
I am now close to my half century, but I am no longer sure of my wisdom and
so only now am I willing to listen to the wisdom of my
grandmother. People don't change their nature: even saints are born
with saintly nature. It would truly be a miracle if we found someone
who changed their nature during one lifetime. Sri Aurobindo once said
that the coming of so many Divine Incarnations has been like a tiny
drop of water on the face of parched and scorching Earth under a blazing summer
Sun. That is, even Divine Incarnations couldn't change human nature.
Here we see two families shattered by a common tragedy and yet their
approach to life post-tragedy is mundane and it seems in no way
any wiser. It's as if this tragedy had never happened to them. It's
hard to imagine a tragedy more life shattering than this and yet it
hasn't made the ones effected any wiser.
Is there a way out for humanity?
(This infamous murder is going to be made into a movie based on the book by Helen Garner - 15 May 2012.)
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Tuesday May 15, 2012 3:09 PM
File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.40.
On 27 Sep 2004, 13:46.