‘I HAVE TO BE HIS PILLAR OF STRENGTH’

Married for five months, how does Peeya Rai Choudhuri feel like being in the eye of a storm? While Shayan Munshi keeps his silence on the Jessica Lall case, his wife speaks to Rishi Majumder

Peeya Rai Choudhuri and Shayan Munshi

Adversity, they say, brings out the best in a person. Former Channel V VJ and actress Peeya Rai Choudhuri couldn’t agree more. The elfin Peeya, 26, and her husband, model Shayan Munshi, 27, have been thrown into the face of difficult times soon after they said `I do’.
“Spiritually, Shayan and I have grown much in the course of the last few months,” says the actress. Model turned actor Shayan was a lead witness in the August 1999 Jessica Lall murder case, who had turned hostile. Since then he has become part of celeb folklore, never out of the spotlight. “We’ve tried hard to rise above the adversity and focus on what is real between us. There’s so much havoc all around, that one could easily behave in
an irrational way,” she says. Strong words, when you remember her as a bubbly Channel V VJ or Aishwarya’s impulsive baby sister in Bride And Prejudice.
Shayan and Peeya were splashed all over the papers recently, following the former’s arrest by the Kolkata police at the city’s airport, as the couple were on their way to Bangkok for a honeymoon. “Neither of us had any clue about the circular,” she protests. “As we were going through immigration, an official alerted us about a ‘want
ed’ flashing on his screen next to Shayan’s name.” Honeymoon forgotten, the next few hours were spent fielding a spate of queries and getting in touch with family and friends.
First Rai Choudhuri put through an SOS call to her father-in-law, Prabir Munshi, who, unaware of the incident, had dropped the couple at the airport and driven back home. Faxes flew between Delhi and Kolkata. Peeya called the EOW (Economic Offences Wing), who are dealing with the investigations of the re-opened case in Delhi, to be informed that Shayan was “neither an accused nor a witness. He is only required for investigation purposes”. “Unfortunately, by this time, Shayan had already been sent to a magistrate, and word was out in that he was ‘arrested’,” she recalls. At the Barrackpore Court hearing, the judge ordered that Shayan be released on a recognition bond, his passport be retained and that he go to the EOW in Delhi and return with a compliance notice from them. “However, now that
we’re back from the Capital with the compliance notice and other required documents, the court has demanded a compliance notice from the enquiry officer who was a part of the arrest. He has till July 28 for this to be cleared up, so till then, we’re stuck in limbo,” says Peeya, a hint of resignation in her voice.
This was only a recent flash in the pan for the couple. The Jessica Lall baggage was not as heavy on their relationship when they had started dating. But, ever since the recent Jessica Lall judgement, media spotlight and public opinion has been steadfastly focussed on Shayan. Predictably, it’s taken a toll on Peeya as well.
“I respect the fact that he’s maintained a silence and dignity despite all the public maligning,” she insists. There is a note of bitterness when she recalls the constant media attention they have to live with. “I feel there has been much attention on him unnecessarily. Why do people ask, `How can he live with himself?’ He can live with himself because he spoke out of his conscience,” she says. “Put yourself in his shoes. He was only 21 when the incident occurred. He had to give up the MBA he was pursuing at IIBM and leave Delhi because of the pressure.”
She, the innocent one, is suddenly in the middle of all this. That’s a lot to cope with, surely. She says, “I haven’t had the time to think of what I’m feeling. I guess the thought of what Shayan’s going through just occupies my mind. The only thing I feel is that I have to be a pillar of strength, be true to him and keep up the faith. One needs to be positive when thrown in such difficult situations.” And truly, she has been a pillar of strength, through the rough times right up to time when she accompanied Shayan for questioning. “I was told not to speak as I was un-informed, but I have been allowed to sit-in and have been with him to his questioning session,” she says.
Even when she was a student at National College, she took up the job of a VJ with Channel V, to be able to earn enough and put herself through an acting course at the New York Film Academy. She met Shayan at a friend’s party around four years ago. They hung around in the same circle of friends, took backpacking trips and group holidays, and then decided there was more in it for them than casual friendship. “We practically discovered India together. We started going out around eight months after we met, on this backpacking trip to the Himachal.” Three and a half years since, the couple were married on December 25 last year. But the chaotic year was beyond her anticipation.
“I knew about the Jessica Lall case, when I got into the relationship, but I never envisaged all the twists and turns it would take. I didn’t imagine that going on a honeymoon, one of the closest periods of a couple’s life, would turn out like this. Since the decision, there have been a lot of eyes on us. When we went out we always felt people were passing a judgement on us. This is why, for most of the time, we stayed at home.”
So, how has she come to terms with Shayan’s past? “I have gotten to know Shayan as a person and have full faith in him. His conscience is clear. This situation would have sent any other man through the roof. As for me, I take it as something being asked of me by my destiny.”
One of the worst things she has to deal with is a feeling of uncertainty. “Even today we have no idea what will happen on July 28. Just as we had no idea about what was going to happen at the airport.”

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/gcvq

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