Reny George hugged Nitish and asked him about his day in school. He ruffled the 11-year-old’s hair, and told him he should spend more time studying than playing cricket. “Yes, daddy,” Nitish sombrely said, before slouching on his bed. It was 4 pm, and over a hundred boisterous children were trooping across the garden on their way home from school. Reny stood at the door, smiling, with open arms. Everyone wanted to tell him of their triumphs and trials at school. Reny sat on the floor surrounded by the children. “Okay, now one by one,” he said.
The 136 children who live in Reny’s home, a three-acre facility located in the outskirts of Bengaluru, are the sons and daughters of prisoners incarcerated in Kerala and Karnataka. Reny was once such a prisoner, convicted of one of Kerala’s most notorious murders. “I was demonic,” he told me. “I caused a lot of havoc in society. I was the most hated man in Kerala. My own parents were afraid of me.” As we talked about his criminal past, his 15-year-old daughter walked in. “Don’t worry, she knows everything,” Reny said. “It’s better she hears it all from me than from someone else, or the newspaper.”
Reny, who is now 66 years old, was the third of eight children born to a Kerala pastor and his wife. While his siblings worked hard in school, he told me, he was distracted by the lures of an easy life, getting addicted to alcohol and drugs while still a teenager. To fund his addictions, he began stealing money from his father, and then his grandfather, a rich estate-owner who had taken him in. Reny was twice expelled from school, and once from college. After his grandfather died, he joined his family in Madras. He fell in with the rich kids at the city’s colleges, joining their daily parties.