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Rediff.com  » News » And Indrani Mukerjea sat there, alone...

And Indrani Mukerjea sat there, alone...

Last updated on: May 08, 2017 17:37 IST

'How much fashion she used to do.'
'Now all gone in the water!'
'All good things have to come to an end.'
'And all bad things have come to an end.'
Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Even CBI Special Court Judge H S Mahajan was worried about Peter Mukerjea's meal on Thursday.

"Have you had lunch?" he asked the former television channel head as the proceedings wound up past 3 pm and it was time for the trio of accused to head back to jail.

Judge Mahajan went on to add that Peter must make sure he had his meal and that he had heard that CBI Counsel Bharat Badami was depriving poor Peter of food.

At which Badami jumped in, and vehemently but jovially said, "No, no, no. I have not been depriving him of his lunch!"

Judge Mahajan further quizzed Peter about his health issue. Was it diabetes? Or what?

Peter, clad in his customary court appearance white shirt-and-khakis and a tilak of soot on his forehead, explained, "I have low blood sugar."

The judge subsequently said something to the effect: "Oh, then you are very lucky. People spend so much money on trying to bring their blood sugar down!"

Hot Courtroom 51 at the sessions court in south Mumbai -- the venue of the Sheena Bora murder trial -- erupted in gales of laughter.

Peter went out to sit with his sister Shangon, his brother Gautam, his son Rabin's British/foreign girlfriend and another friend, and began tucking into the food brought by his family in a Westside bag -- a brown paper bag of sandwiches and some kind of pita bread.

He had already had a large dabba of watermelon. And there was a little red tiffin box of something special too at the end. Could it be rasgollas?

While he ate, Badami came across to playfully peek at Peter eating. And retreated, telling all of us in the corridor, with a mischievous smile, "I am just checking if Peter is eating. It is only about keeping him safe."

It had been a long, stifling day in court.

Technically, February 23 was the first day of the trial, given what happened on the three earlier trial days were actually pre-trial preliminaries, where witness lists and allegedly forged signatures were argued over.

The foremost day of a trial as infamous as the Sheena Bora murder trial attracted much more than its usual share of lawyers, journalists and onlookers, apart from policemen for the accused and the witnesses.

The courtroom was packed.

Policeman Prabhakar Pawar, whose beat is Room 51, had his job cut out as he tried to control noise levels. Newspapers cannot be read in the courtroom. And Judge Mahajan has requested those attending the trial to not look at their phones.

The judge, a red tikka on his forehead, sat above the melee, with the court stenographer.

Before him, below, the long wooden lawyers' table was crowded with a battery of high profile lawyers, in shades of grey, black and white.

Behind them stood a phalanx of assistants and the rows and rows of chairs were filled with eager-faced interns and more assistants.

In all, over 35 lawyers and interns were present, with more, in all shapes, sizes and seniority, milling in later, perhaps to hear some of the city's best-known legal names in action.

The room waited with collective bated breath, at around noon, for the three accused to finally arrive. And the first witness.

Peter, Indrani Mukerjea and Sanjeev Khanna took quite a while to make it through the Mumbai traffic, snarled on account of road blocks for the counting for the BMC elections, from their respective jails, approximately each six and seven kilometres away.

The prosecution's first witness, Khar police station's police constable Ganesh Dalvi, took the stand -- his hat placed on a special shelf in front of him -- a few minutes after Peter, Indrani and Sanjeev trooped into the accused pen at the back along with two green almirahs No 11 and 12.

Thursday, apparently on orders from the CBI, one narrow and short rickety bench, just about six feet long, had to accommodate all three of the accused, as well as two police personnel -- one of them a woman, sitting between each of the defendants.

The result was that Peter could barely fit at the other end and had to turn sideways and sit, while his head looked straight.

As the proceedings began, a multitude of pens took to paper. In the initial silence I heard just paper notebooks flapping and the whir of the fans.

Everyone took notes. Many of the lawyers and interns did. The judge's steno and the journalists, of course, did. So did Peter's relatives, Sanjeev's photographer cousin Nikhil Kapur, even Peter himself and sometimes Indrani.

Indrani -- in a dark blue and beige kurta ensemble and her habitual, scuffed Birkenstock sandals -- looked strangely radiant, at least from my vantage point. I could only see her head on and not her profile. Her face often lit up, looking oddly bewitching.

As she rested her chin on the interlocked fingers of both hands, her arms on the edge of the enclosure railing, she surveyed the room, often looked straight at you, or someone or another, and gave winning smiles, that one tentatively half-returned.

Should you smile at the accused, even if you don't know her, and only have read pages and pages on her, I pondered?

Sanjeev, in a striped white and blue shirt and blue jeans, sat through the proceedings, hunched down, clutching his usual Grofer bag, with a bemused expression on his face -- half-smiling, half-resigned.

Peter didn't smile much and was, unsurprisingly, uncomfortable at his perch.

Cousin Nikhil sat in the bench in front of Sanjeev, speaking to him from time to time.

Indrani, when not looking at legal documents, spoke quietly sometimes to the policewoman on her right, sometimes, I think, with the policeman on her left and with Sanjeev.

The two cops conversed with each other across Indrani. Peter spoke to none of this lot.

After the court adjourned and re-convened, his sister took a bench at the back, she and he spoke, she providing him with water solicitously.

Meanwhile Constable Dalvi spoke in a low voice, at Badami's prodding, in Marathi to the judge and the judge in an equally low voice spoke to the court steno, translating it for the records in English.

Everyone's heads cocked desperately towards the front, trying, with great difficulty, to hear what was transpiring.

Above whirling fans, rustling papers, the street din and the sounds of murmuring and jostling in the room, it is next to impossible to hear a word.

I wonder how the accused, located at the very back of the room, could hear anything at all.

Dalvi's testimony -- about apprehending a "running" driver Shyamvar Rai, who was discovered to have a loaded 7.62 mm pistol, without a license to carry it (and a cellphone and Rs 100 in his pocket) and further about taking him back to the Khar police station and the subsequent conversation there -- came to an abrupt end, hardly had it started.

Defence lawyers pounced, with their objections.

Various technicalities were raised about using the testimony of an accused who is now an approver.

And of the legalities of using hearsay.

And it went on.

Well-known lawyer after well-known lawyer got to their feet and finally the session was adjourned.

When it reconvened it was decided that an opinion was needed from the high court and that if the objections were sustained, the prosecution would need time to reorganise its onslaught of witnesses.

That would take two weeks. The next date given was for March 16th.

Indrani, during the adjournment, after eating, sat alone with her lawyers. And after the proceedings ended, post 3 pm chatted with them again too, before going back to prison. Except for snippets of conversation with Sanjeev, Indrani only spoke either to the policewomen or her attorneys.

Unlike Peter and Sanjeev, there are never family and friends standing by supporting her. Almost as if anyone who did know her had already decided, hundreds of days before the end of the trial, that she may be guilty.

A woman lawyer nearby commented, gazing curiously at Indrani, "He's (Peter) not even looking at her. How much fashion she used to do. Now all gone in the water! All good things have to come to an end. And all bad things have come to an end."

Well.

On the other hand, Sanjeev has, it seems a faithful and sturdy cousin to lean on and Peter is lucky to have lots of family around him, who have taken time out of their lives, to be at his side, feed him, love him and fight for him.

By 4 pm, Accused 1, 2, 3 were on the road back to the Arthur Road jail and Byculla jail even as the Shiv Sena and BJP jousted for the bragging rights to who had won Mumbai's municipal election.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com