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Rediff.com  » News » Sheena Bora Trial: And the witness brandished her shoe

Sheena Bora Trial: And the witness brandished her shoe

Last updated on: May 31, 2018 10:29 IST

Finally, to end the dispute Sharma threatened to show her shoes.
Pasbola declared regally that he would like to forgo that particular honour.
Sharma ignored him.
Instead, she bent down, took off her shoe and triumphantly held her prize aloft, and said delightedly, "Yeh dekhiye! (Have a look!)"
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Rediff.com/Dominic Xavier

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Guess who stole the show Wednesday, May 30, at the morning hearing of the Sheena Bora murder trial?

A strange pair of pointed black, flat shoes, with straps.

Unbelievable.

It yet again confirmed that no day in court is, often, even remotely like the next.

The shoes, none too pretty, belonged to Kajal Sharma, Indrani Mukerjea's former secretary. She was wearing them and had been wearing them daily to the trial.

They made an appearance when Sharma decided to angrily take one of them off, to show the sole of it to Indrani's lawyer Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola, much to the surprise of CBI Special Courtroom 51, at the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai. Whatever next?!

The topic wandered inexplicably to shoes, during the cross-examination of Sharma, when for some reason Pasbola was curious to know Sharma's shoe size.

At first, she would not reveal her size. "Mera? (Mine?)" she asked in shock, looking down at her feet in the witness box.

Sharma questioned, her voice going up a few octaves: "Size?"

Pasbola: "Size."

Sharma again: "Size?!"

 

An exceedingly strange comedy of errors then started to unfold.

She modestly told CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale that that was a personal question, as if Pasbola had been asking about her lingerie instead of her feet: "Personal question ka jawab nahin dena ka right hai? (I have the right not to give the answer to a personal question?)"

The judge, perhaps misunderstanding her, agreed cheerfully: "You have every right to give an answer."

Pasbola immediately grumpily rubbished her statement declaring disgustedly there was nothing personal about a shoe size.

Sharma delicately ventured she had a size of "7 or 37" depending on the brand and type.

Pasbola heard instead "5 or 37."

Sharma corrected him.

At that point Pasbola insisted, over and over again, that she had said 5 and how could she change her shoe size in the space of a few minutes, attempting to show, in that instance, before the court, her total unreliability.

Sharma stuck to her guns.

She announced she had said 7 all along. She complained, "He wants me to say what he wants me to say."

Pasbola disbelieving: "Size 7 or 8 is what I wear."

Special CBI Prosecutor Bharat Badami chimed in sagaciously: "Bahut saare log pehnte hai (Many people wear that size)."

Pasbola, the ambassador of small tootsies, declared: "Ladies log nahin pehnte hai (Ladies don't wear that size)."

My own sweaty size 9 feet began to tingle in the courtroom, lest Pasbola spied them.

Sharma, looking at her shoes, owned up: "Today I am wearing size 39."

Pasbola dismissed: "But no one has seen it."

The discussion on shoes then went to how there could be a huge difference in size if a pair was purchased in the UK or the US.

Sharma, who was wearing a peach kurta with white embroidery and a white churidar, stoutly declared she only bought her shoes "locally", not in the US or the UK and that her shoe size might vary minimally, but she had said size 7.

Finally, to summarily end the dispute she threatened to show her shoes.

Pasbola declared regally that he would like to forgo that particular honour.

Sharma ignored him.

Instead, she bent down, took off her shoe and triumphantly held her prize aloft, the sole facing Pasbola, waving it, and said delightedly, "Yeh dekhiye! (Have a look!) Number 39!"

The court grinned, including Sharma's husband, who was sitting in the front row.

Indrani wearing a pale orange chikan kurta beamed from the accused enclosure in the back.

Never had, probably, such an odd shoe got so much attention.

Pasbola didn't react. Instead, he asked her if she ever wore Bata shoes.

Sharma very definitely and disdainfully said no.

The Shoe Rumpus ended there with the lawyer moving abruptly on to another topic.

Pasbola gave no further clue as to why the shoe hullabaloo had erupted in the first place.

Perhaps it was an attempt to link Sharma up with the three pairs of Bata shoes that figured in the case earlier as those worn the day Sheena Bora's body was disposed of.

Though the shoe discussion hogged a good portion of the hearing, Pasbola took his final day cross-examination to other contentious areas too.

A notable to-and-fro occurred on Sharma's visit to the Mukerjea residence, No 19, Marlow, Worli, south central Mumbai, on the day of the murder in 2012.

It began with the time of her visit to Indrani's home.

Sharma had told the magistrate, before whom she first deposed in 2015, that she had gone at 11.30 on April 24, 2012, and had been there for 1.5 hours.

She told the court last month it had been later in the afternoon and her duration was different.

Pasbola wanted to know why her time and duration differed.

But first he wanted her to simply answer, with a yes or a no, that she had given the time of 11.30 and a duration of 1.5 hours.

Sharma simply would not give a yes or a no.

She dug in her heels, in those strange black now familiar shoes, and persisted in offering an explanation first.

Sharma prattling off a long, once-upon-a-time tale: "Sir woh aise ho gaya, mein aap ko batatee (It happened like this. I will explain)."

Pasbola cut her off brusquely. "Kahani nahin sun na hai! (I don't want to hear a story!)"

She kept contending she had given an approximate duration. Pasbola wanted her to admit the discrepancy and that she answer his question.

Sharma in an angry voice said she didn't want to answer the way he wanted her to answer.

She offered stubbornly and heatedly: "Answer half right hai, half wrong hai (The answer is half right and half wrong). I said 1-1½ hours."

A ring of laughter sounded from the back. From Indrani, of course.

You can never forget Indrani is in the room. She always makes her presence known in little ways, that attract attention.

Badami counselled Sharma kindly: "Shanti se jawab do (Give your answers calmly)."

Each Q and A session between Pasbola and Sharma is much closer to a skirmish on a battlefield than a simple cross-examination.

The spirited Sharma, unusually, refuses to be brow-beaten by Pasbola and frequently renders the lawyer's customary hectoring tactics ineffective.

So authentic is Sharma's portrayal of her helpless inability to understand a standard Pasbola question, that often Judge Jagdale kindly and gently intervenes and rephrases many a question for her.

Or, like he did on Wednesday, he suggests a question might be too difficult for her to understand.

After the time and duration of her visit to Marlow, Pasbola enquired if she had spoken to Mukerjea's then driver Shyamvar Pinturam Rai from the Mukerjea residence, possibly from a landline.

Sharma, as expected, didn't remember. And if Rai had been in the home. She said she was not aware.

Pasbola: "Us din sham ko Rai ne aapko call kiya 6.06 and 27 seconds (That evening Rai called you at 6.06 and 27 seconds). You spoke to him for a long time. 71 seconds. What was it about?"

Sharma corrected him: "One minute 11 seconds. Mujhe yaad nahin hai. Mein bahut baat karti thi (I don't remember. I used to talk a lot)."

Pasbola admonished her with a smile: "Court mein baat toh nahi karti hai (You don't talk in court)." She smiled back broadly.

Pasbola: "Kis silsile mein baat ki thi? (In what connection did you speak to him?)"

Sharma: "Office related work."

Pasbola: "But what office related work?!"

Sharma didn't remember. Pasbola pushed for a better answer.

Judge Jagdale, dismissive: "She cannot remember," wondering why the lawyer was stuck on that answer.

Pasbola: "That was the time of the murder."

The judge smiled in understanding.

Sharma said it could be about booking a ticket, but she could not recall exactly.

Other than the Marlow visit on the day of the murder, Pasbola verified with Sharma if she was aware that instead of flying to Kolkata on the 25th from Mumbai, Indrani initially had plans to fly directly from London to Kolkata and had kept Sharma in the loop.

She didn't remember. But Pasbola confirmed that Sharma was usually aware of the movements of the Mukerjea family because they usually sent her copies of their tickets so she could make onward bookings for cars or hotels or whatever.

Pasbola checked too with Sharma about the arrangements that existed between the Mukerjeas and Pradeep Waghmare, the office peon who doubled up as a cleaner at the Mukerjea home.

The name Waghmare always brings a round of smiles in this courtroom, because the energetic, cheerful-faced, peon at Courtroom 51 is also a Waghmare.

The lawyer closed his cross-examination of Sharma, which must be a situation of mutual relief, stating: "It is my case to you that you are deposing falsely under pressure from the CBI to save yourself."

He went on to add: "By way of a grand design you are falsely implicating Indrani Mukerjea."

Sharma: "Hindi mein boliye (Say it in Hindi)."

Pasbola said, though Hindi was his mother tongue, he was not sure how he could translate the word grand design into Hindi.

The judge chipped in offering an explanation and that this was what Pasbola was suggesting -- "Aise yeh bol rahein hai (That is what he is contending)."

Sharma firmly and loudly: "Aisa completely galat hai (That is completely wrong)."

Niranjan Mundargi then took over.

Always the Topography Man, this tall lawyer, who customarily uses very lucid, straightforward language and represents Sanjeev Khanna, Indrani's former husband, seems to believe that geography is the easiest way to show up the reliability of a witness.

He proved it on Wednesday when he had a go at Sharma.

Mundragi started off by asking her about her visit to the Hiltop Hotel, Worli, south central Mumbai, on the day of the murder, with Indrani, to make a hotel booking for Sanjeev.

His questions focussed on what she remembered about the hotel, the location of its lobby, its glass door entrance and the distance between the reception desk and the seating area.

Sharma couldn't give a legitimate answer to even a single of his questions and made a hash of it, giving the most vague of responses.

The young lawyer then called her out. He told her bluntly that she hadn't even been to the hotel. "Mera aisa kahna hai ki Hiltop Hotel nahin gayi. Mera aisa kahna hai ki aap ke saamne koi room book nahin hua (It is my contention you have never been to the Hiltop Hotel and it is also my contention that no room was ever booked in front of you)."

Mundargi tried getting to the bottom of the ticklish forgery issue when he addressed a chain of questions to Sharma about who could operate her personal salary bank account, if she was the sole signatory on it.

Sharma, who always, oddly, has a bugaboo about her "personal rights", asked the judge why she had to answer questions about her bank account if it was a personal matter.

Judge Jagdale emphatically told her she did.

Mundargi kept inching closer. Through the same question, asked in ten different ways, he attempted to show Sharma how signatures were crucial to operating a bank account and that if someone withdrew money from her account, using her signature it would a "zulm (crime)."

The lawyer was going about his task with such thoroughness that the judge muttered to him to finish asking the question quickly, if he didn't want the answer to change.

Sharma abruptly shut the whole exercise down, saying flatly, "Mein pahele bhi bola tha ki forgery word baad mein patta chala (I have already said it earlier that I learned about the word forgery only later)."

Mundargi, whose entire cross examination lasted about half an hour, then moved in for the kill, with a sequence of very neatly-worded, hit-home questions of Sharma about her forgery of Sheena Bora's signature, on Indrani's instructions, on her resignation letter to Mumbai Metro One and on the cancellation of her leave and license for the rental of her flat.

"Did you take anyone's help when you had to practise Sheena Bora's signatures?"

"Did you discuss having to practise the writing of Sheena Bora's signature with anyone? Your husband? Or a close relative? That the practising was taking too much time aur ki ho nahin raha tha? (And that it was not happening properly?)"

"Did you practise in front of your husband or gharwale (people at home)?"

"Did you tell your husband that you had to do this? Aapne pattidev ko pucha ki aise karein ya nahin? (Did you ask your husband if you should do such a task?)"

Sharma squirmed a bit on the witness stand. She said she had not.

Her husband, as he heard Mundargi's questions, offered a faraway smile.

That she had not told her husband didn't seem particularly plausible to the room, given that the man had been in the court for every hearing and had reassuringly sat in the front row, quietly supporting her all through.

Finishing up his cross-examination, Mundargi handed the baton over to Peter Mukerjea's battery of lawyers.

Shrikant Shivade, who heads the team and always does his own cross examinations, wasn't in court. His colleague Amit Ghag said he would be available on Thursday, May 31, and that was the date set for the next hearing.

Before the hearing ended, CBI Investigating Officer K K Singh got up to tell the judge and Pasbola that he had received an e-mail from Indrani's Guwahati-based son Mekhail Bora.

Mekhail had written: 'I, Mekhail Bora, have to inform you that I feel danger to my life. As informed to you sir, I have filed a case to grant probate for the will made by my grandmother (Indrani's mother Durga Rani Bora) but since 2016 the case is still in progress.'

'The executor of the will informed me that he is being in touch with Indrani Mukerjea's lawyer. I really feel very suspicious and scared. Since then, he (the executor of the will) has been mentally harassing me and as he stays near me as my neighbour, I am scared for my life.'

'Sir, I stay all alone in this house and no one to help, I really fear for my life and find this person suspicious and associated to Indrani Mukerjea.'

The e-mail produced, as expected, a ripple of agitated reaction in Courtroom 51.

Pasbola was a bit taken aback that he could possibly be after Mekhail. It was then ascertained that it was not clear if Mekhail was actually referring to Pasbola.

Indrani, her eyes like saucers, asked to read the e-mail. She shrugged unable to make sense of her son's allegations.<

The judge said he granted protection and suggested putting him in ex-politician Chhagan Bhujbal's former cell when he came to Mumbai. He was told there was no space there.

Is Mekhail's arrival imminent? Could he be the next witness? And what a witness he was going to be.

After the hearing, the accused sat about in the back of the courtroom. The prosecution and defence team was also still in the room.

A friendly banter started up.

Ayaz Khan, Indrani's lawyer, was challenging Badami to a plate of sheekh kabab over some wager. Badami said he didn't touch anything non-vegetarian, not even eggs. Indrani declared she was vegetarian too.

K K Singh asked Peter, who was tucking, with quite some concentration, into some fries, why he didn't share his lunch with him or Indrani.

Peter shook his head, and said he was not allowed to. "I am already in jail!" and joked that he didn't want it to get any worse than that.

Wednesday too, the Mumbai civil and sessions court, much of it enjoying a summer break, was a silent ghost of its usual self.

A little excitement was happening one floor up: The judgment in the Farid Tanasha case, an aide of gangster Chhota Rajan, who had been murdered, had been delivered. Eleven men had been convicted.

Hope was on a roll, two floors down: On its landing two little boys, scruffily dressed, stood looking expectantly and elatedly out of the window at the prison buses arriving in the courtyard.

"Baba ko lekar aaye hai! (They have brought father!)"

They then raced down the stairs.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com