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Sheena Bora Trial: The driver says bye

January 10, 2018 09:52 IST

Tuesday was the last that Courtroom 51 saw of Shyamvar Rai, accused No 3 and approver in the Sheena Bora murder trial.
True to form, Rai's final hours in the witness box were rather acrimonious.
His cross-examination at several points turned downright ugly.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

They met in the inner courtyard of the Mumbai city civil and sessions court for a few hurried minutes.

Just another married couple, that those forbidding premises witness, day in and day out -- he an undertrial; she supporting their family in his absence -- trying to keep their life together despite the gruelling length of trials.

When they met, probably for the first time in this new year, under the scrutiny of the police, it was a quiet, under-emotional moment, with hardly more than a smile exchanged.

But together they shared a white milky drink, that she brought him in a plastic disposable glass, along with a plastic-bag-wrapped tiffin.

She is a dusky woman with neat features. Her shiny hair drawn up in a ponytail with a clip, she was wearing a navy blue kurta with a bright gold-edged orange chunni and an orange salwar, high heels, payals, some modest jewellery and a black-strapped watch.

He was clad in a steel-blue, way-too-shiny shirt, darks slacks and sporting an awfully bad haircut.

A jacket was balled up under his arm, defence against the 18 degree morning temperature he must have faced on his 43-kilometre ride into the city from jail on Tuesday January 9, 2018.

The drink came out of a white plastic bag she was carrying, along with a large smart phone.

After it was done he said in English, "Bye." Then so did she.

He walked off towards the jail trucks that would take him back to the Thane central jail.

She, after a few words exchanged with CBI Investigating Officer K K Singh outside the court, set off at a brisk pace for Churchgate station, walking across the road on which a series of prison vans were chugging towards VT station.

Every so often her gaze went right as she scanned a jail van, to probably see if he was on it.

Slowly all the vans disappeared into the smoggy distance and so did she, quickly crossing Maharshi Karve Road to duck into the subway, as she tried dialing unsuccessfully a few numbers on her phone.

Like him, her face might soon be no more than a memory.

 

Yes, Tuesday was the last that CBI special courtroom 51 saw of Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, Accused No 3, the Mukerjeas' erstwhile driver and approver in the Sheena Bora murder trial, as his stint/'duty' as a witness came to a close.

It was probably the last time Sharda, his wife, would visit him at this location.

True to form, Rai's final hours in the witness box were rather acrimonious. His cross-examination by Shrikant Shivade, Accused No 4 Peter Mukerjea's lawyer, before a full courtroom, at several points, turned downright ugly.

Typically too, Rai's last day drew attention to the complex, controversial, man he is and one has gotten acquainted with over nearly seven months.

A mere driver -- that Shivade took pains to underline, very subtly, in his mildly superior and with his marginally apparent We versus Them stance -- who is a wretched victim of his circumstances, he is someone one should rightly feel sorry for.

Yet Rai, with his now rather obvious jalebi-like psyche, his lack of simplicity and, it would seem, honesty, is uncomfortable to understand. Your heart can't go out to him.

Shivade, who generally sticks to a genteel, appealing, manner, did raise his voice in frustration at Rai several times on Tuesday, in an effort to nail a few last facts down -- facts being the operative word -- as he carefully eyed the clock, pacing himself.

In anticipation of Rai's chronic amnesia and every answer of the driver's being that characteristic yaad nahin, Shivade tried a variety of tactics -- from scaring him out of it (the yaad nahins), to appealing to CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale.

Requests to Judge Jagdale didn't seem to work, oddly. After one too many ambiguous "kiya hogas (May have done)" and "gaya hogas (May have gone)" from Rai, Shivade blew a fuse and said to the the judge, "He has to be told to answer. He cannot be evasive."

Judge Jagdale put Rai's poor replies down to his memory -- "Memory is a weird thing. Sometimes one can recall something from even 40 years ago but some recent fact we cannot remember." The judge also advised that Rai had been confronted already with too many documents.

His confusion also resulted, the judge said, from "His understanding of Hindi."

Shivade to Rai: "Do you understand Marathi?"

Rai replied with a flat and loud: "Nahin."

Shivade to the judge: "In the police chargesheet it said he knew two languages" Hindi and Marathi!"

Judge Jagdale grinned.

When at points, Shivade was exasperatedly coercing Rai to change a "gaye hoga" to a "gaye the", CBI Prosecutor Bharat Badami jibed; "How could he be answering exactly the way you want him to? Why are you an advocate then?"

The jibes cut both ways with some of the lawyers muttering about the interrogation of Rai by the police in 2015 being nothing more than Rai doing "sevagiri (slang for ingratiating service)" for the police.

Many a time Shivade often resorted to this totally child-like approach to make the driver answer:

Shivade: "How far was Podar hospital (Worli, central Mumbai) from where you lived?"

Rai: "Podar hospital ke samne (In front of Podar Hospital)."

Shivade: "Yeh bata sakte hai ki kabhi se kabhi tak yahan rahein? (Can you tell us from when to when you lived here?)"

Rai emphatically: "Kabhi se kabhi tak yaad nahin (From when to when I do not remember)."

Shivade, patiently: "Were you living there in April 2012?"

Rai: "Nahin."

Shivade, painstakingly, "2013 mein?"

Rai: "Nahin."

Shivade: "2014 mein?"

Rai: "Nahin."

Shivade: "2015 mein?"

Rai: "Nahin."

There was a method to this madness: After ascertaining when Rai had not lived in the Podar hospital area, Shivade pointedly asked the driver if he was in the habit of giving the wrong residential address when he applied for SIMs for his cell phones.

Judge Jagdale laughed heartily. Rai feigned shock, as if it was not ever possible.

The lawyer then asked if Rai had carried more than one handset at any given time or any with double SIMs and if he would recognise his own handest should it be placed in front of him.

Rai said to the first that he once had two and to the second, mock earnestly, that he would try.

When probed further he repeated stiffly, his face dark with anger -- an expression that continued through much of the three-hour plus session --- that he would try.

Shivade went into a loop saying that they might need to write an application to have the phone brought from the Khar police station, north west Mumbai (where Rai was brought to in 2015 after his arrest for possession of an unlicensed country pistol).

Judge Jagdale swiftly and firmly snuffed out that line of thought.

He told Peter's advocate curtly, softening his words with a smile: "Complete your cross examination as you promised. I hope you won't disappoint me," suggesting no fresh applications could come in the way of winding up the cross examination of Rai on Tuesday.

A surprising new fact Shivade more or less nailed down on Tuesday was that Rai also used another name!

Shivade: "Aap ka naam Shyamvar Pinturam Rai hai. Yeh aur koi naam hai? (Your name is Shymvar Pinturam Rai. Apart from this, do you have any other name?)"

Rai, quickly: "Nahin."

When Shivade began to ask him about the name in his passport, Rai backtracked and began to babble about how he had put his mother's name Suryavanshi and then, in a sweet voice, prattled on aimlessly about how that was so too for some of his documents from the village Danwa, MP, where he came from.

Shivade interrupted: "I don't care if it was your Ma's name or your Mama's (uncle's) I asked you what name was on your passport."

The next 20 minutes got uglier, angrier and infinitely more interesting. Rai's use of the name Suryavanshi was not consistent. He had not started life as a Suryavanshi by surname. But at some point for unknown reasons swapped Rai for it.

Shivade charged that he changed his name to escape a "gunah" or past crime. Rai returned angrily that he had not.

Shivade: "Aap ko sach se koi matlab nahin hai (You have no regard for the truth). You have prepared false documents and (created) stories to meet the situation, aapke fayda ke liye (for your gain)."

Judge Jagdale seemed amused at Shivade's ringing speech and laughed.

Rai: "Yeh jhoot bol raha hai! (He is lying!)"

Like it has been at almost any session of cross-examination of Rai, since August, the Q and A lapsed into conversation about distances, time taken to cover a distance.

Like it has been at almost any session of cross-examination of Rai, since August, velocity, distance and time taken to cover x kilometres etc are foreign to Rai, as if -- one wonders -- he drove a tractor or a bulldozer instead of a car. And as if distance, speed etc were subjects from the realm of physics rather than the backbone of his trade.

Also foreign seemed to be knowledge of the nature of the roads and routes -- Does one pass through Khandala to get to Lonavla? No, said Rai, but on the way back, he said with baffling logic, one does -- he used for the different recces he said he did on behalf of Indrani Mukerjea in the run up to Sheena Bora's murder.

Rai's rationality is always startling.

What's more, on Tuesday, like many other days, he smiled back at the smiling room after offering what he thought was a logical answer, blissfully and sadly unaware that the room was smiling at him and not his answer.

When asked if the road he took in 2012 climbed the ghats (hills) to get from Khopoli (on the Mumbai-Pune old highway) to Khandala he said it had. When asked if he went back also via the ghats he disagreed violently. "Ghat se charte hai utarte nahin hai (You use the ghats to climb and not to descend)."

Shivade made a brave attempt to have a more esoteric discussion with Rai about whether he knew what were the "mahatvapurn (importance)" issues of the case and if he had come out with them all or there were still more in store.

In return, Rai offered rudely: "Mujhe kya maloom ki kya mahtavpurn tha? (How do I know what is important?)"

There was some banter at this point, which ended in disaster with Shivade, taking the high ground, accusing Rai of smiling when a murder had occurred.

Badami joined in: "But she is also smiling (referring to Indrani)."

Judge Jagdale intervened, "Don't go by emotions."

Rai retorted: "Mein ro kya? (Should I cry?)"

Given that Shivade is representing Peter in this case, much of the latter half of Tuesday's session dwelt on Rai's recounting of the conversation the driver alleged Indrani had on the cellphone with Peter on April 23, 2012, that effectively ended Peter's bail plea in 2016.

Indrani, after checking out and deciding on a spot for Sheena's body in Gagode Khurd, near Pen, Raigad district, on April 23, the day before her murder, called Peter, Rai alleged, and she said, 'It was a good place. Well done' and that there was a reference made to both Sheena and Mekhail, her son from her first marriage.

This particular sentence has played havoc with Peter's life.

It first appeared, Shivade tracked on Tuesday, in partial form in Rai's second statement to the CBI in January 2016.

Earlier to that, it had apparently not existed and was missing from statements Rai made to the police and the magistrate of the killa court for reasons he was unable to justify to the court, though he said in each case the statements he recorded were read out to him and explained in Hindi.

At each instance, Shivade produced Rai's statement to show him that the line was missing. CBI Special Prosecutor Bharat Badami piped in, at one point, reassuringly to Rai, when the driver was reading one of the statements, "Pura parh lo shanti se (Read the whole thing calmly)."

Shivade sarcastically: "Pura padenge to sham ho jayega (If he reads the whole thing it will be evening)."

An embellished version of the same sentence showed up, only for the second time, in Rai's testimony to the court in July 2017.

From 'Good place' it got upgraded to 'It was a good place. Well done' to Shivade's mystification, that he expressed vividly to those in Courtroom 51, including his colleagues and Indrani's lawyers Gunjan Mangla and Sudeep Pasbola.

Shivade: "Ye dekho, done ka kya matlab hai? (Listen up, what is the meaning of done?)"

Judge Jagdale chuckled.

Rai smartly:"Achcha kiya (Did well)."

A little later in the conversation Shivade asked Rai how he knew it was Peter Indrani was talking to.

Rai responded roundly: "Jab Peter sahib se baat karti thi toh moo moo karti thi (When she spoke to Peter sahib she used to make moo moo sounds, indicating she expressed some sort of affection)."

The whole courtroom laughed and Indrani, dressed on Tuesday in a cream shirt, leggings and a scarf, beamed from the back, looking with a smile at Peter, sitting just beyond Accused No 2 and former husband Sanjeev Khanna.

Finally, Shivade: "Hamara kahna hai na aise call hua, na aise baatein hua (I would like to say that there was no such call nor such a conversation)."

"Yeh jhoot hai. Yeh statement nahin bola (This is a lie. This statement was not made)," he further added, a little later.

"Peter's bail (plea hearing) was going on (then). A false statement was recorded (for that purpose). Aap CBI aur police ke dar se bola tha (You said this out of fear of the CBI and the police)."

Shivade closed his cross examination with more charges.

"I would like to say that the police has taken you into custody before your arrest (in August 2015)," and he told Rai that the police had told him what to say about the murder. "You have struck a deal with the police."

Pasbola concurred, repeating Shivade's allegation.

To each accusation Rai replied with a loud "Yeh jhoot hai (That is a lie)" or "Galat! (Wrong!)" or "Hum sab jan mil ke murder kiya (All of us together murdered)."

Shivade hit back with his final words, "Jhoot gavai de raha hai (He has given false testimony)."

Rai: "Aap jhoot bol rahein. Sach hai (You are lying. This is the truth)."

Judge Jagdale said relieved: "The evidence is now closed."

At which Badami remonstrated: "It is mammoth evidence. I have to go through it," indicating there might be need to have a fresh look at some aspects of the proceedings.

Judge Jagdale, pleased that Rai's cross examination was finally over, some 160 days later, would not leave the door ajar for Badami: "Put an application then."

Pasbola teased: "Badami is saying he is exhausted from tutoring the witness. He is not going to tutor the witness anymore."

Badami continued: "We are seeking justice. It is not only about Peter. Sheena is seeking justice," and indicated that the winding up of Rai's role as a witness was now happening too quickly.

Judge Jagdale laughed and strongly disagreed, brooking no interference in the scheduling of the next witness, Khar police station Constable Ganesh Dalvi.

Tuesday's long session drew to a close at 4.20 pm, shortly after the unsuccessful anticipatory bail hearing of Yug Tulli, partner of Mojo Bistro and an accused in the December 29, 2017 Kamala Mills fire, ended one floor up.

The four accused departed back for jail at nearly 5 pm, in trucks parked just under the giant black exterior stains outside Courtroom 34, that was affected by the sessions court fire of January 7.

Sanjeev had to undergo a series of checks for the medicines and thrillers that had been sent for him and he was carrying, since the police was not familiar with the nicotine gum he had received in an effort to kill his smoking habit.

After Rai's colourful stint before the court, Constable Dalvi, with his quiet, obedient, answers, may make for a more sober Chapter 2 in the Sheena Bora murder trial when it resumes on January 17.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com