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Rediff.com  » News » Sheena Bora Trial: The Mother Who'd Never Been A Mother

Sheena Bora Trial: The Mother Who'd Never Been A Mother

July 26, 2018 12:15 IST

One couldn't help feeling a certain melancholy viewing these now vagrant documents and photographs that would never be rightfully cherished.
The pictures spoke to you. They offered slices of extinguished lives.
They breathed sadness too, for what could have been and will never be.
The sweet promises that Life made and insolently, arrogantly never kept.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

Timeworn photographs.

No longer valid passports.

Birth certificates of deceased family members.

Expired ID cards.

Old letters.

Adoption papers.

These make up the rich archives of a family.

They deserve to be treasured and kept in a special, loving way.

They are all you have left, apart from dwindling, ebbing memories, when an adored parent, sibling, child or grandparent passes on.

But when there is a murder in a family these kinds of documents, and much more, can be seized from a home and become police, and subsequently, court property.

They are no longer treasured. Or loved.

They lie dusty, violated, brutally anonymous except for a serial number, fingered by too many impersonal hands, wrapped up in some horrendous red or white sarkari cloth bundle in a cupboard or trunk in an Indian courtroom. And may stay there forever more.

So it is with the Bora family.

 

Photographs of Sheena, her maternal grandparents, the father she never knew and the rest of her family now live in an ugly almirah in CBI Special Courtroom 51 at the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai, thousands of miles away from her home in Guwahati.

Along with it are kept her birth certificate, her mother's birth certificate, her grandmother's last will, adoption papers, PAN cards and many more such papers.

They now have government stamps on them and are just anodynely named Articles X or Y or Z or whatever, soon to be exhibits in a legal process, rather than colourful bits and pieces of people's lives.

These documents and pictures were unveiled in court on Wednesday July 25 in the Sheena Bora murder trial before Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale and passed about the lawyers' bench, allowing all to have a look.

One couldn't help feeling a certain melancholy viewing these now vagrant documents and photographs that would never be rightfully cherished.

The pictures spoke to you. They offered slices of extinguished lives.

They breathed sadness too, for what could have been and will never be.

The sweet promises that Life made and insolently, arrogantly never kept.

The happy faces of a very young Indrani Mukerjea and her first partner long-haired Siddhartha Das.

Three or four pictures from 2005 of the first encounter between Mekhail Bora, Vidhie Mukerjea and Sheena in Kolkata, Vidhie clutching a Barbie, where the siblings are delighted to have met, even if Vidhie thought she was with an 'uncle' and an 'aunt'.

A glamourous Sheena, with her charming up-tilted eyes, standing in front of a flashy red car, certain to have been even more gorgeous than her mom.

Brother and sister Sheena and Mekhail in a pretty garden of flowers.

An innocent, gloriously lovely, Indrani.

CBI Special Public Prosecutor Bharat Badami, in whose hands these photographs rested briefly, who likes to make wisecracks and have a laugh, when he and Indrani's trial lawyer Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola are not sparring, was pensive and sombre on Wednesday as he looked at the pictures, especially one of Indrani.

"Destiny," he mused so aptly.

The photos and documents had been taken out for Mekhail, Indrani's son and PW15, to examine and confirm before they were offered to the lawyers to see.

That was not the only sorrowful moment on Wednesday in court.

Mekhail's normally reserved, impassive, mask finally cracked as he spoke with anger and anguish, virtually in tears, about his grandfather Upendra Kumar Bora's death and how Indrani had not been there to help them.

It was the first time he actually criticised his mother bitterly, accusing her of being unfeeling, and neither a mother nor a daughter, among other things.

Indrani, in a pale melon Lucknowi chikan sleeveless kurta, reacted inappropriately to his charges with a broad, knowing, smile.

Accused No 1's knee-jerk reaction to most situations is a smile, which does not necessarily mean she is happy.

After seeing her for 18 months in court, one has learned to decode them a bit. Most of those amused smiles are ironic, steeped in it.

The biggest beams are reserved for when she wants to convey that the witness is lying. She laughs out loud, belting out a girly giggle, when she feels a part of the hearing is preposterous.

Mekhail concluded his oral testimony on Wednesday. The process of identifying various documents (deemed articles and exhibits) is ongoing.

When the hearing began, Mekhail, wearing a steel blue shirt and blue jeans, continued from where he left off on Tuesday, relating events from April 25, 2012 onwards.

After he returned to Guwahati following an eventful evening spent with his mother Indrani on April 24, the day Sheena was murdered, Mekhail took a few days to recover.

Mekhail, who speaks always clearly and audibly, his good Hindi having a quaint Assamese lilt, where a 'v' could become a 'bh' or a vowel tenderly drawn out, said: "Ek din Indrani ka call aaya mere paas. Mein ne baat-chit kiya aur bola ki Sheena utna din se phone nahin kar rahi hai. Uske baad Indrani bolee woh US chalee gayee hai padai karne ke liye (Indrani called one day. We spoke about this and that. I said I had not received a call from Sheena for so many days. Indrani said she had gone to the US to study)."

If Mekhail wondered how she could have moved thousands of miles across the world to America without telling her only brother and closest relative, with whom she shared the bond of them both being largely parentless, or expressed surprise to Indrani, he didn't say so on Wednesday.

A few weeks later -- some time in May or June 2012 -- Indrani contacted him to say that she needed the cancellation notification of Sheena's leave and license of the 400 sq foot odd Andheri (Marol) flat where Sheena had lived, cancelled and could he fax those documents to the landlord.

She put it this way: "Sheena mere ko ek mail bhejengi aur us me discontinuation of rent-lease agreement hoga aur unke andar fax number hoga Domnic and Melanie Machado ka aur unka contact details. Unko fax kar dena (Sheena will mail me the discontinuation of the rent-lease agreement of her flat. In it will be the fax and contact numbers of Domnic and Melanie Machado. Fax it to them.)."

Mekhail asked why Sheena was not cancelling it herself.

Satisfied with the explanation that she was too busy finding her bearings in the US, he promised to do this.

But when he was not able to get his hands on a working fax machine, he offered to courier it. Indrani agreed.

Mekhail called up Sheena's landlords Domnic and Melanie Machado and got their address and sent the document from Blue Dart courier's AIDC office in Guwahati.

The document to be faxed, Mekhail confirmed to the court, arrived from Sheena's Hotmail account and had her signature on it.

It is interesting to note that in a now email-text-whatsapp-social media dominated and driven world, a person can be made to eerily live on electronically for many months or more and no one would be any wiser -- e-mails can still come from dead people, texts too.

The absence of a call or a handwritten letter will not ever be noticed.

CBI Special Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil, wearing a striking grey handloom sari, then asked Mekhail if he continued to try to contact Sheena and if he asked for her US number.

Mekhail described that weeks and then months lapsed and he still had not heard from his sister Sheena.

Repeated enquiries put to Indrani yielded no significant answers or substantial information. But he did not think anything amiss.

"Indrani bolee thoda din de do unko settle hone ke liye, woh aap ko apne aap contact karegi, khud contact karegi (Indrani said wait a few days, let her settle down, she will contact you on her own)."

Finally, Indrani admonished him curtly one day on a call.

In those days Mekhail recalled, Indrani was living abroad and would call him either from her international cell or from an Indian number when she was in India on periodic visits: "Ek baar phone kiya toh mein ne bola Sheena ka itna din se khabar nahin hai. Number doh hum contact karenge. Unho ne rudely bolee usko apna zindagi mein jeene do. Kyo usko pareshaan kar rahein hoi (One day Indrani called. I said I still had no news of Sheena for so many days and to give me her number so that I could call her. Indrani rudely told me that let her live her life why do you want to trouble her)."

It continued that way for months together.

Mekhail's dialogue over the next year or so was mainly about not having had a chance to speak to with his sister Sheena.

Every time Mekhail asked, Indrani would say she needed time to settle down there and would be in touch herself with Mekhail.

"Baar baar aisee bolee (Over and over she said the same thing)."

In 2014 his nani, Durga Rani Bora, became sick. She fell in the bathroom and broke her hip and was not able to stand again. Indrani was informed and she flew into Guwahati in August 2014 to take charge of the situation.

Mekhail remembered that before her arrival, Indrani had bad mouthed him to their larger family -- cousins Viraj Mohan Hazarika and Amitabh Hazarika -- saying he was responsible for his grandmother's fall.

"Pura parivar ko inform kiya mein ne gira diya unko. Parivar ke beech mein (she was trying to start) a ladai and hamare against karwa rahin thi (She told the greater family that I had made my grandmother fall. Within the family she was trying to start a fight and incite them against me)."

When she arrived, Indrani had reservations made at a local hotel. His mother, Mekhail said, never stayed at her parents' home. "Ghar par ruktee nahin thi (She didn't stay at home)."

There were several discussions on that trip within the family on what needed to be done for Mekhail's grandparents and what would happen to him -- "Kya karna hai, kya nahin karna hai (What to do and what not to do)."

Indrani invited Mekhail to her hotel and offered him drinks.

Mekhail decided to take up her offer, even though his last experience of sitting down to have cocktails with his mom was still scarily fresh in his mind.

"Ek drink ke baad halat kharab ho gaya. Same feeling hua (After one drink I was in bad shape. Had the same feeling as in Bombay when he drank at her home). This time I wanted to drink (to find out)."

"Why did this happen when I drank with her and bahar aise nahin hota? (It did not happen when I drank anywhere else?)"

Judge Jagdale looked tickled at Mekhail's logic and smiled.

"Same experience hua (It was the same experience). Dizziness. Sweating."

This bout of drinking with Indrani made Mekhail so sick that he had to be admitted to a local hospital.

Indrani visited him there -- "Woh pyar dikhane ke liye, ki mein tumhari ma hoon (To show that love, that I am your mother)" -- and brought up the topic of her parents' future care.

She suggested, to Mekhail's horror, that they think of putting Upen and Durga Bora in an old age home.

She also suggested it was time Mekhail, who apparently had a hotel management degree/certificate, took up a job in Mumbai.

"Tumhare liye kuch soch ke rakha hai. Nana-nani ko old age home mein dal denge. Bola tumhare liye job dekha hai Bombay mein. Mein ne bola theek hai company ka details deejiye jis mein job dekh rahein hai (I have thought of something for you. Let your grandparents go to an old age home. I have seen a job for you in Bombay. I said fine. Give me the details of the company where you have seen this job)."

But Indrani would not provide the exact details of the job and that angered Mekhail.

"Mein ne inkar kar diya. Nana nani old age home mein kaha leke jayenge. Aisa sab nahin chalega. Woh udhar itna gussa ho gayi aur bolee nana nani ka paisa band kar dungi. Aur tumhara pocket money band kar dungi. Woh time ko mere ko thoda gussa aaya. Itna kharab situation tha (I told her no. My grandparents cannot go to an old age home. That would not work. She got really angry right there. She said she would stop the money she was sending my grandparents and to me. At that time I also felt a little angry)."

He explained that he told her off.

He then said "Itna kharab situation tha (It was a bad situation)" that it was time to be in touch with Sheena.

"Mein ko unka number bhi nahin chahiye. Aap ka phone se karenge (I don't even want her number. We will call her from your phone)."

Indrani got even more livid that day, Mekhail said, and went off in a huff.

Hearing this, Indrani, from her place in court, again offered another of her strange smiles.

Between 2014 and August 2015, Mekhail had no contact with Indrani. But it was not for lack of trying.

By then Mekhail's grandfather had become ill too and was paralysed on one side.

Mekhail desperately needed Indrani's help. He was taking care of his grandparents single-handedly. But his frantic, numerous requests went unanswered.

And from Sheena there was a puzzling radio silence.

Mekhail, probably, at that time, would have been beside himself with anxiety and stress even as he must have wondered why he was so alone.

He recalled in a tormented tone: "I tried to contact Indrani. SMS. E-mail. Kabhi koi reply nahin aaya. Mere ko chodo, apni ma-baap ko nahin dekh sakti hai. Nana diabetic tha. Bed ridden tha... Yeh sab cheez inform kiya Indrani ko. Koi reply nahin. Koi help nahin (No reply ever came. Forget about me. But can’t you want to look after your mother and father. He was diabetic, bed ridden. I informed Indrani of all this. No reply came, no help either)."

There was a few minutes of silence. Tears filled his eyes and he closed them, looking upwards somewhere, as if seeking strength from above.

It appeared he might break down as he spoke about the last days of Upen Bora.

Indrani, at the back of the court, stood contemplating him very attentively, over her reading glasses, and her face broke into a smile that was not a smile and seemed to mean so much more.

Smiles that anyone watching her, for the first time, could easily misconstrue to be taunting ones.

Indrani's reactions are always baffling, untimely. Her face refused to take on the expression one would expect a mother to have as she heard her son talk about her parents' final days.

Mekhail pulled himself together and told the court how he looked after his grandparents entirely on his own, with not enough financial assistance.

"Without any nursing assistance mein unko bathroom le ke jaata tha. Khud feed karte the. Ek cheez bolna hai (I would take him to the bathroom, feed him myself. I have something to say)."

He switched over to English and declared emotionally, accusatively, "You are not supposed to die like this! Totally Indrani ka fault tha (her fault) Unka solution old age home mein phekna! (her solution was to throw them into an old age home!)"

Chronologically the testimony had now moved into 2015, the year Sheena's murder was accidentally discovered, three long years after she was killed.

"August 25, 2015 ko patta chala ki Didi ka murder ho gaya..." he paused, taking a deep breath... by Indrani Mukerjea, Sanjeev Khanna aur driver. Nana zinda tha but unko pata nahin chala (On August 25, 2015 we learned that Didi had been murdered by Indrani Mukerjea, Sanjeev Khanna and the driver. My grandfather never got to know)."

Mekhail said he then realised that when he met Indrani in Mumbai on April 24, 2012 she had just finished murdering his sister.

In an even, low, tone he added: "Aur mere ko maar daalne ka koshish kar rahi thi. Agar uss din aur pi lete mein aaj idhar khada ho ke baat nahin kar raha hota (And she was trying to kill me. If I had drunk more that day I would not be standing today here speaking)."

On this strikingly melodramatic note, Mekhail Bora's testimony ended.

Kavita Patil did follow up with a few questions about Mekhail's interactions with the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, who investigated the murder initially before the CBI and Kaushal Kishore Singh's team took over.

Officers from that police station came to his home in Guwahati, Mekhail said, and asked a few preliminary questions and then they brought him to Mumbai to be questioned further. He handed over some personal papers and photographs to them as well.

Mekhail first said he had not signed anything at the police station and later said he could not remember.

Patil requested the court clerks to pull out a file of documents for Mekhail to verify.

A small brouhaha broke out.

Indrani's lawyer Gunjan Mangla said that none of these documents could be exhibits because they were certified copies and not originals and had not been proven in court yet.

Further that Mekhail was being prompted about the nature of the papers/documents.

Heated words were exchanged between Patil and Mangla, who was dressed all in black: "Why are you disturbing me all the time? Why are your murmuring?"

Mangla still murmuring: "Am I supposed to sit quietly in court?!"

Patil angrily: "How can I take the 'chief' (examination in chief) if you are disturbing me in the middle!"

Peter Mukerjea's counsel Anoop Pandey got up and requested the judge: "At least the witness should be allowed to give a description of the documents."

Judge Jagdale intervened said he would take them on record for today as articles. But to upgrade them to exhibits would need more proof from the prosecution's side. He explained that only originals of public documents like a birth or death certificate could be exhibits without proof.

The lady clerks pulled out a file that had some 50 or 55 Bora family documents that Mekhail had submitted to the Khar police station along with ten photographs in 2015.

Mekhail pulled out the envelope of photographs and carefully looked at them and told the judge who figured in the pictures.

He was tasked with labouriously examining each document and describing it.

There were letters from universities (Sheena had apparently at some point applied to Oxford Brookes University in the UK).

School leaving certificates.

A Mumbai University certificate.

Certificates of participation at a Reliance management training course.

An OBC certificate.

Adoption papers.

Tax receipts.

Sheena's driving license.

Indrani Pratim Mukerjea's will.

The sale deeds of a flat in Delhi that Sheena inherited.

Durga Rani Bora's will bequeathing the Sunderpur, Guwahati, bungalow to Mekhail.

Papers certifying that their grandparents were senior citizens.

Letters from Sheena to Peter and from Peter to Sheena.

Copies of air tickets.

Emails from Indrani's secretary Kajal Sharma.

Voter IDs.

A paper certifying the birth of a male baby to Indrani Bora and Siddhartha Das...

Some of the documents were originals. Some were copies.

As Mekhail slowly and meticulously ploughed through the file for 15 to 20 minutes, the judge curiously peeped over from his chair to see how many documents there could be, to assess how long the process would take.

Since it was nearing five and Patil said there was still a lot to be done, the hearing was brought to a close. The verification of documents will continue on Thursday.

Peter sat with his younger sister Shangon Das Gupta and had a wrap and a thermos of coffee and later a little treat, to his delight, of caramel custard.

Sanjeev and his cousin consulted lawyers, as did Indrani.

Mekhail sat in one corner, behind the witness box, observing the room, but not looking at the woman who was his mother but had never been his mother.

The PNB-Nirav Modi scam bank accused -- there are many of them -- occupied the hallways outside.

Vipul Ambani, former Firestar CFO, was sitting with his sons, wife, in-laws and friends. Peter and Vipul now share a cell at the Arthur Road Jail, it has been confirmed.

At 5 pm, Indrani, Peter and Sanjeev were hustled back to the jail trucks. There were worries that the Maratha bandh might delay them. Ambani, carrying a plastic bag, followed three or four minutes later.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com