'Indrani gave a mirthless laugh on spying The Suitcase, from the accused enclosure and, in sign language, gestured the impossibility of anyone fitting in such a small bag.'
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
The undoubted focus of Tuesday's proceedings in the Sheena Bora murder trial was The Suitcase.
Of an indeterminate dirty grey colour, its proportions made it the cynosure of all 70 plus pairs of eyes in the airless courtroom.
It stood not even three feet long, probably more like 2.5 feet.
Its width was less than a foot-and-a-half. Thickness: Slightly more than half a foot. It had two straps to hold it shut.
While Shyamvar Rai -- the Mukerjeas' former driver turned approver -- the other witness of Tuesday's day in court, traveled 43 to 45 km, from Thane Jail, to be there, this suitcase arrived from another variety of a lock up, the maddamal, located on the third floor of the old building of the south Mumbai sessions court.
This court's maddamal, where trial exhibits are kept securely for ongoing cases, judging from the look of the bag, is evidently quite a dusty godown.
Wrapped in string and white muslin, with wax seals and tags, there was a momentary quiet stillness in the room when CBI Prosecutor Kavita Patil requested permission to produce Article 12, the suitcase for Rai to identify, after his testimony had concluded at nearly 5 pm.
After the strings were cut and the cloth removed a very ordinary bag was unveiled. The brand of the suitcase was not visible and it seemed of a more generic make.
This was the twin of the suitcase in which Rai claimed Sheena Bora's corpse was stored overnight in a garage at Marlow building, where the Mukerjeas lived in Worli, south central Mumbai, after it was taken from the Chevrolet in which she was allegedly strangled in a Bandra, north west Mumbai, lane on April 24, 2012.
After the murder Rai had -- on Indrani Mukerjea's alleged say so -- gotten rid of the extra suitcase by giving it to the INX peon/Mukerjea house cleaner Pradeep Waghmare.
Murmurs about the size of the bag immediately started up the moment it was bared. There was incredulity that Sheena's brother Mekhail Bora, who looks pudgy in all his pictures, could have ever fit in this piece of luggage.
Or even Sheena, who was of a lighter build and a smaller height. "Maa ke aakhon mein bachche hamesha patla/chote hote hai (In the eyes of a mother their child is always slender/small)," a colleague remarked.
Backtrack: On the day of the murder five years ago, Indrani had apparently bought two "bahut bara (very big)" bags from a shop near Dadar's Plaza theatre, central Mumbai, Rai had said in his testimony on Friday, July 28.
The bag, on display on August 1, was meant, he had charged, for the body of Indrani's son Mekhail, who survived.
The plan had been to do away with both of Indrani's elder children from her first marriage -- Sheena and Mekhail -- April 24 with Rai's assistance.
The Mekhail plot was allegedly abruptly aborted, when the drug used to subdue him, which was mixed in the drink he was having at Marlow that fateful night, was not potent enough for his frame.
When the suitcase emerged in court, it was carefully studied by first Rai, and then by the defence, including Indrani's lawyer Ayaz Khan (who represented actor Fardeen Khan in his drug charge case), very closely, at which CBI court Judge J C Jagdale quipped, "It doesn't contain narcotics."
Indrani standing in the back, wearing a red printed floral kurta, matched with a beige chunni and salwar, gave a mirthless laugh on spying The Suitcase, from the accused enclosure and, in sign language, gestured the impossibility of anyone fitting in such a small bag.
Till then it had been a fairly stormy session in court, that began quite late in the afternoon, shortly after the three accused -- Indrani, Peter Mukerjea and Sanjeev Khanna -- showed up together from the Byculla and Arthur Road prisons.
Rai arrived much earlier, taking the six of flights of steps running, with police in tow, including a lady cop, and was instantly spirited away from all curious eyes.
It was a less confident Rai, turned out in a grey bush shirt and khaki trousers, who shed his sandals, but not his edginess, to climb into the witness stand post 3 pm, when the proceedings began, to give an account of what happened in his life after April 25, 2012, the day Sheena's body was burned in a Raigad jungle.
The driver -- who hails from very rural Madhya Pradesh and will always be viewed, unlike the others, I mused, as the driver, not an individual, given the paradoxes of Indian society -- seemed a bit twitchy on Tuesday, like a jumpy rabbit. And his eyes at times popped in a kind of nervous gesture.
Even when he had nothing to say or was not required to participate, he studiously looked towards the judge and absolutely nowhere else. CBI Investigating Officer K K Singh again sat outside Courtroom 51 as the per the defence's request, which Judge Jagdale acceded to.
Two days after the alleged murder, "Peter Saab" came into town from abroad, the erstwhile driver testified, and Rai took the suspected murder vehicle to the airport to fetch Peter.
When Peter came home he met and chatted with Rahul, his eldest son from his earlier marriage.
Then another day elapsed and "Peter Saab bole airport jaana hai Indrani Madam aa rahi hai Kolkata se. Mein aur Peter Saab gaye airport Indrani Madam lene ke liye aur vapas Marlow aaye (Peter Saab said you have to go to the airport because Indrani Madam is coming from Kolkata. Then Peter Saab and me went to the airport to receive Indrani Madam and came back to Marlow)."
Peter heard this from the back of the courtroom, a quizzical expression tiptoeing across his face.
Sanjeev, Peter and Indrani took notes, apparently jotting down key points of discrepancy in the testimony, that needed to be highlighted to their battery of lawyers.
Indrani did her own dramatic self-punctuation of the testimony Rai was relating, smiling at significant intervals, whispering something either urgently or else discreetly to Peter and remarking on issues to Sanjeev on her left, who was wearing a steel blue, checked shirt and dark blue pants and sitting very quietly.
Sanjeev's cousin Nikhil Kapur was there to support him on Tuesday as was Peter's sister Shangon Dasgupta who lives in Bengaluru.
Rai went on: Yet a few more days went past and the Mukerjeas left again. In between the INX secretary "Kajal Madam" asked him on Indrani's instructions to deliver a letter to an older man ("ek buzurg aadmi") in Andheri, north west Mumbai. He took the letter there.
The recipient asked him to write down INX's address on the back of the envelope. Rai obliged giving the Amrapali Market, Pawar Nagar, Thane address and his name and phone number.
He got a call from Indrani Madam saying they -- the Mukerjeas -- would not be back ever again and that he needed to find a new job.
"Bolee abhi hum Bombai nahin aayenge. Koi naukri dekh lo aur mein tumhare liye naukri dekh rahi hoon. Aur jo parcel ka samaan hai kahin fek dena (She said we are not going to return to Bombay. You need to find a new job. I am also looking for a job for you. The parcel you have with you, throw them away somewhere)."
Rai was given three months of pay by Kajal. When he opened the parcel, what he saw "terrified" him. "Usme katta tha aur cartridges (Inside was a country-made revolver and cartridges)."
Over the next few days he said -- exactly how many days he omitted to say -- Rai attempted to rid himself of the weapon and was unsuccessful.
One day when he was again on a mission to dispose of the gun, he ran into a police "gaadi (van)."
He got scared and took off running. That was when he was apprehended by Khar police station's Constable Ganesh Dalvi and others near Carter Road, Bandra, and was taken into custody after they looked into the "theli (jis) mein katta tha aur golee (the bag that had the pistol and the cartridges)."
While in custody he spoke about the murder. "I told them, mein doosra murder ke bare mein bolna chahta hoon... Mein, Indrani Mukerjea, Sanjeev Khanna Sheena ko Bandra se uthaya, aur ghadi mein liya aur thoda door jaake, gale mein haath dal ke maar diya (I want to tell you about another murder. Me, Indrani Mukerjea, Sanjeev Khanna picked up Sheena from Bandra, and took her in the car a short distance and killed her in the car by strangling her)."
He was, as Constable Dalvi had described in his testimony last month, taken to show them both the site of the crime in Bandra and the spot where Sheena's body was burnt in Pen. His home in Vakola, north west Mumbai, was searched and after the formalities landed in jail.
That's when the tempest erupted in court. Shrikant Shivade, Peter's lawyer, got to his feet and patiently started off, like he was a teacher instructing a class, raising not his voice, but just his forefinger, on which glistened a gold ring with a large twinkling yellow stone, that Patil was once again trying to include inadmissible evidence into the proceedings because "obviously" what a witness says in custody cannot be used.
Sudeep Pasbola, Indrani's lawyer, joined him in raising the room's temperature. Arguments were served ("The prosecution should refrain... that's the power of the court...") and neatly volleyed across the net to Patil and often deftly returned by her, as she strongly stood her ground, tall in a white and black sari, with fellow counsel Bharat Badami muttering at her side.
Judge Jagdale advised Patil, "Specific vichare poochon unko (Ask him specific questions)."
While in jail after a bit (time frame not indicated) Rai said he felt some sudden "remorse (pachtava)." He wrote a letter to the judicial magistrate and he was called to meet the "lady judge."
He was brought to the kila (small causes) court. In a session with the judge where only he, her and the stenographer were present he offered his confession and version of the events. This was put down as a confessional statement which he subsequently signed.
That statement was produced in court on Tuesday and Rai was asked to verify if that was indeed his statement and his signature. Patil gave it to him for a quick cursory look and was taking it back when Judge Jagdale said with a broad smile, "Let him read it. He is not a tutored witness."
After which Rai read his statement extra diligently backwards and forwards for a good 20 minutes as the court waited patiently.
Patil also produced that letter given to the Andheri resident and Rai agreed it was the same one in which he wrote down the INX address.
A large parcel was then opened up, again from the maddamal. Out of it emerged three pairs of shoes. These unattractive pairs were the footwear Indrani allegedly bought on the day of the murder for Sanjeev Khanna, Rai and herself to wear to Pen, a day probably when her sense of style, if not anything else, must have deserted her.
The brown loafers, now caked in five years of dust, were very gingerly examined by the defence, in case they gave off a nasty cloud. Indrani's lawyer Gunjan Mangla assessed her client's size 5 shoes (the other pairs were size 8).
And Indrani did too, from afar, with a giggle.
Finally Rai was asked if he knew anyone in the room.
He began to rotate his head in a wooden, mechanical manner, his eyes, popping again, going from left to right and back over the room, slightly puzzled, as if there could not be anyone he knew.
And then gave, what seemed, an exaggerated start and said yes he could see "Woh Indrani Madam hai, unkey baju mein Sanjeev Khanna aur woh Peter Saab."
As the day in court gradually wound up, Pasbola suddenly got up to say he had his first question for the witness as part of the defence's cross examination, a strategy perhaps to close down the prosecution's time with the witness.
He addressed Rai, "When was the first time you gave a statement to the police?" Rai thought for a bit. And said August 22, 2015 explaining that was the date of his panchnama.
Pasbola clarified saying he wanted the date of the first statement in an interrogation. Rai thought again and said uncomfortably "Taarik yaad nahin hai (I don't remember the date)," achieving perhaps Pasbola's second desired outcome, the discomfort, which will be nurtured and grown in the next day in court, August 4, destined to be a crucial day in this case.
The court adjourned and the trio of accused stepped outside to speak to their lawyers. Rai was hustled off immediately after it was over. The police were in a hurry to get the prisoners back to jail.
One of the six women police guarding Indrani ordered her to go down to the van. She left heading down the stairs a few flights and then retraced her steps and came back up telling the police officer firmly that she could not leave just yet.
A bit of an altercation started up. Shivade and Gunjan then approached the judge and requested more time with their clients, which was given.
After Sanjeev, Indrani and Peter left, Rai returned from whatever cubbyhole he had been stuck into. His eyes were popping again.
He re-entered the courtroom to meet the CBI prosecutors. Investigating Officer Singh wrote out a letter to the judge saying that Rai was worried about his security and that he felt threatened -- both at Thane jail and on his trips into court.
CBI counsel, the grey-haired, cheery Badami made lively statements to the gallery, about how if the witness felt threatened it would open up a whole new "Pundoraaa’s box" and all kind of "spices" would come tumbling out including "red chillies and green chillies!"
The application done, at 5.30 Rai was led away, on the road back to Thane Jail.
The Suitcase went back upstairs to the maddamal, trailed probably by three pairs of hideous shoes.
EARLIER IN THE TRIAL
- 'Then Sheena went silent...'
- Indrani's sharp eyes roamed the court...
- And Peter spoke to Indrani for the first time since the trial began
- 'Is that a terrorist or is that Indrani?'
- Seasons change, but nothing really moves in the Sheena Bora trial
- And so the Sheena Bora murder trial gets a new twist
- How did Indrani get the hair dye?
- Indrani's charm has not deserted her
- And Indrani Mukerjea sat there, alone...
- And Peter Mukerjea went hungry...
- Indrani, Peter, Sanjeev: A morning at the Sheena Bora trial