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Why was Indrani fasting?

Last updated on: September 23, 2017 12:35 IST

It turned out that Indrani, who was wearing the Navratri Day 2 green, was fasting for the festival.
That caused the impish CBI prosecutor Badami to ask her police detail, "looking for salvation?".
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

September 22 was to be an exciting drama-packed day in the Sheena Bora murder trial at Courtroom 51 at Mumbai's sessions court.

Instead, it was The Day That Wasn't!

Indeed significantly, what was to happen never happened and the hearing was a non-event.

 

The action got off to a promising and suspenseful start when a large Panasonic cardboard box, brought to the court from the maddamal (a storeroom where trial exhibits are kept securely) was unwrapped in front of the battery of expectant defence lawyers and before Special CBI Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale.

From it emerged four CDs (compact discs), two data cards sealed in an envelope and some items wrapped in paper printed with the words 'laboratory' on it.

Some of the CDs were said to contain the prosecution's copy of the call data records of phones belonging to three: Sheena Bora, former Mukerjea driver Shyamvar Pinturam Rai and Indrani Mukerjea.

The data card apparently had a recording of conversation, provided by Peter's younger son Rahul Mukerjea, between Peter and Rahul and Indrani and Rahul as well various inbox and outbox messages.

Only one of the CDs was the theatrical focus of Friday's cross examination with Rai.

But for the drama to unfold, the CD had to be played on an instrument. There was none.

A colleague pronounced with a hearty laugh, "Third World problems!"

From that moment on the pace of things went downhill pretty fast, like a movie that shuts down for intermission two minutes after the title is announced.

The defence lawyers had met the court registrar in the morning, who said this trial exhibit needed to be opened in the presence of three lawyers and the CBI's chief investigating officer K K Singh and that the prosecution would have to supply the CD player to operate the compact discs.

Theoretically, if the defence provided the CD player/laptop there could later be charges of tampering.

When this was related by Indrani's trial lawyer Sudeep Pasbola to Judge Jagdale, in a bid to conserve time, the judge overruled the registrar's requirements and since the prosecution did not have or bring a laptop to play the CDs, he asked the defence to locate one at the earliest.

The judge then asked CBI Prosecutor Bharat Badami if the prosecution had any issues with that.

Badami declared smiling at Pasbola, stumbling over his statement, "I have full faith in him."

Then began the scramble: A number of junior lawyers scurried off to locate a laptop.

About 20 minutes later a laptop arrived. But it didn't have a CD drive.

Accused 2 Sanjeev Khanna's defence lawyer Shreyansh Mithare then called for a laptop from his office at Cawasji Patel street, Fort, a kilometre or two away. That took another 20 to 25 minutes to come.

By then an hour had nearly elapsed in waiting for some device to play the prosecution's CDs.

On the laptop's arrival, the defence lawyers, the prosecution and a legal clerk retired with it and the CDs to the judge's chambers, to view them and make copies.

Before that Pasbola had a little skirmish with the nodal officer of telecom company Airtel.

As per Judge Jagdale's order, at the last hearing, the nodal officers of Airtel and Reliance had been summoned to court to be asked about accessing the call data records of two cell numbers, since they had sent a letter saying the records were not available.

Personnel from Airtel and Reliance showed up one after the other in Courtroom 51.

The Airtel officer, who took the witness stand, was unhelpful, attracting Pasbola's ire and some sharp words from Judge Jagdale.

He first said Airtel only kept call data information on its server for a year and got rid of it at the company's discretion.

Pasbola: "Your discretion?!... It can't be according to your whims and fancies?!"

He then asked if there were any guidelines or policy that dictated the manner in which cell records were stored or disposed of, given that the records of some numbers from 5 years were available and some were not.

Insisting Airtel had no guidelines, the telecom representative then finally revealed that from the server, records were transferred to tapes. But was not sure for which period tapes could be produced -- and he started aloud a calculation of how many tapes it could be 365 into... -- and that he would have to check.

That seemed to displease Jagdale who said: "You just have to tell the court if it is possible or not. If not give an affidavit."

The Airtel telecom exec was dismissed and was expected back early next week.

Rajesh Gaekwad of Reliance mobile also came to the witness stand. Speaking Marathi, he said that unless a particular phone record had been requested, call records were routinely automatically overwritten after a year.

While the CDs were being looked at in the judge's chambers, the court grew restive. Judge Jagdale continued to do his paperwork in his judge's chair. Lawyers wandered in and out. The police constables guarding the accused looked dead bored.

The accused, Peter, Indrani and Sanjeev, penned up in their tiny enclosure in the rear, looked a bit baffled and worn out by the process and this odd delay, the details of which they were unable to decipher from their location.

Their relatives moved up to the back of the courtroom to chat with them and exchange legal papers.

Indrani arrived in court without her sandals -- the Birkenstocks she usually wore. She joked that they had been stolen.

Sanjeev, wearing a yellow shirt and dark pants, joined in suggesting they had been buried somewhere, in a fate similar to that of the shoes that were allegedly utilised in the crime and were later found buried on the grounds of a heritage hotel outside Kolkata that Khanna helped restore.

It turned out that Indrani, who was wearing the Navratri Day 2 green, like many of the court clerks, was fasting for the nine-day festival, restricting her diet to fruits, milk and tea and going barefoot.

That caused the impish Badami, with a look of mock puzzlement on his face, to ask her police detail, sitting a little away from her, "Moksh payje? (looking for salvation?)"

Later, in the hallway outside courtroom 51, Indrani could be spied happily attacking a large pear that Sanjeev's cousin kindly brought for her, proclaiming joyfully to all who might listen, that she might not have family (since she had no siblings and no longer had connections with Peter's) but that Sanjeev's cousin was like family, always thoughtfully bringing her food and that Friday he had brought her fruit.

Indrani's high spirits, lack of despair and queenly manner, even as she fights a gruesome murder charge, is always mystifying and unreal.

Driver Rai who was deprived of his day in the witness box and the verbal shakedowns by Pasbola, sat on the sidelines, first outside and then inside, sometimes quietly chatting with his escort, or Badami.

Most of the time he just sat on the sidelines looking at his interlocked hands, not getting an opportunity on Friday, to the room's relief probably, to utter a single 'yaad nahin(don't remember)' or 'dhyan mein nahin hai (not aware)'.

Finally, lawyers Pasbola, Mithare, Niranjan Mundargi, Vishal Gupta and team returned to the courtroom.

Pasbola and Mithare reported to the judge that they had been through the various CDs and copied them, but a key CD they required was missing.

"The exhumation CD cannot be found," Pasbola said in a grim voice, his hands behind his back, intimating to the room the total strangeness of this occurrence. Judge Jagdale looked concerned.

This was the CD containing video footage shot by the Mumbai police of the remains of Sheena Bora being exhumed on August 28, 2015, from the spot at Gagode Khurd, Pen, that Rai had directed them to that year.

It is not clear if Rai was also present while this footage was filmed, because till date he had not said that to the court or been asked that.

Pasbola's complaint started off an irritated, snippy back and forth between him and Badami, with snatches of:

"... What my learned friend wants is not easily available!"

"Columbus will make new discoveries..."

Finally Badami told the judge that he needed to check with CBI Investigating Officer Singh as to why it was missing.

"I will have to take his active help. He will come after the 2nd. He is giving evidence in 3, 4 cases."

Judge Jagdale tried to talk Pasbola out of the necessity of having the CD to proceed.

Pasbola, looked first at Rai cagily and then at the judge, said, "I cannot openly say. It is connected with (the Pen) spot. We cannot take a chance."

Apparently he intended to ask more details of the precise place where Sheena's body had been left burning.

Till now Rai had only spoken very hazily of the spot, saying it was near pahads (hills) and small elevations and depressions, without even mildly attempting to be specific.

Once he got a better description out of Rai (a Herculean task, no doubt) Pasbola would confront Rai with the footage of the place.

This was the spot too where an eyewitness mentioned seeing the trio alight from their car with a suitcase.

The geography of the spot, as detailed by Rai, had to be compared with the footage and the witness's statement.

It was decided that for the time being the cross-examination would move ahead and the identification of Gagode Khurd, Pen, would take place after K K Singh returned.

It is quite easy to see that cross-examinations are pretty tough to plan and cannot be the tricky game of strategy or wiles a skilled trial lawyer may desire them to be, given the unforeseen twists and turns that pop up on court terrain.

The planning has to be at best ad hoc and by the seat of your pants.

There are no artful chess moves possible -- the chessmen move whichever way they like, backwards, forwards, skid, skip, slide or move not at all.

Pasbola's Friday game plan had been shot to pieces and he could not even plan a U-turn or a reverse, given there was no knowing when the missing evidence would turn up.

Meanwhile Judge Jagdale had finally ruled on the request for the Khar police station case diaries by the defence.

His order, which was a long one, basically, not surprisingly, refused Peter's lawyer Shrikant Shivade's permission to lay his hands on these diaries, mainly on the grounds that the statements of witnesses Khar Constables Ganesh Dalvi and Inspector Dinesh Kadam, that he wanted, were not in the diaries, nor did he believe material in a case diary amounted to a previous statement in a case.

It remains to be seen how Shivade will take this forward -- he was not in court Friday -- and if he will re-approach the Bombay high court.

Indrani's trips to Delhi and Goa have still not happened. They may not happen if the court dealing with the Karti Chidambaram inappropriate assets case decides to interrogate her in Byculla jail.

The pace of the trial, in Judge Jagdale's hands, continues to improve in spite of setbacks like on Friday. The judge dispenses with bureaucracy as often as he can, in a very practical way, speeding up the hearings and scheduling them one after the other.

Whenever, at the end of a hearing, discussions come to fixing the next trial date, the judge insists he is always available, like he did on Friday. "Every day I am ready," he said beaming.

The accused were bustled off back to the Arthur Road and Byculla jail, hardly 10 to 15 minutes after the hearing adjourned, Indrani moving briskly on the muddy path towards the jail buses, as if her feet didn't lack footwear.

Rai is usually sent off to the Thane jail after the accused trio, as a cautionary measure. Till they depart he is usually spirited away somewhere out of view.

On Friday he was ensconced one floor up in Courtroom 52, quite the different person outside 51 and away from Judge Jagdale's eye, no longer the chastised schoolboy, laughing and talking with CBI Prosecutor Kavita Patil, who came to check on him.

September 26 is the next hearing.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com