As Peter sits outside the court with his sister, Indrani walks in with a request.
It has been three months since Peter has started speaking to Indrani again, after a long silence of two years.
Savera R Someshwar reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
September 7's "severe headache" is nowhere in sight when Sudeep Pasbola, Indrani Mukherjea's lawyer, opens the proceedings in the Sheena Bora case on September 8, 36 minutes after the hearing is scheduled to begin.
On that day, another Pasbola client, the extradited gangster Abu Salem was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the March 12, 1993 Mumbai blasts case.
Pasbola, who arrived 15 minutes late for the Sheena Bora hearing, said he had a "severe headache" and requested a postponement. Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale -- after some consideration -- acquiesced.
Pasbola and team moved quickly down the stairs, crossed the distance between the new court building and the old, entered the latter, whipped past a large canteen and were soon lost to sight.
On September 8, Pasbola can't escape the aftermath of the Salem verdict.
A senior lady lawyer, wearing a lightly embroidered white sari, whom Pasbola greets respectfully, wags a finger at him and says, "I am glad about the (Salem) verdict. We will discuss it later."
Earlier, she had walked by and greeted Indrani. "How are you?"
"All good," Indrani -- dressed in a sleeveless coral printed kurta, with yellow dupatta, her lips glossed and a matching bindi on her forehead -- smiles back.
"God bless you."
On her way back, she hugs Peter Mukerjea and whispers a few words in his ear.
Meanwhile, loud-voiced arguments emerge from Courtroom 51 of the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, where Judge Jagdale is presiding over the another matter that spills over into the time scheduled for Sheena Bora case hearing.
As Pasbola waits outside the courtroom, sweltering in the stiflingly humid heat that envelops Mumbai after it bids adieu to its favourite god, Lord Ganesha, he is approached by Special Public Prosecutor Ranjit Sangle.
It looks like the Somalian pirates will hijack the Sheena Bora trial once again.
Sangle wants 15 minutes before Judge Jagdale when the 40 to 50 odd Somalian prisoners arrive.
All the lawyers step in, Sangle makes his appeal to the judge before The State vs Indrani Mukerjea/Bora/Das/Pori and vs Pratim Mukerjea and vs Sanjeev Khanna trial resumes.
Pasbola fires his first question of the day.
"Do you know the company owned by Suhail and Sameer Buddha -- Star Protection Private Limited? Security company? They provide watchmen?"
"Haan, shayad company ka naam Star tha," Accused No 3 and the prosecution's Witness No 2, Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, looks at the judge and answers.
Over the next 10-odd minutes or so, Pasbola gets Rai to confirm that he did indeed work as a driver for Star Protection Private Limited between 2012 -- when Sheena Bora was allegedly murdered -- and 2015 when he was arrested -- after the "ghatna (incident)" which is what a 25-year-old woman's death is reduced to for sake of convenience and brevity.
"Badli ka driver tha (I was a temporary driver)."
"Indrani Madam" had told him about the job.
"Zaroorat thi toh jaata tha (When they needed me, I went)."
Pasbola wants it reconfirmed.
"Jaate the jab kaam tha (<em?I went when they needed me)."
Peter, dressed in his usual white shirt and khaki pants, adopts his usual stance in the dock for the accused. Standing, arms resting on the barricade, straining to hear Rai's responses.
One wonders what went through his mind as he heard the name Star.
It is the name of the Rupert Murdoch-owned enterprise (Star India) where Peter worked for a decade -- from 1997 to 2007.
It is the company he transformed, becoming, in the process, a formidable name in the world of television entertainment.
It was during this period, in 2002, when his star shone brightly, that the once-divorced Peter first met the twice-divorced Indrani.
A few months later, they were married.
In the courtroom, Pasbola wants to know what kind of cars Rai drove for Star.
"Aur? Zara zor se bolo! (Speak loudly!)." The volume of Rai's replies has been a constant bone of contention.
Judge Jagdale, immensely patient, raises his hand. "He's recollecting," he tells Pasbola with a smile as the rest of the court watches Rai look outside the window for long seconds, then at the ceiling, then down at his feet, before finally looking at the judge.
The judge repeats the whisper for the benefit of the lawyers and the court stenographer.
Pasbola then wants to know about a farm house in Karjat.
Rai retreats to his favourite option, "Yaad nahi (I don't remember)."
"Koi baat nahi (Doesn't matter)," says Pasbola. "Karjat kahan hai yeh toh maloom hai? Wahan jaane ka raasta toh maloom hai! (You know where Karjat is, don't you? The way to get there!)."
Rai won't budge.
"Board dekh ke jaa sakte hai," he tells the judge, who painstakingly translates it for the court stenographer, "He followed the directions on the way."
According to a report in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper (external link), Karjat has been shortlisted as one of the spots to dispose Sheena Bora's body.
Pasbola tests Rai's memory about the INX office in Thane, checks if he knows the difference between a computer and laptop.
"Ek computer tha, aisa," Rai points to the desktop being used by the stenographer and adds, after being prodded by Pasbola -- that "Kajal Madam" (Indrani's personal secretary, Kajal Sharma) used a laptop as well.
He then moves on to the Skype calls -- Rai says he spoke to Indrani on Skype -- chaar-paanch baar (four or five times>."
"And the first time you spoke, aap planning mein shaamil ho gaye? Barobar? (And you got involved in the planning? Right?)."
Rai's answer is chillingly calm. "Haan (Yes)."
Rai's demeanour has changed over the hearings. He no longer sounds nervous and the stoop in his posture seems to have disappeared.
He glares at Pasbola occasionally, especially when the laweyer speaks over his answers, though he is quite respectful of Judge Jagdale.
"Tumko laga ke tum kuch galat kar rahe ho? (Did you think you were doing something wrong?)"
Judge Jagdale is not sure if the question is appropriate. "That would be his opinion."
The judge and the lawyer debate the merit of the question for a few minutes -- "It should not justify," says the judge; "With respect, we will not got to the justify level," the lawyer assures him before the former allows it.
"Thoda laga tha (I felt so a bit)," Rai, the father of two children, answers calmly; he was tempted by the money, he says.
"So you were given 1.25 lakhs"
Rai prevaricates... "Madam laane ko bolti thi (Indrani used to tell me to get it)."
Pasbola is not happy with Rai's meandering answers.
CBI Prosecutors Kavita Patil and Bharat Badami are not happy with Pasbola speaking over Rai's answers. They once again object.
Pasbola invites the excitable Badami to take over the "cross" and sits down.
But is soon on his feet again. "Did you tell anyone about the money?"
Rai begins talking about a Delhi trip, but Pasbola want a yes or no answer.
Patil is instantly on her feet as well: "What is going on? When he (Rai) starts giving the answer, he (Pasbola) is objecting..."
Judge Jagdale: "We should give him a chance to answer..."
Pasbola: "We are not shutting him down."
Rai: "Bataya tha (I did say)..."
Pasbola: "Not true, Sir."
Patil: "...confused him."
Rai: "I used to get (Rs) 20,000 to 30,000 (for expenses)... I don't remember how much and when..."
Pasbola is not interested in the "aane-jaane ka karcha (incidental expenses." He wants to know if Rai has been paid, or has asked for money, for his role in the murder.
"Nahi. Teen mahine ka pagar mila tha (I got my salary for three months, which at Rs 10,000 a month is Rs 30,000)."
At the September 5 hearing, Pasbola asked Rai why he never thought of warning Mekhail Bora "ke uske khilaf saazish rachi jaa rahi hai (that a conspiracy is being plotted against him)."
Rai had said he was just following "Indrani Madam"'s instructions to not speak to anyone about it.
Pressed by Pasbola again, he retorted, "Why should I have told him anything? We were not friends. We were no one to each other."
Now, too, he says, he did not think even once of confessing his "gunaah (sin)? Of going to the police? Of telling anyone? Of approaching Suhail Buddha (a retired police officer) of Star Protection?"
"Madam" had said not to tell anyone so "nahi", he didn't think of confessing his "gunaah" and accepting the "sazaa (punishment)" for it.
Though most of Friday's hearing Indrani has not raised her head, but she looks at Rai now before looking down again.
Slowly but surely, Pasbola is painting a picture of a conniving, heartless man, who participated in a murder for money and who, when caught, confessed to save his own skin.
"Till you were caught, you didn't know you could confess?"
"Mujhe kanoon kisi bhi cheez ka nahi maloom (I didn't know anything about the law)."
"When did you think you should confess?"
"Jis din mein jail mein tha (When I was in jail).
"How did you find out you could confess?"
"Jail mein dheere-dheere aaropi logon se pata chala (I gradually found about this from other accused in jail)."
But he "doesn't remember" how many days passed before he wrote to a letter "in Hindi to the court that sachchai batana chahata hoon (I want to tell the truth)."
Did he say in the letter that he wanted to confess?
Did Mekhail call him between 2012 and 2015 to ask about his sister?
Did he tell Mekhail that he didn't know anything about her?
"I cannot remember if we have spoken, so how can I remember anything else?"
Did any one -- "Kajal Madam, Pradeep Waghmare (an office boy at the INX office who doubled as the Mukerjeas house help; Rai admits he is a friend whom he has known for many years) or Rahul (Mukerjea, Peter's younger son who was in a relationship with Sheena)" -- ask about her.
Pasbola moves onto the row of shuttered garages at Marlow, the Mukerjeas' residence at Worli, south-central Mumbai.
"Paanch-chey the (There were five, six of them)," Rai says after slowly counting the number of shuttered garages in his mind. "Saab aur Indrani Madam ka ek tha (Peter and Indrani had a garage)."
This is where, according to Rai's confession, Sheena's body was moved from the "dicky" (boot)" of the car -- which was parked outside the garage -- to the suitcase, which was then shifted by Rai and Sanjeev Khanna -- on Indrani's instructions -- into the garage.
Answer by painfully extracted answer -- during which Rai snaps at Pasbola, "Bata raha hoon (I am telling you)" -- the lawyer establishes that the "side walls of Marlow which has buildings on either side, are "dhai (two-and-a-half) feet tall" -- low enough to allow people to see what was happening in the Marlow compound.
Pasbola also establishes that the Mukerjea garage was within visual distance of the security guards and that the ground floor has residences whose windows and doors "open out towards the garage."
Without saying it, the lawyer underlines the fact that -- with so much visibility -- it would not have been easy to shift a body into a suitcase.
By this time, the Somali pirates have assembled in the long corridor of the third floor, with their massive police escort.
Judge Jagdale wants to continue the hearing, but it is "not possible" for Pasbola.
Tye judge tries convincing the lawyer to make up for the lost session the previous day. Pasbola is apologetic, but immovable.
Peter's lawyer requests permission for his client to eat.
Judge Jagdale remembers that Accused No 4 is diabetic and gives permission.
As Peter, sitting outside the court with his sister, tucks in, Indrani walks back in with a request. She wants to meet Peter.
It has been three months since Peter has started speaking to Indrani again, after a long silence of two years.
She asks a policeman to inform Peter. "Main jaake bolungi to bolenge aisa kyon kiya toh police ko bol rahi hoon? (If I go, they will say why I am asking the police?)," she says with a smile, seemingly at random, but making sure I hear.
Peter arrives, still munching.
They are pointed to a corner, and told strictly and repeatedly that they are not to allow anyone else to join them.
The corridor fills with men -- tall young Somalis and their shorter police escorts.
The air is heavy with the smell of sweat and a babel of instructions in a combination of Marathi, Hindi, head nods and hand gestures that seem to work.
The first lot of Somali pirates start trooping in; they are so many of them that they will be presenting themselves in Judge Jagdale's courtroom in batches.
Sanjeev Khanna leaves.
The crowd makes Indrani's police escort irritable.
They want to move away with their prisoner as soon as possible.
A Somali pirate -- who should have been in the courtroom -- is missing.
A policeman runs out, spots his quarry and gestures towards him to come quickly. Both run into the courtroom.
Peter is back and ready to leave.
As he and his escort make for the lift, his sister calls him back and gestures towards the stairs... the walk down three flights of stairs will give her a few more seconds of precious conversation.
"Aho saheb," calls out one of the policemen, alerting his senior to the change in plans.
Indrani and her escort follow.
Accused No 1 -- who is on trial for murdering her daughter in cold blood and plotting to murder her son -- turns back with a smile.
She waves a tiny wave, and heads for the stairs.
EARLIER IN THE TRIAL
- Indrani is still the boss
- I felt a little fear: Indrani's driver
- Why did the driver have Sheena’s photo?
- Pirates hijack the Sheena Bora murder trial
- Where did the statement vanish?!
- Sheena Bora murder trial hits a memory block
- 'The Suitcase' appears in the Sheena murder trial
- 'Then Sheena went silent...'
- Indrani's sharp eyes roamed the court...
- 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
- Indrani Mukerjea sat there, alone...
- And Peter Mukerjea went hungry...
- Indrani, Peter, Sanjeev: A morning at the Sheena Bora trial