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And Peter Mukerjea went hungry...

By Vaihayasi Pande Daniel
Last updated on: February 19, 2017 08:41 IST
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'It is perhaps kind of easy to see why Peter and the police clash.
The air of entitlement that emanates from him, maybe unknowingly, probably gets the goat of the policemen.''s Vaihayasi P Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh


Peter Mukerjea probably didn't eat lunch on Friday.

As he was departing Courtroom 51, on the third floor of the sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai, on Day 3 of the Sheena Bora murder trial, he met the CBI prosecutor, the white-haired, fiery Bharat Badami and K K Singh, a senior CBI officer, in the corridor.

He held out his hand horizontally in the air, at both of them, to demonstrate its not very apparent wobble.

"Diabetes?" they asked.

No. "Low blood sugar. They're not letting me eat lunch," he said with a resigned face, pointing accusingly at the posse of policemen, who had been attempting -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to hustle him out of the sessions court for the past 40 minutes.

The former television executive, clad again in a neat white shirt and khakis, said by the time he got back to his cell at the Arthur Road jail he would miss the general lunch there too.

And he was not being allowed to eat the meal in the Krazy Kat branded plastic bag, brought by his family to court.

He almost retraced his steps, probably to complain to Judge H S Mahajan, but thought better of it.

"Peettar-ji bus mein kha lena," offered the CBI officer, in a conciliatory tone.

But Peter said they wouldn't allow him to eat it in the prison bus apparently because of some security issues.

He dejectedly trudged off, hungry, down the six flights of steps to the vehicle, with the cops and his family -- brother Gautam, eldest son Rabin, elegant foreign/British daughter-in-law and two more relatives/friends -- trailing him, at close to 2 pm.

Proceedings began at around noon on Friday. I arrived, bright and early, at 10 am not realising that the courts open at 10.30 am and killed time in the next-door shops changing my pen refills.

When I reached Judge Mahajan's courtroom at 10.35 it was still shut. Only the cleaning staff was about and an eager chaiwallah, hoping I would be his very first customer of the day.

Judge Mahajan walked in at about 11 and I fumbled to my feet when I heard what seemed like an "All rise" order issued by the courtroom policeman, who sported a pistol.

Nothing at all happened for another half an hour or more.

With no cellphone to fiddle with -- new court rules, which apparently don't apply to sessions courts -- I counted the 9 fans and the motley, mismatched, shabby furniture in the room.

Some of the judge's majesty, I noted, was stolen away by the fact that he sits in his ceremonial judge's chair flanked on one side by a stack of 9 grimy aluminum trunks and on the other by three green Godrej-type almirahs (there are 18 more lining the rest of the room).

To his left sits the court lady stenographer in front of a large computer screen. There are three calendars up in the courtroom. Two of them are on March, I guess for easy court date scheduling. Two are from Bombay Helpline and another from the Bharat Motor School.

To further fritter away time -- between counting cupboards, trunks (17) windows (10), ventilators (18) and calendars -- I wandered out into the corridor and then onto the staircase landing to watch the blue and yellow, caged jail buses arrive in the bright sunlight of a rather warm spring day.

The ominous rumble of those buses, each pulling up to discharge its quota of undertrials and prisoners, sends a shiver down your spine.

As you watch the accused shuffle up the drive, towards the six-storey court building, it makes you ponder that just one crime, no matter how unpremeditated, and you could be changing places with any of these hapless individuals, who, guilty or not, await trials for sometimes up to a decade or more.

Since the lifts never seemed to work in the sessions court -- Can the accused use a lift? I wondered -- the prisoners marched up the stairs single file.

One cop clinking handcuffs, one prisoner, one cop clinking handcuffs, one prisoner etc.

It is pretty impossible to control the urge to quickly get out of the way, out of a sense of unease, as they approached.

Around 11.45 from the window I saw Accused No 1 Indrani Mukerjea floating up the drive, looking good today in a scarlet-edged blue kurta. She has a sort of jaunty yet slithering gait.

As she came up the stairs, she continued to the fourth floor. Being a newly minted court reporter I thought perhaps I was unaware of some proceedings happening in yet another courtroom and quickly went to ask around.

Meantime, she came tripping back down, laughing, and told the woman lawyer, who met her, that she had climbed to the wrong floor.

Maybe it was the outfit, but she looked less wan. She almost sparkled. Her eyes, snapped in a mobile, but slightly repellant face.

She was ushered into the courtroom. There seemed to be some change in format. Instead of being allowed to sit on one of the backless/with back benches, she was ordered to the rear, to sit in a small accused pen, with wooden bars, that contained a crude wooden bench.

The pen was latched shut and a policewoman waited outside of it.

Soon Sanjeev Khanna came along. He was sent into the pen too. Indrani and he started whispering together.

After a gap, Peter arrived. When he was shown his place in the pen, he looked, it seemed, a bit disgusted/uncomfortable and did not look at Indrani as he entered and sat down.

Finally, the trio was seated on one bench: Indrani ensconced between her disparate former husband and present husband (soon to be former too) on trial for the murder of a child of a third equally dissimilar spouse.

It is hard to discern from that face what had these three men in her allegedly 'spidery' thrall.

She continued to urgently whisper to Sanjeev. From time to time she would turn to her right and try to engage Husband 3 in conversation/tell him something rapidly.

But Peter looked straight ahead, stone-faced and shook his head from side to side negatively, not opening his mouth.

The court policeman brought a document to sign -- Peter read it, signed and passed it on, Sanjeev and Indrani read it together and each signed.

Meanwhile, the four sets of lawyers argued for 20 minutes or more about the legibility of the witness list and the fact that photographs appeared as 'black squares,' and you couldn't see the faces.

It apparently transpired that the list had been handed over, in confidence, to the defence and at the next trial date the first few witnesses would be produced in court, one of whom might be the Mukerjeas' driver Shyamvar Rai, the approver in the case.

The accused were allowed to exit the pen, but not the room, to consult their lawyers.

"By one o'clock," Judge Mahajan said, "they need to be taken away from here."

Peter's lawyer came over to go over some papers.

Indrani sashayed across the room to buttonhole her duo of women advocates and they seated themselves at another bench in front of the courtroom.

After a while she and the lawyers were poring over a copy of The Times of India.

Sanjeev, again unshaven, in a blue shirt and dark jeans, kept sitting in the accused pen, clutching his orange Grofer grocery bag of papers.

He, at times, had a faraway, disconnected look on his face. Not feisty. Or fighting, like the other two.

Finally as the hands of the courtroom clock inched past 1 pm his young cousin (apparently) prodded him to talk to his lawyer and he shambled off to the front.

Soon there were joint consultations between Indrani, Sanjeev and their lawyers.

Sanjeev's ostensible cousin opened his rucksack and passed a very stuffed file of newspaper clippings to Peter, not Sanjeev.

After a few mild calls from the cops that it was time for the three accused to wrap up, Indrani glided off down the stairs. So did Sanjeev, although he and Peter apparently travel back to jail on the same bus.

Peter merely shifted his legal consultations from the courtroom to the hallway. He was surrounded by his very supportive family.

His brother, bustling with energy, sat down with Peter and they looked at stacks of spiral-bound papers and sheaves of documents.

It is perhaps kind of easy to see why Peter and the police clash. The air of entitlement that emanates from him, maybe unknowingly, probably gets the goat of the policemen.

Before Peter lumbered back down to the prison bus, lunch-less, a small, strange situation blew up in the corridor.

When the police were bringing up yet another accused, in another case for trial, also on the third floor, that prisoner, a politician someone said, stopped to talk to Peter.

Badami, the CBI's legal counsel, was furious... or perhaps made a show of being furious.

He ticked off Peter's lawyer and his brother Gautam saying that this was just not done and he would take action.

The accused, he said, was not allowed to talk to anybody and everyone in the court building. Only his family.

If Friday was an intriguing hour in court, February 23 promises to be more so with the first witness taking the stand.

And there is every chance it could be Rahul Mukerjea, who was in a relationship with Sheena Bora, before she was allegedly murdered.

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Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / in Mumbai
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