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Does Rahul Wonder If Sheena Is Really Dead?

By VAIHAYASI PANDE DANIEL
November 24, 2022 09:39 IST
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All along, Rahul, right till today 10 years later, hung onto his gut feeling that something surely had happened to Sheena.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora Murder Trial.

IMAGE: Rahul Mukerjea. Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

April 26, 2012, nearly 48 hours after the disappearance of Sheena Bora, was a busy day for Rahul and Peter Mukerjea.

Peter, former CEO of STAR India, arrived from London that morning. The Mukerjea driver, Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, picked him up from the airport and brought him to his home at Marlow, Worli, south central Mumbai.

A probably agitated Rahul, given his girlfriend Sheena's continuing inexplicable absence, was waiting for him at the gate of the building and they went up to the flat together.

Later, Peter and Rahul went to Oh Calcutta, a Bengali cuisine restaurant, largely popular with Bengalis for its river fish dishes, about 6 km away in Tardeo, south central Mumbai. It was the defence's contention that it had been dinner. Rahul said, in court, it was lunch and he remembers it was still "daylight".

From Oh Calcutta, the Mukerjea father and son headed to the links at the nearby members-only Willingdon Club to golf. Rahul firmly denied that he had done any teeing off: "I wasn't in any frame of mind to play golf." They may have returned to Marlow afterwards. Rahul he could not remember if he did.

The events of this fairly full day were not part of Rahul's statements to the Khar police, north west Mumbai, who first handled the investigation, or to the CBI, who took over the investigation, or his testimony in chief in June 2022.

 

In court, in the Sheena Bora murder trial, occurring at Room 51 at the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, south Mumbai, Indrani Mukerjea's advocate, the shrewd, resourceful, Ranjeet Vishnupant Sangle had already, last week, wondered aloud several times why Rahul had not cared to bother to mention all this before.

In his June testimony, Rahul made references apparently to what he did on other days around April 24, 2012, but not on the 26th.

Sangle brought up the events of April 26 once again on Tuesday, November 22, when his no-stone-left-unturned cross-examination of Rahul continued.

It's not, let's say, crystal clear what the defence is trying to portray, but Sangle felt Rahul had "conveniently suppressed" these facts with the aim to "falsely implicate" Indrani, his former stepmother and Sheena's mother, who had been accused for the alleged murder of Sheena.

It would seem that Peter and Rahul's schedule for April 26th had the trappings of a normal day in the life of more well-to-do folks from south Mumbai -- a little bit of golf at an elite gymkhana, some dining out at a restaurant, chit chat and being chauffeured about by the driver.

But not on a day following on the heels of an alleged murder and that was also what Sangle was perhaps getting at. Could golf, Bong food and a murder go together?

Both last Saturday and on Tuesday, in court, Rahul countered that and tried to downplay it with words to the effect that those few, difficult days, after Sheena vanished, were a blur and he could not recall much.

He had been in a state (his reference to his "frame of mind"). And much of his time had been about going "back and forth" to the police station/s and he didn't think he had spent the whole day with his father and Oh Calcutta was a simply "a meal together."

Sangle: "That entire day Shyamvar Rai was driving you and your father Peter Mukerjea in the black Opel Astra or silver Chevrolet...

Rahul, wearing a white striped shirt, blueish slacks and neatly shaven for a change: "No, I don't recall what car it was."

Sangle, jabbing his forefinger in the air to vigorously underline what he was saying: "Never mind whether it was an Opel Astra or a silver Chevrolet, for that entire duration when you were in the car with Peter Mukerjea and Shyamvar Rai, you didn't find anything suspicious or not (about the car which was where Sheena was allegedly murdered)?"

Rahul: "I don't know." He then remonstrated, "I wasn't looking for anything suspicious in the car" because he still did not know yet what had happened to his Sheena.

Sangle: "Now Rahul, is it not correct that you have stated to both investigating agencies, Khar police and the CBI, and before the learned magistrate, and in a deposition in this court, a meticulous reproduction of all the events from April 24, but have skipped all the happenings on April 26."

Rahul: "Not intentionally. I don't know if I had remembered them at that time."

Sangle puzzled crucially too over why Rahul, who had been travelling with Rai or came face-to-face with Rai apparently at multiple instances that day, had not questioned Rai about the "incident" and where Sheena was, when he had questioned so many and made recordings of his conversations with some of the others too.

Rahul answered that with the explanation that he had indeed asked Rai about where Indrani and Sheena had gone after he dropped her to Amarsons, Bandra, north west Mumbai, on April 24, and it appeared he had done so through a telephone call to the driver.

He also stated, later in the cross, that then he was "not suspicious of everyone", so getting more answers out of Rai was not on his agenda. Rahul added matter-of-factly "at the time I did not know that there had been any incident on April 24-25."

Sangle, displaying deliberately exaggerated and bewildered disbelief: "On the 26th you believed there was no incident?"

Rahul: "On the 26th all I knew was that I could not reach Sheena."

Sangle: "Rahul, do you consider the alleged disappearance an 'incident'?

Rahul: "Today now I do... She had disappeared and I was not able to reach her. Looking back, it was an 'incident'."

It continued in this slightly odd vein for a good 15 to 20 minutes. Sangle and Rahul, mildly acrimonious, traded notions of what Rahul could or should have believed about Sheena being missing on April 26, two days after the alleged murder, which was for Rahul, at the time, still a disappearance that he never knew or could imagine would be forever and permanent.

Sangle put across to the court, in a too-logical-to-be-true way that if Rahul didn't believe it was an "incident", then it was because he knew Sheena wasn't missing and that was the reason Rahul hadn't filed a police complaint.

Rahul, steadfastly: "That's incorrect. I went to several police stations."

Sangle enquired about the both controversial and rather distressing message Rahul had received from Sheena that went like this: 'Please don't make this difficult for both of us. I will be changing my number. Tell Daddy... You have been really good to me. But this is it. We both deserve better and I can't deal with this never ending struggle with you'.

Rahul checked the transcript and agreed: "Something like this message came from Sheena's phone on the 25th." He insisted, sharpness in his voice, that it came from her phone and not her.

There was some not very conclusive quibbling about that and how he knew, either then or now, that it was the phone and not Sheena, but Rahul averred for the record: "I received that message from Sheena's phone."

At the start of the cross on Tuesday, there were references to the manner in which Shabnam Anand Singh, Peter's first wife, was helping her son Rahul in 2012.

It's likely Peter was doing all he could to help an anxious and frantic Rahul too. But since, apparently, he was under the belief, via Indrani, as the prosecution's version goes, that Sheena was breaking up with Rahul and hence the vanishing act, Peter was no doubt operating in a different mode, without any let's-find-Sheena focus.

Peter may have found Rahul's utter determination to track what happened to Sheena baffling. But all along Rahul, right till today 10 years later, hung onto his gut feeling, based but naturally on the strength of their relationship probably, that Sheena could never have left him and something surely had happened to her.

That's a very strong conviction for any partner to have about their girl/man and speaks volumes about the Rahul-Sheena bond/love story.

Anyway, back to proceedings at court: Sangle wanted to know if Rahul's mother had sent Rahul a message telling him not to file anything at the police station or rather take any action via the police, till she came to Mumbai from Dehra Dun. She is a painter who lives in Uttarakhand.

Rahul said it wasn't true.

Sangle began to build steam, starting up his "lying under oath" accusations, when Rahul coolly clarified that yes, she said she had had a "new plan" and told him wait for her, but being perhaps super worried, he hadn’t waited and had gone to the police already and "tried" to file a complaint.

On Tuesday, as well as earlier, there was a discussion on how Shabnam had been suggesting Rahul take assistance from a certain Param Bir Singh. This Singh was then inspector general of police for the west coast, Maharashtra, according to what transpired in court (is there such a position in the police; Google didn't have answers) and yes, he later went on to become Mumbai's commissioner of police.

Singh was a friend of Shabnam's classmate from school or college, a laparoscopic surgeon named Dr Ashwani Mehta whose name came up on Tuesday when Sangle asked if his mother met Dr Mehta in Delhi.

Instead of answering that, Rahul said, like it was a drawing-room-followed-by-a-walk-in-the-garden chat and not a court query, the inspiration to contact Parambir Singh had come to Dr Mehta when "Umm I think they were together up in the mountains at the time, the whole school group of friends..."

It is these verbal diversionary interludes on Rahul's part, that give respite in the intense Q-&-A sessions, but get Sangle riled up, because to get a single question answered with a clean "Yes, it is true" or "No, it is not true", can sometimes take Rahul till the cows come home and it caused Sangle to mutter, holding his head, "Itna bolne ka, aadha ghanta (so much to say, half an hour)!"

It doesn't look like it is Rahul's intent to vex or antagonise Sangle or deliberately extend the proceedings. It's more that he feels uncomfortable, unsafe with letting an answer go with just a monosyllabic "yes" or a "no" and believes the record should reflect his explanation too and that he should helpfully provide more information though the judge and CBI Special Prosecutor Manoj Chaladan keep requesting him to "just answer the question."

Last week, Rahul explained that he would speak to Indrani only when he dialled his father Peter's phone. Peter would put it on speaker and she would join. He also said last week that he had called Indrani over and over again, after April 24, when Sheena didn't return to their Andheri, north west Mumbai, home.

Sangle asked Rahul that since Peter and Indrani were not together after April 24 till April 28, when they journeyed to Goa together, Rahul could only have spoken to her on the 28th or later.

That backed Rahul into a kind of no-exit corner a bit. He agreed that was the usual format of the calls, but said, "I was speaking to whoever I could whenever I could because I was suspicious of what I was being told by Indrani. I have told you umpteen times I can't remember the exact times and dates, but it was in the days following Sheena's disappearance and I had spoken to lots of people... I called everyone I could think of."

He backtracked and said maybe he did speak to Indrani directly on one number or another.

In the two-hour session after lunch Tuesday -- before it began Rahul unscrewed the mic in the witness box and carefully cleaned it -- Sangle focused on a message Rahul had sent to his mother Shabnam: 'Hey mum Sheena's taken some time off. So it is okay.'

He ostensibly sent this message to his mom sometime after April 24, when he got to hear that maybe Sheena had not disappeared, but as per her office, she had sent a text requesting time off and momentarily his anxieties were assuaged.

Indrani's lawyer smartly brought the issue of this message up -- maybe with a nudge from Indrani, and her elephantine memory; she often hovers behind Sangle in court with her iPad -- because he wondered how it was possible that Rahul got to know Sheena had taken leave from work and how could he have known about her text requesting leave (which it seemed was sent on April 25).

He took Rahul through various date sequences that showed he could have only gotten to know Sheena had taken leave either from Veena, a representative from Mumbai Metro, or from Sheena's boss, Colonel Shubhodoy Mukherjee, to whom Sheena sent the message. The colonel is the CEO at Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd, where Sheena worked.

Yet Rahul's message to his mom was sent before he touched base with anyone from Mumbai Metro.

Sangle argued this out with an elegantly fastidious approach, putting down all the dates of Rahul's interactions with Mumbai Metro and declared: "Rahul, I put it to you that you sent the message from Sheena's phone to Colonel Shubhodoy Mukherjee..."

Rahul, interrupted, irritated: "That's not correct. I never had Sheena's phone."

Judge Naik-Nimbalkar chided Rahul: "Don't break the (flow of the) question."

Sangle: "I put it to you that you have messaged Colonel Shubhodoy Mukherjee and asked for two-three days off from work!"

Rahul, immediately: "That's absolutely false. Incorrect. Untrue. Simply not possible."

Sangle: "If you didn't have Sheena's phone, Rahul, how did you (then) send the message (to his mom that he now knew Sheena had taken leave)?"

Rahul: "Because somebody must have told me."

Sangle: "Who told you?!!!"

Rahul: "I don't remember."

Many more words followed.

Sangle reiterated: "Rahul, I put it to you that it could have only been you, or you and Sheena together, who sent the message to Colonel Shubhodoy Mukherjee."

Rahul: "That's incorrect. Whoever had her phone did it!"

Towards the end of the nearly four-hour cross on Tuesday Sangle quickly rolled out a googly: "Rahul on the night of April 24, 2012, the intervening night between April 24 and 25, were you, Sheena, Shyamvar Rai and Mekhail (Sheena's brother) together... And you had been seen inside or in the vicinity of the restaurant Flora (in Worli)?"

Rahul laughed incredulously: "No, that's not true! That's completely incorrect. Sorry, I didn't mean to laugh."

The day's segment of Rahul's cross, that has been going on since early October, ended with this strange wee curved ball to think about.

And the stray niggling thought that the longer this goes on, the less we know.

Does Rahul, even if he is 100 per cent convinced it was Indrani, also sometimes go home from Courtroom 51 wondering if he really knows who allegedly killed Sheena? Or if she is dead?

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