The night before Sheena was allegedly killed, 'Indrani Madam instructed me to not send anyone up to her flat.'
'She told me to especially not allow Rahul Mukerjea.'
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
Marlow, the handsome, upmarket building where the Mukerjeas lived in Worli, south central Mumbai, entered as a witness on Friday, January 11, in the Sheena Bora murder trial, via the building manager, its flat ownership details and patterns telling their own tale.
As they say if houses could talk, oh the stories they would tell...
Madhukar Kilje has been the manager of the 19 flat Marlow building, located on Pochkhanwala Road for the past 15 years.
The most prominent flat owners in the building were/are Indrani and Peter Mukerjea who once owned the multi-crore INX Services Pvt Ltd and INX Media.
They owned Flat 19, the terrace flat on the fifth floor. And another smaller flat too, Flat 18, on the fourth floor.
The flats in this building are said to be valued at between Rs 15 crores to 20 crores (Rs 150 million to Rs 200 million) today, as per current speculation. Peter had apparently been living in the building since 2000 when he was the CEO of Star India, and Indrani ever since they married in 2002.
In the year Sheena Bora was killed, 2012, Peter was the chairman of the building society. And Indrani was on the committee. Peter flew in that year on April 26 to attend the AGM scheduled for April 27, the date for which had been scheduled from days in advance.
This high-power couple might have moved to Bristol, Britain, with daughter Vidhie Mukerjea (Indrani's daughter from her earlier marriage to Sanjeev Khanna and Peter's adopted daughter) in the interim, spending time also in homes in Betim, Goa and Marbella, on the Costa del Sol, southern Spain. But both of them would also visit Marlow off and on, individually.
For the earnest Kilje, even after an absence of three years from the society, they are still Indrani Madam and Peter Sir/Sahib.
Brought in by the CBI as Witness No 28 in the trial, at Courtroom 51, at the sessions court at Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai, Kilje's role was merely to:
1. Confirm the various particular instructions Indrani had given the society and thus the building's security in the aftermath of Sheena's murder.
2. To verify that Indrani had introduced Sheena as her sister.
And lastly to underline, for whatever reason, the fact that Indrani and Peter arrived, in later years, separately to Marlow from the UK.
Kilje -- who was hard to read, but by character seemed an obliging cog-in the-wheel sort, ready to oblige, perhaps, everyone/anyone -- occupied the witness stand for maybe an hour longer than he needed, through no fault of his.
Sometimes, as one stands in court, viewing the unhurried, unenergetic proceedings one wonders why certain procedures take so long and ponders what could possibly be a shorter route for dealing with a witness especially, if there are 200 odd in a case.
Wearing a cream shirt, tan trousers, black shoes, three silver rings on his right hand (why do Mumbai men wear so many rings?), several sacred threads and black glasses, the Mahim, north central Mumbai, resident, through his 'examination in chief' given in Marathi and later his cross examination, outlined his visits to the CBI to give evidence.
He neglected to mention in his testimony, that was guided by CBI Special Prosecutor Bharat B Badami, the visit/s to the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, who were handling the investigation at the outset.
The two most salient answers made in Marathi by Kilje:
"On 23/4/2012 I was approaching the society office at Marlow at 9.30-10 am when I ran into Indrani Madam. She instructed me to not send anyone up to her flat in her absence. She also told me to especially not allow Rahul (Mukerjea, Peter Mukerjea's son from his earlier marriage, who was in a relationship with Sheena)."
The sequence of this was later disputed by the defence because Kilje had apparently not specified a date in earlier statements.
"On 25/26 April Rahul came to the gate and I instructed the watchmen not to let Rahul in because he was not allowed to go to the flat."
Kilje, who was mumbling initially and was asked to speak in a "mota" (forceful) voice, knew Rahul and Sheena were in a relationship and he loudly emphasised the word "affair" to the court, so no one was in doubt that he could have been ignorant of the matters of the heart affecting the residents and former residents of Flat 19 at Marlow.
It was a chilly/pleasant day in court by Mumbai's thin-skinned standards. Peter was wearing a grey coat. Indrani, by contrast, was clad in a summery, crisp white shirt and brown, leg-hugging tights and was monitoring this cross-examination very alertly attempting to direct the flow from her perch in the rear accused box, via the junior lawyers.
Kilje, a typical Mumbai man, who sometimes answered with just noisy clicks of his tongue, added a few odds and end facts to the case's entire narrative, during his testimony and later cross-examination by Indrani's lawyer Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola:
Like how over the years Peter had gifted a 50 percent share of one flat to Indrani and they were joint owners of the other flat. Both or one flat was to be gifted to Vidhie Mukerjea. That the Mukerjeas were looked after by a staff of five in Marlow (and that Kilje effortlessly reeled out the names from memory, "Shikha, Prashant...").
Curiously, Kilje told the court: "On 24-08-2015 (a day before Indrani was arrested) a gift deed was given to him for the flat (perhaps Flat 18) in the name of Vidhie Mukerjea with the condition that she would attain ownership when she became 18. A letter was give signed by Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea to the society to pass a resolution (at the Marlow AGM) on 27-08-2015 to transfer said flat to Vidhie Mukerjea. Vidhie had also signed on the letter.'
Later it was revealed by Kilje that Peter gave a fresh letter to the society asking that the transfer be deferred and the flat today stands in the name of Rabin Mukerjea, Peter's eldest son from his earlier marriage, Rahul's brother. It is not clear in whose name Flat 19 stands.
Peter's advocate Shrikant Shivade got up to ask a slew of miscellany questions that did not have much to do with Kilje's testimony. They were perhaps all-weather facts he had confirmed that he could use for Peter's defence at a later date.
He established that Garage 1, where the Mukerjeas parked their cars, even rented/borrowed ones -- the alleged scene of much activity in the early am of April 25, 2012, the day after the murder, when Sheena's body was allegedly moved around between suitcases and seats etc -- was visible from the building gate, where watchmen were on duty around the clock and the watchmen's cabin was next to that gate.
Peter's garage could be viewed from the windows of Marlow and adjacent building Clifton and was also adjacent to the wall that separated Clifton and Marlow. Additionally, the area was well illuminated and a dhobi had his little kharkhana (laundry) near Garage 1.
The lawyer asked if Kilje owned a flat at Marlow.
Kilje looked at him as if he was daft and laughed heartily. "I am a manager."
Shivade checked if Kilje had the ability to recognise the cars of the residents of Marlow by "size, number, colour design." Kilje confirmed he did.
Then followed the day's main confusion/controversy and hullabaloo in Marathi. Kilje said he had been asked about the car by the "Magistrate Sahiba" to whom he first gave his testimony (in probably 2016).
It seemed like Kilje acknowledged that he had told the magistrate that the Mukerjeas had a black car. But the prosecution and Kilje later stated that he had said he told the magistrate that it was a car with "black glasses" (tinted windows).
Much finger pointing, heated accusations and raised tempers ensued with CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale trying to placidly, like a potential Nobel Peace Prize winner, steer a calm, unaffected middle course by recording all the various objections.
By then the witness has stepped down from the box and was sitting in the chair behind the stand.
As he interestedly watched the defence-prosecution dynamics, he tenderly stroked the court cat, who had been sitting under the lawyers's table during the hearing and had promptly jumped into Kilje's lap, when he was done testifying.
The said cat, a dirt-brown female tabby of about three, a fixture in Courtroom 51, has been affectionately nicknamed Sheena. Apparently, there are often creatures that stick around various courtrooms during the duration of a trial in this court building, leading to various beliefs, like the crow that hung out at the window, off and on, of the courtroom where the Mumbai 1993 blasts trial was taking place.
As one exited the building, which is still under renovation, causing the closure of one entrance, a collapsed bench lay in pieces in the landing of the staircase. The policemen and policewomen who handle security have no table/counter on which to place phones, walkie-talkies, scanners, next to the X-ray machine and are using an unpainted upturned crate for that at the entrance of the building.
Broken-down chairs whose innards unhappily sag to the ground populate so many corridors outside.
The rubbish, dirt and inoperative furniture this court collects has nothing to do with the revamp job.
There is just no authority, it seems, that looks into the vital task of maintaining the physical sanctity and dignity of the hallowed Mumbai city civil and sessions court, that plays a role in hundreds of lives daily, though it is one of the five main courts in the city of Mumbai, India's commercial hub, even as the city is supposed to be gaining coastal highways, centre-of-the-sea statues and shiny bullet trains.