As the trial proceeds, Peter is beginning to look more and more haggard while Indrani by contrast is blossoming.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Shyamvar Pinturam Rai had studied up till Class 10 in his tiny Danwa village school, nearly 170 km from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, before he came to Mumbai.
But Friday, November 17, it was discovered, at the Sheena Bora murder trial, that Indrani and Peter Mukerjea's former driver might not be much more than an angutha chaap (an illiterate who uses a thumb print to sign his name).
Ten odd years of education seemed to have not taught him the difference between his angutha (thumb) and his ungli (finger), the court learned.
Or else a few decades in Mumbai have taught him too much, in its School of Street Smarts.
Friday's hearing at CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale's Courtroom 51, south Mumbai, like Wednesday, once again dwelled on Rai's dodgy right thumb.
This was the thumb that had been bitten by victim Sheena Bora when the driver was allegedly helping Indrani and former husband Sanjeev Khanna strangle her to death on April 24, 2012 in Bandra, north west Mumbai.
Sudeep Pasbola, Indrani's trial lawyer, while examining Rai's statement to the CBI, in a post-lunch court session, asked the driver what he told the CBI about his right thumb and wondered why he said he had been bitten on his unglee (finger) when it was his thumb.
Rai stuck out his now famous Right Thumb for the whole court to see, and quite cleverly, it seemed, replied: "Ha Sir, mein ne unglee bola! (Yes sir, I said my finger!)."
The room was momentarily dumbstruck.
Then CBI Special Prosecutor Kavita Patil dove in quickly to defend Rai and offered that the driver had indeed demonstrated what he meant -- that by saying unglee he actually meant his thumb.
Pasbola flew into a rage.
The lawyer railed, in his anger making some unintended puns in the bargain, "He is trying to show the thumb to the court. He can't take everyone for a ride! He can't give any damn reason. The court has to consider if it is plausible or not!"
The hearing began with Gunjan Mangla, also Indrani's advocate, taking over the cross examination, since the always super-busy Pasbola was held up at a case at the high court, a kilometre away.
The petite lawyer, wearing a black jacket, white shirt, a lawyer's white neck band, and trousers, in a crisp, brisk style, meticulously and smoothly continued the omissions and contradictions segment of the cross examination with Rai.
Friday it was comparing Rai's second statement, of September 6, 2015, (another 161 or confession before an officer under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code) to the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, with his court testimony.
Note: Rai had recorded several statements during the two-year course of the Sheena Bora murder investigation. Two successive ones to the Khar police, one to the CBI, one to the magistrate at the killa court at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus, and then there was his testimony to Courtroom 51.
Everyone had their yellow pens and markers out, ready to mark the omissions, as Mangla began.
Indrani, in bright pink and grey, glowed from the accused box at the back. Khanna, wearing a black checked shirt, like a buffer, sat next to her and Peter next to him.
As a colleague mentioned, as the trial proceeds, Peter is beginning to look more and more haggard while Indrani by contrast is blossoming. Khanna appeared exhausted and more down and out than usual at this hearing.
Peter discontented with not being able to hear much of the long proceedings of Friday, made faces and turned away sideways.
Mangla, who has about seven years of legal experience under her belt, by standing in for Pasbola on Friday, caused an almost imperceptible change in the balance of power in the courtroom.
With her court voice a couple of decibel levels lower than Pasbola, Mangla nevertheless put on a strong show.
That didn't stop, one imagined, CBI Special Prosecutors Kavita Patil and Bharat Badami from scenting blood and attempting to capitalise on the situation, by objecting to nearly every omission Mangla highlighted.
Nor did Mangla resort to the Pasbola Special Dictionary of Phrases for the CBI Advocates -- 'Thamba, thamba' or 'Have patience!' -- to shush up the Patil and Badami non-stop insertions.
Towards the end of Mangla's portion of the hearing, on Friday, interestingly, it became a full-scale battle/quibble over language differences.
The 161, since it was recorded by the Mumbai police was in Marathi. And the court testimony was recorded in English.
At every omission raised, Patil was quick to point out that the sentence deemed missing was actually there in the statement to the police, but couched in different language, because it had been said in Marathi.
At points, Judge Jagdale agreed with Patil and Badami over the language issue and Mangla didn't argue with him, the way Pasbola would have.
Like when there was a disagreement over the three cups of coffee had by Rai, Sanjeev and Indrani the day after the alleged murder: Mangla suggested that parts of the account of that coffee outing by Rai were missing.
Badami read out the record to show it was there.
Judge Jagdale: "He's right," and beaming broadly added, "There is difference between English and Marathi. If you are going to translate English verbatim, it is going to be a disaster!"
Mangla brought up about 30 points of omission.
Of those, the most crucial -- apart from the long-festering Rai hand/finger versus Rai thumb issue -- were:
- Rai neglected to tell the Khar police station, in his second statement to them, that when he said Indrani told him a man was coming from Kolkata (presumably Sanjeev Khanna) he didn't say they were coming to 'Murder Sheena and Mekhail (Indrani's son from her first marriage).'
- Indrani sent the driver, who became that year -- 2012 -- more of a Mukerjea messenger boy, from Rai's telling of it, on a mystery mission to Delhi.
On reaching the capital he was to wait for her call which never came.
When he contacted her, she told him to return to Mumbai urgently.
Rai told the court he returned on Jet Airways, but not the Khar police. When Mangla brought this up Badami grumbled: "Lal dabba se aayaa ya kaise aayaa (Came in a red box or however he came)..." that what did it matter.
Mangla ignored him.
- The car Rai hired, that was the "scene' of this broad daylight crime (An aside: Till date, in this court, no one has asked Rai how dark it was in the lane where Sheena was killed) and later also the vehicle used to ferry a corpse, stiff with rigor mortis, but wearing lipstick (as the court heard, astounded, earlier), some 95 odd km into Raigad district, didn't have darkened windows, till Rai apparently added it to his narrative much later.
Not surprisingly, as it was picturesquely put, 'having black glasses (no not sunglasses, a car with tinted windows)' is an omission in this statement too.
- Like earlier this week, the spot chosen to eventually burn Sheena's body at Gagode Budruk, in Pen tehsil, developed, strangely, not due to any recent glacier movement or any other geographical event, a hill, with the passage of time.
When Rai first described the spot to the Khar police he never mentioned a hill, but the said hill gradually walked into the scenery surrounding the spot, as per Rai's reckoning.
- Also missing from this statement too, like the last one, were parts of a conversation Indrani apparently had with Peter on her cell phone, on her way back to Mumbai, after doing a recce with Rai, near Pen, in Raigad district to find a place where they could get rid of Sheena's body.
These included the fact that the conversation was in English and that he heard her use the words 'good place' and 'well done'.
- 'Rahul noticed us all.'
Rahul, Peter's younger son from his first marriage to Shabnam Singh, noticing Sanjeev Khanna, Indrani and the driver in the Chevrolet, that Rai hired, on the day of the murder, when he came to drop Sheena, was a small but critical insertion, that came along later.
Rahul and Sheena were seeing each other till her death.
- The order in which Indrani and Sheena sat in the back of the car on the day of the murder -- April 24, 2012 -- is another repeated but key omission, that seemed to each time press the buttons of the CBI.
Patil popped up, on cue, like she did on Wednesday, and made her favourite comment, "It is not specifically mentioned," since the record said they sat in the back seat.
Mangla steadfastly hung onto that omission, even if she gently let a few go, when the judge also concurred with the CBI prosecutors.
- Another recent addition to Rai's narration of the events on the run up and the day of the murder was his recounting that after Sanjeev, Rai and Indrani picked up Sheena near National College, Bandra, and did a round of shopping, Indrani instructed him to take the car to 'one lane.'
Significantly the name of the lane or its appearance is unknown..
Could it be that the lack of identity of that fateful lane avoids its geographical verification via the mobile towers?
The existence of the word 'lane' came along later too and Mangla called attention to that as an omission.
To which Badami countered that they were in a car and therefore it would be a road/lane of some sort.
- A small controversy broke out over the matter of that yet unexplained letter Rai delivered for Indrani, after the alleged murder, to a person in Andheri.
Rai returned to the INX media office with 'its receipt.'
Mangla said he brought back a duplicate letter that had been signed and not a receipt.
Judge Jagdale intervened to first explain the concept of an acknowledgement letter to Mangla (who said she knew what it was) and then explained that receipt was just a loose way of saying acknowledgement letter.
Judge Jagdale: "You call it a receipt. This is Marathi. You are translating in English. That is the problem."
The sorting of omissions in Rai's second statement to the Khar police station ended with Mangla announcing, with suitable gravitas, to Judge Jagdale: "My lord, there is one contradiction."
Judge Jagdale, smiled in disbelief: "Contradiction?"
Omissions are chillar stuff (small change) compared to a contradiction. Contradictions by a witness are particularly noteworthy and don't help his/her reputation and reliability as a witness with respect to a case.
Mangla turned to Rai, with whom she had not spoken to till then, and asked politely, "Shyamvar, jab aap Khar police station ko statement diya, tab aap bole ki 20 litre ka can aapne phek diya? (When you were giving a statement to the Khar police station why did you tell them that you threw away the 20 litre can which was used to carry petrol to Pen in and burn Sheena's body?)"
Judge Jagdale looked towards Rai rather seriously, who answered with a feeble, same-old, same-old "Yaad nahin aa raha, Sir (I cannot recall , Sir)."
Given Pasbola's absence, Mangla was hoping to wrap up the hearing at 4-ish after the analysis of the second 161 had been completed.
That just left the examination of Rai's statement to the CBI for another day.
But Judge Jagdale was having nothing of it. He sternly asked Mangla, "Where is Pasbola? Tell him to come."
Mangla hurried out of the court room to call Pasbola on his cell.
After about 20 to 25 minutes, Pasbola, who was at the high court, two buildings away, looking as cool as a cucumber, came rushing up six flights of stairs, to start up the process of running Rai's last unexamined statement, which was to the CBI, through his Omissions and Contradictions Scanner.
Pasbola, ever suave, apologised to the judge for his absence and said he was grateful that Mangla has been there, for the first part of the proceedings.
He said he had not had time to make notations, marking the omissions and contradictions, in Rai's statement to the CBI and requested 5 to 10 minutes to do so.
The lawyer was now traversing quite familiar, seen-that-done-that ground, when it came to digging out the omissions apparent in the CBI statement, in Hindi, which Rai made to Investigating Officer K K Singh on October 9, 2015. Most of the usual omissions were in this statement too.
With Pasbola back in the saddle, a dose of adrenaline walked back in the room too as the lawyer went through his customary range of courtroom verbal technique/histrionics -- exhibitions of horror, little explosions of anger and/or outrage.
Some of the important omissions in Rai's statement to the CBI:
- No mention of 'black glasses' in the Chevrolet Rai took from 'Faizal Bhai' at Worli, central Mumbai a few days before the murder, which was used in the murder.
- No mention of some of the details of the chat Indrani allegedly had with Peter on her return from doing a recce in Raigad, for a place to burn Sheena's body after she was murdered, as per plan.
- No mention that 'Indrani Madam' had told him that the man coming from Kolkata was going to 'murder' Sheena and Mekhail.
Pasbola: "Aadmi aayega (a man will come) is there."
Badami and Patil remonstrated with Pasbola, asking what more spelling out he needed.
"Murder," Pasbola said loudly, looking askance at the CBI duo.
- No mention of the long and complicated instructions Indrani gave Rai after they parted for the last time, at a popular coffee outlet, in Bandra the day after the murder.
- No mention of the cartridges, in places, when he spoke of the katta or country pistol he was trying to get rid of.
- No mention of running away when he saw the police, while he was at Khar in August 2015, just prior to his arrest, trying to get rid of the country-made gun.
Badami objected, saying it said: "Tej chalne laga (Started walking fast)."
Pasbola gave Badami a withering look, "Tej chalna and bhagna mein farak nahin hai? (Is there no difference between walking fast and running?)?!"
The finale of Friday's hearing, were the contradictions that Pasbola put forth between Rai's statement to the CBI and his court testimony before Judge Jagdale, which included that peculiar affliction Rai's thumb and finger disease; the juiciest sample of which was his showing his thumb for all to see, while calling it his unglee.
Said Pasbola: "The contradiction is there between the thumb and the finger. Daina haath ka angootha (The thumb of the right hand)."
Judge Jagdale, confused: "Daine means right?"
Pasbola explained that Rai first said "Daine haath ke unglee (The finger of my right hand went into her mouth)."
Turning to Rai: "Yeh dekho, jab CBI puchh-tachh kiya to aapne bataya ki Sheena ke muh mein mera ungle gaya aur ungleee kata (Listen up, when the CBI questioned you, you told them that your finger went into Sheena's mouth and she bit it)."
Rai: "Yaad nahin aa raha."
Badami started muttering that those were small details.
Pasbola to Badami, loudly: 'Blood was oozing then from what part of the body!?"
Badami ever logical: "From where it was cut?"
Pasbola ignoring Badami: "Sir, a major contradiction."
Patil demurred, saying Rai had demonstrated which finger it was and went on to make a few more points on why Pasbola's contention was not relevant.
Pasbola, listened to Patil, began to grow his anger, finally turning apoplectic. "There is no difference between right and left hand? Doesn't know the difference between finger and thumb! What is going on?!"
Patil stood up to object.
Pasbola: "Don't take an objection for the sake of an objection!"
Badami: "It is an objection! You can raise your voice."
Pasbola: "Deny sampla (over)."
The defence lawyer moved to the next and final contradiction, which was vital, as he turned to Rai and asked him very quietly, if he had called Mekhail and told him that "Madam has bahut saara paisa. Aa jao, maja karenge (Madam has lots of money. Come to Mumbai and we can have fun) Where did you get Mekhail's number from?"
The judge carefully repeated the question to Rai.
Rai looking anxious: "Yaad nahin aa raha"
Pasbola: "Aapke paas Mekhail ka number pahile se tha (Did you have Mekhail's number from before)?"
Rai: "Yaad nahin."
Pasbola: "Aise toh nahin hua ki Madam se Mekhail ka number lena padha? (Did it happen that you had to take the number from Madam?)."
Rai: "Yaad nahin aa raha hai."
In the accused box at the rear of the court, Indrani was watchful, her eyes sparkled as she watched this exchange her hand over her mouth.
Patil got ready to interject with some objections.
Pasbola: "Please have patience! We are taking a contradiction."
Pasbola turning to Rai: "You told Khar police, 'Maine number Indrani Madam se liya aur Mekhail ko phone kiya. Dono statement mein likha hai ki mein madam se number liya (You told the Khar police that you took Mekhail's number from Indrani Madam and then called him. In both statements it says you took the number from Indrani Madam)."
Pasbola explained, his face now black with anger, that yet Rai told Courtroom 51 a few months ago that he didn't remember whether he called from Indrani's phone or the landline at Marlow.
The lawyer turned to Rai: "Aise CBI ko kyo likhaya? (Why did you make the CBI write this?)"
Rai, his eyes huge in his face said: "Bola hoga, toh likha (I may have said, so they wrote it)", ending with a nervous semi smile.
After hearing Rai's bola hoga response, the last of the day, Pasbola shut down the cross-examination, the omissions and contradictions wrapped up.
He asked Badami when they could expect the final round of call data records from Airtel.
Badami, with a mischievous smile, asked, "Earlier CDRs or yesterday's (requested) CDRs?" making a playful reference to the new request for CDRs -- this time Peter's, made by Indrani, when she put in her dramatic application on Wednesday suggesting the records were needed to assess Peter's role in the 'heinous' crime.
Peter's response to Indrani's application was also awaited.
Friday the courtroom was packed with more than its usual quota of lawyers and journalists, since it was thought that Peter's reply would come in.
But Anoop Mishra, one of Peter's lawyers, told the judge that the reply would be ready on the coming Tuesday.
Since the next hearing was set for November 23, it would be tabled then.
As Peter departed back to jail, he met up with his roomie from Barrack 12 at the Arthur Road jail on the ground floor of the Mumbai city civil and sessions Court.
Like last week the courtyard was packed with hordes of solemnly quiet relatives and followers, standing around, as former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is seeking bail, finally made an appearance at the far end of the compound.
Bhujbal and Peter exchanged cordial greetings, that were extended to his sister and Bhujbal's family.
Bhujbal may have travelled in the same jail truck back to the Arthur Road jail with Peter, Sanjeev and Indrani. We wonder what interesting conversations Indrani could have had with Bhujbal before she got off at the Byculla jail.