'Dalvi, you are saying you asked a question, but don't remember the answer?' asks Pasbola incredulously.
'You are lying.'
Savera R Someshwar reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
A delicate jab.
A sharp thrust.
A dogged defence.
A quick feint.
A smartly aimed slash.
A determined parry.
When the scheduled 2.45 pm hearing of the Sheena Bora murder trial began on March 23, you could be forgiven for thinking a joust -- a verbal one -- was taking place.
A joust similar to the one that had taken place many weeks ago between Sudeep Pasbola, who heads the defence team for accused number 1, Indrani Mukerjea, and Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, Accused No 3-turned-approver, and the prosecution's second witness in the trial, which began in February last year.
Only now, Rai's "Yaad nahis (I don't remember)" and "Maloom nahis" in Hindi have been replaced by Police Sub-Inspector Ganesh Dalvi's "Aathvath nahi (I don't remember)" and "Maahit nahi (I don't know)" in Marathi.
Dalvi, who was in the mobile police van that arrested Rai on Mumbai's popular promenade, Carter Road, for possessing an illegal country made revolver, cuts a smart figure -- the kind you'd probably see in a police recruitment advertisement.
Pasbola is scheduled to continue his cross-examination of the sub-inspector, the prosecution's first witness, who is now attached to the Andheri police station.
Dalvi walks into the witness stand ramrod straight, settles his blue and white cloth bag -- probably the result of Maharashtra's recent ban on plastic -- and places his police hat and a 500 ml bottle of water on the little shelf attached the front side.
Dalvi has missed the first of the dramas that were to play out in the courtroom that day, as Pasbola indicates he would like CBI Investigating Officer K K Singh to step out of the courtroom before he resumes his cross-examination.
It caused CBI Prosecutor Bharat Badami to bristle, "Why should the officer go out?"
"Because he is a gentleman," whips back Pasbola with a grin, causing a small wave of laughter in Courtroom 51 at Mumbai's civil and sessions court.
Even Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale can't repress his smile as he indicates Singh should step out and call Dalvi in.
"Ekvees aath (August 21, 2015)," booms Pasbola, "what time did you return to Khar police (after arresting Rai)?"
"Around 8.30 pm," says Dalvi softly, looking firmly at the judge, leaving the rest of the courtroom straining to hear his words and then relying on the judge's painstaking translation of the Marathi cross-examination into English for the court stenographer to ensure they have heard him correctly.
For those who had watched Pasbola cross-examine Rai, there is a sense of déjà vu.
Pasbola then establishes that the Khar police station does not have a lock-up and those who are detained overnight are housed in the Bandra police station jail.
After Rai's arrest he had been kept in a room Dalvi alternately describes as a "temporary lock-up" and "detention room".
Pasbola then wants to know where Rai was held overnight, but all Dalvi is willing to admit is that he was in the police station only until "9.30-9.45" pm.
As they bat and forth about this point, Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil, dressed in her trademark while and black printed sari, jumps in and appeals to the judge, "He is saying 9.30 so why..."
"Thamba (wait) Madam... relax!" says Pasbola, sounding very much like the lawyer in Paresh Rawal's popular play, Kishan vs Kanhaiyal, which was later made into the Bollywood box-office hit, OMG: Oh My God, starring Akshay Kumar and Rawal.
What Pasbola wants to, and does underline, is Dalvi's seemingly strange disinterest in the man he has arrested.
Dalvi tells the judge he did his "regular duty" after reaching the station at "around 9 am" the next say and only saw Rai around "11.30-12" at the "police station".
Rai was presented in court that day, but Dalvi says he can neither recollect the time he was taken to court or if "anyone from Rai's family had come to the police station on August 21 or 22" after Rai was arrested.
Dalvi says has not seen the "attak panchanama (the arrest memo)" which he says may have been prepared by "Kadam sahib" (Police Inspector Dinesh Kadam who is credited with helping bust the Indian Mujahideen terror network in Maharashtra, the Abu Salem case and the 1993 Mumbai bomb blast case).
"Did you make an entry in the station diary?" asks Pasbola.
"Kadam sahib may have," Dalvi tells the judge.
"Did you see the diary?"
"Did you see the signature against the details entered in the diary?"
"Did you see the time and number in the station diary?"
"Who made the remand application?"
"Did you see it?"
Pasbola then wants to know if, considering Rai had an illegal weapon in his possession, the cops thought of searching Rai's house in Mosambi Chawl, Vakola, Santa Cruz East, not very far from the Khar police station.
Over a brief argument that has erupted between the excitable Badami and Pasbola -- the latter is unhappy with Dalvi's softly voiced answers, and replies that are not a direct answer to his questions, while the former feels the officer is not at fault -- the judge explains the questions to Dalvi.
"We had discussed about the search," says Dalvi.
"Kadam saab felt the search was not necessary?" asks Pasbola.
Pasbola moves on to Rai's interrogation, which began on August 22, 2015.
"At 2 pm," Dalvi replies, when asked when the interrogation began.
Pasbola again checks with Dalvi, as he had already done a couple of times earlier, if he knew by know whether Rai's family had been informed about his arrest.
"I had some idea," says Dalvi.
Pasbola wants to know if Dalvi was the only person conducting the interrogation.
"There were others."
"Who was interrogating?"
"Kadam sahib and I."
"How long did the interrogation last?"
"15, 20 minutes," says Dalvi, then requesting the judge's permission to have a sip of water.
In the dock for the accused, Accused No 2 Sanjeev Khanna stands in order to pay better attention.
Till August 22, when the panch (witnesses) were summoned, Dalvi, under Pasbola's searchlight, says Rai did not confess about where he obtained the weapon.
Why then, Pasbola wants to know, did Dalvi -- it was his decision, says the sub-inspector, and not "Kadam sahib's" -- to summon the panch and two witnesses were brought in by "P N (police naik) Jadhav."
Pasbola wants to know if Dalvi checked their eligibility to act as the panch, particularly if they had any kind of earlier contact with the police station in any matter.
"Chaukashi keli (I checked)."
But Pasbola wants a specific answer.
Judge Jagdale explains to Dalvi that the question relates specifically to any kind of contact between the panch and the Khar police station.
Dalvi says he "didn't ask."
"Had they acted as panch earlier?" asks Pasbola.
"They said they had never visited the Khar police station or stood as panchas in any case?"
"I don't recall."
"Dalvi, you are saying you asked a question, but don't remember the answer?" asks Pasbola incredulously.
"You are lying. They are stock panchas, so you didn't ask them ask them any questions," the lawyer thunders.
"No, I asked. I can't remember the answers."
Both the prosecutors jump in, objecting to the defence lawyer's tone.
"He has answered three times!"
Pasbola spends some time on the interrogation after the panchas arrived.
"They asked him his name..."
"They did not ask any other questions..."
"He spoke about the Sheena Bora murder half an hour..."
"Yes, we wrote down everything he said before the panchas..."
"No, we didn't question him when he was giving his statement before the panchas..."
If all this was on record, Pasbola painstakingly underlined, via Dalvi, that there were many things that were not.
Like, there was no written record of the initial interrogation.
Like, the only record of an assistant commissioner of police's approval to investigate the case in another district (Pen, Khopoli, where Sheena's body was allegedly found based on Rai's statement about the murder) is in the panchnama.
Pasbola's repeated questioning on this matter leads to yet another objection from the public prosecutor.
A couple of minutes later, Badami is on his feet, accusing the defence lawyer of not allowing the witness to complete his answer.
Pasbola's cross has veered to the location of the Jockey store on Linking Road in Bandra West, outside which Accused no 1, 2 and 3 -- Indrani, Sanjeev and Rai -- are said to have picked up Sheena Bora.
Again, strangely, though the showroom falls under the jurisdiction of the Khar police station, to which Dalvi was then attached, the 34-year-old sub-inspector claims to never have seen it.
And while trying to get the exact location of the spot from where the attractive 25 year old was picked up, Pasbola loses his cool at Dalvi's seemingly evasive answers.
"Don't twist my question," he roars.
Finally, after some more questioning from Pasbola, it is established that Sheena was picked up on the "purvi (eastern) side" of Linking Road, on the pavement outside the Jockey showroom.
Pasbola then wants to know if the police cross-checked to find out if the Jockey showroom existed at that location in 2012.
"We didn't ask."
"Did you ask the azoo-bazoo (nearby) shops (Linking Road is popular for both its stores and its street shopping)?"
Badami jumps in to intruct Dalvi, who has started looking increasingly at Pasbola while answering the questions, that he needs to address his answer to the judge.
Pasbola shifts back to Pen, the location where the victim's body was found.
"What time did you reach Pen?"
"Around 5.30 pm."
"How long were you there?"
"At the village or the spot?"
Astonished laughter from Pasbola, followed by a sigh,
"Half an hour."
By now, Pasbola -- who has repeatedly asked the witness to speak louder -- has exhausted his patience.
"Sir," he address the judge, "he may be asked to answer the question properly..."
"Zorane, bhau (louder, brother)."
Pasbola establishes that the team from the Khar police station did not ask the villagers in Gagodh village, near the spot where Sheena's body was dumped and "10 to 15 km" from the Pen police station if they knew anything about a body being found so close to the village.
"So you didn't ask the villagers anything about a body?"
"Did you bring a copy of the application given to the Pen police station (to investigate the case in their jurisdiction)?"
"Can you bring a copy?"
"There is no such letter." You can almost see Pasbola doing the proverbial finger waggle, "that's why you can't bring it."
More then once, Pasbola has accused Witness No 1 of lying under oath.
"We have given the letter to Pen police station," Dalvi doggedly shoulders on against the peppery rain of Pasbola's questions.
"Is there a copy at the Khar police station?"
"Do you know what was written in the letter?"
"It was handwritten."
Pasbola is determined to get his answer.
"Do you know what was written in the letter?" he repeats.
"I told Mokashi what to write."
"So you dictated the letter. Can you remember what was in it?"
Once again, Pasbola highlights the gaps.
There is no recorded statement from anyone at Pen and Dalvi can't remember if there was forwarding letter taken for chemical analysis.
Though Dalvi admits it was necessary to obtain a copy of the post-mortem report, they didn't apply for one.
Dalvi can't remember if they asked for entries by specific dates from the Pen police station diary or if they found or met any cops who were stationed at the Pen police station in 2012 or even if they asked the Pen police how many bodies were discovered from the spot the year Sheena's body was allegedly dumped there.
They didn't show the spot where the body was found to the Pen police.
"You were there for three hours," says Pasbola. "Did you ask for the panchnama, the Accidental Death Report or any other documents?"
"We asked for the panchnama and the ADR for the spot."
"Did they give it to you?"
"Mahiti dili (they gave us information)."
"Did they give you the copy?"
"Till the 25th, did you see the panchnama, post mortem report and ADR?"
Pasbola can't help the laugh that escapes his lips.
"August 25, 2015," he specifies with smile.
Pasbola returns to Rai's interrogation three days earlier, on August 22.
"Did you realise he was giving information regarding a cognisable offence?"
"So as a competent officer, you knew what to do."
"You had to register an FIR."
"So why was an FIR not registered, bhau?"
"The memorandum panchnama was recorded and we decided to go to Pen and check if he was telling the truth."
For the next few minutes, Pasbola asks the same question in different ways to find out if the investigating officers were not sure that Sheena Bora had been kidnapped and murdered.
By now, Judge Jagdale is impatient. "He has answered the question."
Badami jumps in as well. "Why repeat the question? We are not silent spectators. He has explained it satisfactorily."
Once again, witness and defence lawyer go over the fact that one more panchnama was filed on August 23, that Dalvi has no idea where the man he arrested was detained on the nights of August 23-24, that Kadam, Dalvi and "others" were interrogating Rai, that Dalvi does not remember how many of Rai's statements were recorded by "Kadam sahib" on August 22-23-24.
Pasbola's volume has been increasing as Dalvi's decreased and the latter's barely heard answer about whether Rai provided any information as to where Sheena Bora was killed led to an argument between Pasbola and the prosecutorial team about volume.
"Don't shout," Badami tells Pasbola.
"He is speaking softly out of respect," Patil defuses the mounting tension amid laugher.
"So, in your investigation, you did not know about the places they took her to."
"He told us about Linking Road."
"And nothing about Amarsons? There no record of that?"
As Pasbola calls it a day, 10 ceiling fans, 20 steel cupboards, a few steel trunks, 7 to 10 poltis (bundles of evidence), a covered television set and two of the original five women clerks who dominated the desk before the judge watched the sun set on yet another day of the Sheena Bora trial.
"Chala, chala, ghevoon ghya tyala," says the court clerk, waving her hand at Indrani Mukherjea and her current and former husbands, Peter and Sanjeev.
Judge Jagdale, clearly unhappy at the gaps in the hearing of the trial, warns the lawyers that he won't permit any unnecessary delays in the trial, particularly since the accused are in jail.
And though Peter has been remanded to the custody of the Delhi CBI for investigation into his role in the Karti Chidambaram-INX case for which Indrani has already made a trip to Delhi, the case will continue on its next date, April 3, even if he is not present.
Outside, Singh is ribbing Sanjeev about the changed positions in the dock for the accused.
Sanjeev -- who used to sit between Indrani and Peter -- is now on the left, with Peter sitting next to his wife.
The couple, whose relationship appears acrimonious on the surface, seem to have a lot to discuss.
"Do you think I have any power Sir? Peter is bigger than me in every way -- size, age, power They are sitting together in the van too."
Badami walks into the conversation and ribs Sanjeev about his former wife.
"Arre sir," says Sanjeev, "my story got over in 2001. You are forming a new story in 2015."
In the compound, an elderly lady lift operator is taking a short break. She got the job on compassionate grounds after her husband passed away.
She is shocked that someone who looks like Indrani is in trouble with the law. "Kitni acchi lagti hai (She looks so nice) I wonder what she did that she got into this kind of trouble with the law."
Peter stops to talk to Indrani.
"Baap-beti hain kya (Are they father and daughter?)"