The question being silently telegraphed around the court room was: When did this happen?
Wasn't this trial about Indrani murdering her daughter to prevent her from marrying Rahul Mukerjea, her husband Peter Mukerjea's son from his first marriage?
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Durga Rani Bora's will brought CBI Special Courtroom 51 to an breathless, expectant pause on Tuesday, August 14.
Indrani Mukerjea's lawyer Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola, while cross examining her son Mekhail Upendra Kumar Bora, began to read out and translate portions of his maternal grandmother's will in the Sheena Bora murder trial, progressing at the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai.
The inheritance that Sheena was to have received was considerably smaller.
The reason was given too.
Pasbola reading: "Aapke nani nana ka koi connection aur koi support, financially ya morally Sheena Bora ke saath nahin tha, uski shaadi hone ke baad (Your Nana-Nani had no connection or any support, financially or morally, with Sheena Bora after her marriage)."
Had one heard right?
After Sheena's marriage?
The question being silently telegraphed around the room by its occupants was simple: When did this happen?
Wasn't this trial about Indrani murdering her daughter to prevent her from marrying Rahul Mukerjea, her husband Peter Mukerjea's son from his first marriage?
When did Sheena and Rahul get married?
Where? Who knew? Did Mekhail know? He ought to have, it was in the will. Did Indrani know?
Why did Sheena have a falling out with her grandparents -- adopted parents -- just prior to her murder?
Or maybe they didn't get married, but the grandparents were euphemistically told by the rest of the family that Rahul and Sheena were married because they were living together?
Or had they had some kind of quick temple wedding?
Hadn't Rahul been told by the police that who was he to tell them Sheena was missing, when her mother had not filed such a complaint?
As a husband, hadn't he had the right?
Was this a special trump card Pasbola was pulling out 18 months into the trial?
"Aap ke Nani-Nana bina bataya, bina consent, unk o akela chodh ke, Rahul se shaadi kiya, is liye purana will cancel kiya (Without the consent of your Nani-Nana or telling them she married Rahul and left them alone and so his grandmother's old will was scrapped)," Pasbola said.
The earlier will had been dated November 4, 2009 and Durga Rani Bora revised it on April 30, 2012, not knowing that Sheena was already dead six days earlier.
The third day of the cross examination of Mekhail began on Tuesday close to 1 pm and finished at 5.15 pm and dwelled on two or three subjects:
- Mekhail's stints in rehab, both in Mumbai and Pune.
- His grandmother's will.
- And the events of his final day in Mumbai in April 2012.
By Tuesday Mekhail, maybe after a pep talk from his handlers, had got it together again and was once again reasonably self-assured, after the failure of Monday's hearing.
Wearing a short-sleeved mustard shirt and dark trousers, he took over the witness stand like he owned it and took on Pasbola in a more spirited fashion, stubbornly fighting off the lawyer's bullying, brazenly asking him to speak politely to him and in general meeting him head on.
He even ticked Pasbola off at one point.
The advocate, making a jibe at his slow answers, said he was willing to wait even till "tomorrow" for a reply. Mekhail curtly told him he would get his answer and that anyway "tomorrow" was Independence Day and none of them would be in court.
Pasbola flagged off the 'cross' examining how Mekhail that day, as stated in his testimony to the court, while trying to locate the Mukerjeas' flat at Malrow, Worli, south central Mumbai, had by mistake and exceedingly oddly, gone into the guest room of the wrong flat and showered.
Indrani was not at home that evening and said she would be late. She instructed him to take the key from the staff in the building's guard room.
When he reached Marlow from the airport 40 or 45 minutes later, Mekhail said there was no guard in the guardroom, but the keys were hanging with the names displayed and he took the key.
"Aisa display mein likha hua tha ki kaunsa chabee (The display indicated which keys were which)."
Indrani, in a floral pink kurta matched with white salwar and chunni, found this funny and loudly laughed at Mekhail's narration. Her laugh was always a signal to the room that the witness could not be speaking the truth.
Pasbola: "Wahan jaake bathroom mein nahaya? (You went there and had a bath?)"
CBI Special Public Prosecutor Bharat Badami, correcting Pasbola's Hindi: "Snan kiya (Bathed)."
Pasbola: "Snan kiya. Phir aap jaake relax ho rahe the (You bathed. And were relaxed)."
Instead of answering, Mekhail brought up the story again of the lady whose flat he entered by mistake before heading up to the right flat.
Pasbola, irate, cutting Mekhail off: "Woh lady-wady chodh do! (Forget that lady stuff!)"
CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale irritated too, but with Pasbola: "He may be allowed to say."
Pasbola; "How are we concerned with that lady? It is the track he has been told to say."
CBI Special Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil: "Let his question be more 'specific'," suggesting he say "uparwallah (upstairs)" flat.
That further aggravated the judge: "You cannot dictate how he says his questions."
The tempest in the teapot blew over, not without a few tiny victories.
Pasbola, bowing to Patil's wording: "Relax toh kar rahe the uparwaalla flat mein? Yeh jo flat 19? (So you were relaxing in the upstars flat No 19?)"
Mekhail agreed but stubbornly stuck the lady back in "Uss lady ne bataya ki Flat 19 tha (That lady told me it was flat 19)."
The judge, giving permission for the said lady to tiptoe back onto court records: "As told by lady of earlier flat..."
One wondered: Is the mysterious lady going to be a prosecution witness? Why her importance?
The protracted post mortem of that strange evening in April 2012 continued.
Pasbola diligently dug about like a relentless gardener, hoping to unearth as many discrepancies as possible. Or uproot some intriguing contradictions that might catch Mekhail on the wrong foot.
He thoroughly checked Mekhail's timings, examined his sequence of events and asked at every juncture why he had said different things initially to the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, who first handled the murder investigation.
Mekhail's Marathi statement was trotted out to prove to him that he had.
A bunch of queries were put to Mekhail about his interactions with the Mukerjeas' former driver Shyamvar Pinturam Rai -- and Accused No 3 and approver in the case -- that day.
Success. One point to Pasbola.
It turned out there was a mysterious call at 20:23:56 for 69 seconds between Indrani's son and Rai that he could not account for.
Pasbola tracked Mekhail's "peg" consumption of that evening. He had one to begin with. Presumably of vodka.
Mekhail: "Aadha peg aur piya tha (I had half a peg more)" till Rai brought the food.
Pasbola corrected him saying he had a full peg, but threw half of it away because he grew suspicious of its contents and what his mother might have mixed in it, because it was violently upsetting his stomach.
Mekhail said he had something to say to the court. He said the drink Indrani gave him was not the way he liked it and had mixed the peg with water.
His innocuous observation, to Mekhail's bewilderment, raised a round of laughter.
Indrani laughed. Pasbola chuckled. So did Badami and Patil.
Pasbola wondered: "Theek hai. CBI aur police ko kyo nahin bataya? Abhi bata rahe ho court mein? (Fine. But why haven't you said this to the CBI and police? Why are you telling the court now?)."
Judge Jagdale observed wisely and astutely to Pasbola: "The CBI and police will record what they want. That is why this process is going on!"
Pasbola and Mekhail began hair-splitting over the time of the call Indrani got that night that made her leave for a meeting. He had told the Khar police 2 am, but subsequently revised it to 4-4.30 am.
The court then took a lunch recess.
Sanjeev met his cousin who brought him lunch. Peter's sister Shangon Das Gupta had lunch for Peter. Indrani sat outside with her lawyers.
Three women with a connection to the Nirav Modi PNB scam wandered in and out of the courtroom. They finally settled down in the front row of the chairs.
One woman, traditionally attired, began to cry. She cried off and on bitterly through the recess, dabbing her eyes as she sat in one of the wooden chairs. Her eyes were blood-shot. From time to time, her teenage son stood behind her chair quietly trying to give her support.
It was one of those moments you witness daily in court.
The grief of the innocent relative. Their hope. Their despair.
More harsh is the utter lack of comprehension, written tragically on all their faces, for the blow suddenly unfairly dealt to them.
The moment the recess ended, the matter relating to these three women was taken up by the judge. There was a discussion with Judge Jagdale about bail being granted and a finalisation of that.
The woman later started crying all over again and the public prosecutor attempted to pacify her, asking her why she was crying now when her husband was getting out of jail.
The women were, it was discovered, the wives of Punjab National Bank's Bechu B Tiwari, chief manager in charge of the forex department at PNB's Brady House branch, and Mohinder K Sharma, who had been the chief internal auditor between 2015 and 2016 at that branch.
When the Sheena Bora murder hearing started up again post-lunch, the cross examination was still on that night when Mekhail had dinner with Indrani.
A man apparently came to the door post 10 pm to collect a cheque for some wine Peter had ordered. Pasbola checked if Mekhail saw him or saw him taking the cheque.
Pasbola: "Abhi dekho aisa hua tha ki jab Shyam aaya? (Did it happen that when Shyam came) there was a man who came to take a cheque from Madam for wine that Sahib had ordered?)"
Why Pasbola was referring to Peter as Sahib and Indrani as Madam to Mekhail was not clear.
Nor was the question clear to Mekhail.
Mekhail: "Accha se ek bar bol deejiye? Nahin samjha(Can you say the question again clearly? I didn't understand)."
Pasbola, amused: "Question achcha se bolta hoon ek aur baar (I will repeat the question clearly again)."
Mekhail's answer in return began to wander and Pasbola lost patience.
Badami defending Mekhail: "He is giving the details!"
Mekhail wounded, asked if he could speak more politely: "Sun lo, sun lo bol rahein hai. Tu bole the. Sun-sun. (You keep saying listen, listen. And you)."
Pabola took umbrage: "I have never used the word tu (you) in my life! Dekho natak nahin karna. No drama bazi! (Don't be dramatic. No drama!)"
Badami piped in, with a broad smile: "You are also doing drama-bazi!"
The CBI prospector added aptly, perhaps intending to add a deeper meaning: "I am also doing drama-bazi", implying that finally it was all about drama-bazi.
Pasbola, speaking much more politely, his tone gentle: "Cheque lete hue dekha? (Did you see him taking the cheque?)"
Mekhail mollified: "Mein ne khali aadmi dekha (I just saw the man)."
The Q and A moved on to how Mekhail had a chance to see Indrani's former husband Sanjeev Khanna once more that evening.
It wasn't long before Mekhail and Pasbola began to bicker again.
Mekhail wanted to answer in a particular way, adding additional information, and Pasbola wanted him to give a straightforward yes and no.
It was a battle of wills. No matter what mind games the advocate tried, this witness was proving difficult to tame.
Pasbola kept trying to understand why Mekhail told the Khar police that he saw Sanjeev that day when he peeped at him from where he was sitting on the terrace but told the court otherwise -- that he saw Sanjeev only when he got up to go inside.
Mekhail: "Statement mein likha hai to mein ne bola hoga. Police ne Marathi mein kis tareek se likha hai nahin maloom (If it is there in the statement I must have said it. But I don't know since the police wrote it in Marathi)."
Pasbola wasn't going to let Mekhail get away with this one.
He emphasised roundly that though it was written in Marathi, it had been translated in Hindi for Mekhail at the time and explained too.
Mekhail said it was shock.
Indrani's son brought up the issue of shock each time there was a discrepancy saying the Khar police statement had been recorded three days after he learned Sheena had been murdered.
Mekhail: "Hindi mein bataya tha par us samay bahut shock mein the (They explained it to me in Hindi, but at that time I was in much shock)" and that was how it got written wrongly.
Pasbola, rudely: "Tab shock mein the. Ab shock mein hai (You were in shock then. You should be in shock now)."
Patil, looking pained: "No comments please. You are a senior counsel."
Badami: "He had lost his sister."
Mekhail added that he was disturbed by Pasbola's comments.
Patil went on: "The situation should not be enjoyed."
Pasbola: "Where is the question of enjoyment?!"
Patil: "Cannot expect this from a senior counsel."
The judge nodded his head in agreement.
Badami: "He is a witness. Our guest."
Pasbola: "Guest? You have to be in shock after his answers!"
The painstaking, detailed analysis of the events of that evening carried on.
Pasbola wanted to know why his statement to the Khar police did not reflect that he saw Rai, Indrani and Sanjeev having a confidential discussion on the terrace that night. He didn't know.
Someone quietly commented, jokingly, that Mekhail was becoming more and more like Pinocchio and his nose was likely to start growing.
Mekhail said he could not recall when he fled from Indrani's home to go to the airport but that it was sunrise.
He was not sure what airport he went to, but it was probably the domestic airport. He said he sat around waiting for a ticket.
Pasbola, in an attempt to trip him up, asked if he was sitting inside the airport or outside.
For a few seconds there was suspense as everyone waited on Mekhail's answer.
Mekhail thought for a moment and said it must have been outside because he didn't have a ticket.
Badami and Patil exchanged a triumphant glance.
Pasbola then cut to a crucial question: "Yeh jo dar lag raha tha, Shyamvar Rai se bhi dar lag rahe the? (This fear were you feeling it about Shyamvar Rai too?)"
Mekhail: "Sabse (all of them)."
Pasbola: "Agar Shyamvar Rai se dar lag rahe the toh 2015 uske constant contact mein kyo rahen? (If you were scared of Shyamvar Rai, why were you still in touch with him till 2015?)"
Mekhail said, not very convincingly, he was not.
Pasbola revised the word "constant touch" for "regular touch". He quipped "Constant would be like constant interference from the CBI. Constant prompting..."
Did Mekhail try to call Sheena from the airport?
And later from Guwahati had he tried to call her to tell her what had happened to him in Mumbai with Indrani & Co?
Mekhail: "Tabiyat itna kharab tha ki kisi se baat nahin kiya (I was so sick I didn't speak to anyone)."
When he tried calling a few days later he said her phone was switched off. He subsequently could not remember if he had tried to e-mail her or message her.
Thereafter, Indrani informed him that she had gone to the US.
Pasbola: "Yeh baat Nana-Nani ko bataya? (Did you inform your grandparents?)"
Mekhail: "Bataya hoga (I must have told them)."
Pasbola muttered, grimly: "Woh bhi yaad nahin? (That also you don't remember?)"
Mekhail: "Sure nahin hai (I am not sure)."
The cross-examination shifted to the matter of Durga Rani's will.
Mekhail accompanied his grandmother to the sub-registrar's office in Kamrup, Assam, where she discarded the old will and replaced it with a new one.
At the time he did not know why she was there, but later he realised why.
Pasbola: "Usme joh signature aap ki nani ka hai? Usne 4/11/2009 old will cancel kiya. Aura aap claim bhi kiya (The signature there is of your grandmother? She cancelled the 4/11/2009 will and you have made your claim on the will too since)."
Judge Jagdale: "In which language is it?"
Judge Jagdale, with a smile: "So he can read English."
Mekhail decided to insert something about applying for probate from the Bombay high court.
Pasbola immediately accused him of lying because he said it was legally not possible.
The lawyer read out a few further details of the will.
A two-storey structure had been willed to Mekhail. And stand-alone servant quarters in the aback and open land had been willed to Sheena.
From the back Indrani said loudly: "Incorrect."
Mekhail corrected him saying they were "rent houses."
Reading further, Pasbola said they were two Assam-type homes of two rooms and two attached bathrooms each.
But Indrani was still not happy with that and began waving her hand.
The judge had the lawyer go speak to her. He told Mekhail quietly with a twinkle in his eye: "She wants to correct you. Your mother wants to correct you."
Mekhail, extravagantly, shrugged his shoulders and made a dour face.
Pasbola: "It is correct to say that from this will Indrani got nothing?"
Mekhail muttered: "Mera will nahin hai. Nani ka hai (It was not my will. It was Nani's)."
Pasbola asked if he knew why his grandmother had made that reference to Sheena in her will.
Mekhail: "Mere ko is cheez ka koi knowledge nahin hai (I know nothing about this)."
Indrani again had something to add and a lawyer went over to her.
Judge Jagdale, amused: "Now both son and mother want to correct Pasbola."
Pasbola: "Sheena ki shaadi ho gayi thi aapko pata tha? (Did you know that Sheena had got married?)"
Mekhail said he did not. Or that they had gotten engaged in Dehradun.
He and Rahul had met once in 2011 and spoken on the phone just once.
Strangely, Mekhail and Rahul didn't seem to have had much of a relationship. Even though he had intended to or had already married Mekhail's sister.
The Q and A session then turned to the lengthy interview Mekhail gave to television host Arnab Goswami in 2015. Pasbola ascertained if it had been given between the time he gave his statement to Khar Police and the CBI.
Mekhail cautiously agreed.
Pasbola verified a few points with Mekhail that he had said to Goswami. Pasbola’s clever strategy was clear. The discrepancies on timing and sequence that had occurred between the statement Mekhail had given to the Khar police and to the CBI, Mekhail had ascribed to shock, stress, being disturbed. But he wondered how he had again repeated the same information to Goswami some months later.
Judge Jagdale was not entirely happy that Goswami’s interview was being brought into his courtroom.
Pasbola explained that Mekhail had given an interview to Arnab Goswami that went on for an hour in which he had made several statements.
Judge Jagdale, shock writ across his face: "One hour interview!" He looked at Mekhail with bafflement. "Whether the accused have given interviews too?"
Badami, quietly: "A4 (Peter) has given."
That got Peter agitated and he called for his lawyers so his position could be clarified.
Judge Jagdale, half-humourously and half distastefully, his jovial face sombre: "A parallel investigation was being conducted by this Arnab. And you are also taking cognisance of it?!"
Pasbola explained that he was using it to check the discrepancies.
Pasbola to Mekhail: "Uss time marne ka dar nahin tha? (Weren't you then afraid of being killed?)"
Mekhail: "Bahut stress tha (I was very stressed)."
Pasbola: "He was always in stress."
Mekhail made a face.
Judge Jagdale observed with humour: "He was not in stress when he gave an interview to CBI."
Towards the end of the hearing Pasbola enquired into the details of Mekhail's treatment at the Masina Hospital, Mumbai, and at the Chaitanya Mental Health Care Centre, Pune.
If earlier Mekhail had denied any addiction issues on Tuesday he discussed them as if they had occurred.
Mekhail's testimony, while speaking of his alleged inhuman treatment under psychiatrist Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla, made no reference to the eight-month long treatment he had in Pune. That had been strategically omitted.
Pasbola, in an attempt to justify the treatment Mekhail received under Dr Matcheswalla, extracted some facts from Mekhail on the care he got.
Hadn't Dr Matcheswalla taken a detailed history from Mekhail and seen him on a daily basis?
Hadn't he been looked after by several doctors and nurses and were there not several other patients in his care?
Mekhail, for whom the name Dr Matcheswalla is a red flag, in one sentence busted the tack Pasbola was trying to take: "Unhone detailed enquiry nahin kiya. (He never took any detailed enquiry/history from me). I saw him once after I was admitted and once when Indrani came to visit."
Mekhail seemed less hostile about the treatment he had received at Chaitanya and said the doctors were regularly in touch with him in his stint there.
Pasbola, in his last question of the day, attempted to discredit Mekhail a little further: "Yeh jo admit hua tha charas ganja chudane ke liye and conduct disorder? (You were admitted there for de-addiction from marijuana and hashish and for conduct disorder?)"
Mekhail sullenly: "Mere ko admit kiya. Karan nahin bataya (I was admitted. What for I don't know)."
Mekhail's cross examination would continue till the next Monday.
Pasbola said his team would finish up on August 16. But an additional day or so was required for the other defence lawyers.
Mekhail look dismayed. He said he would lose his job. The judge tried to reassure him. He didn't look reassured.
- MUST READ: The Sheena Bora Murder Trial