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Sheena Bora Trial: Why Indrani Smiled

Last updated on: August 22, 2018 17:12 IST

Mekhail delivered the most deliberate heart-tugging line of the day: "If a son asks his mother for money is wrong, then tell me."
At the back Indrani gave one of her most beaming smiles that was meant to convey the exact opposite.
This was no mother happy that her son had said he turned to her when he needed money because she was his mother.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Mekhail reared expensive foreign breed dogs.

Mekhail bought flashy cars.

Mekhail borrowed money, without giving a reason, from his grandmother.

Mekhail took money from his girlfriend to buy flight tickets.

Mekhail appropriated his girlfriend's cell phones from time to time.

Mekhail smoked cigarettes, chewed tobacco and had marijuana.

Mekhail liked his drinks.

Mekhail left his frail, elderly, grandparents in the care of the family driver and disappeared for a month on holiday.

Mekhail sold an inherited flat to get cash.

Mekhail crashed his car.

Mekhail was always greedy for more and more money.

Mekhail told his mother he considered her dead.

Mekhail had a bad temper and a poor memory.

Mekhail, mostly through the last ten years, had been unable to support himself or hold a job.

 

CBI Special Courtroom 51 at the Mumbai city civil and sessions court was nothing short of a battleground on Monday, August 13, in the Sheena Bora murder trial.

The long knives were all out for Mekhail Upendra Kumar Bora, Indrani Mukerjea's estranged son.

By the end of the three-hour session, which in between broke for a lunch recess, the young Assamese's reputation was in tatters.

And if any of it was meant to be taken with a grain of salt, that all-important ingredient was nowhere in sight. Subtlety was not the name of the game on Monday.

There didn't seem to be much Mekhail had ever done right, apart from never committing murder.

If others in the room had been accused of it, Mekhail seemed still the larger villain.

Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola, Indrani's defence lawyer, started out his second day of cross examination of Mekhail with a go-for-the-jugular ferocity he intended to maintain through the hearing.

Pasbola: "Mr Mekhail aise hua tha ki drinks lene ke liye woh aadmi (jo le gaye) Sanjeev Khanna ko aapne bola mein man halka karne ke liye cigarette peeta hu. Bangalore mein dosto ke saath ganja peeta hu? (Mr Mekhail, did you tell that man Sanjeev Khanna who took you for drinks that to lighten your mind you smoked cigarettes and in Bangalore with friends you would have marijuana?)"

Mekhail, who was wearing a light green, long-sleeved, mildly ill-fitting shirt and dark trousers on Monday, denied it immediately.

His statement to the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, who first handled the murder investigation, was shown to him. It was in Marathi so the showing process, to a man who speaks Hindi and Assamese and some English, was a mere and rather quirky formality.

Mekhail mumbled: "Agar aise bola yaad nahin aa raha hai (No. If I said that I don't remember)."

The lawyer asked a series of questions about the trip Mekhail made to Mumbai from Bengaluru, on Indrani's invitation, that saw him, he had alleged, land up in the Masina hospital, central Mumbai.

On that trip Mekhail was not put up at Marlow, the Mukerjeas' residence in Worli, south central Mumbai but stayed in a hotel.

Mekhail had no recollection of the hotel he stayed at. On which floor his room was. What kind of hotel it was. The hotel's features. If its exterior was glass. The distance from the airport. The nearest landmarks.

Or the name of the disco/pub -- or as Pasbola clumsily termed it "Disco hota hai ki pub hota hai! (Do you call it a disco or a pub!)" -- Indrani's former husband Sanjeev Khanna took him to, on the ground floor of that same hotel, and ordered two tequilas for him that knocked him out cold, as per Mekhail's earlier account.

Mekhail said he had stayed at the hotel for two days, but never strayed out of it.

Even if it was not possible to buy into the expected systematic and skilful character assassination of Mekhail that followed, that Indrani's son could not remember the only hotel he had ever stayed at in Mumbai, was baffling..

The Mekhail who appeared in court on Monday was considerably less chirpy compared to last week and mildly out of sorts, even before Pasbola began his making-total-chutney-out-of-the-witness process.

He had a faraway look in his eyes and seemed mildly disturbed or perhaps pensive.

His posture in the witness stand was limp as he leaned sideways at times and fiddled off and on with his hands.

Pasbola checked with Mekhail till when he and Sanjeev were in the pub that night.

Mekhail said around 8 or 9 but just 15 minutes in all (Please note: 15 minutes to down two tequilas). Pasbola put it to him that it had been 11.

Pasbola, his voice rising: "Aise police ko bola tha (That's what you told the police)."

Mekhail said he didn't remember.

Pasbola averred he had.

His Marathi statement came out again.

The lawyer went one notch further: "Aisa hua ki itna nasha ho gaya pata nahin chala room mein kab aaya aur raat mein jab jag gaye toh aap ne dekha ki aap apne hotel ke room mein the, aur vapas so gaye? (Did it happen that you were so high that you do not know how/when you got back to you, but when you awoke in the middle of the night you realised you were in your hotel room and went back to sleep?)"

Mekhail, strongly: "Aise nahin hua (It didn't happen like that)."

Pasbola, loudly questioning: "Phir aisa aap ki Khar police station zubani mein kyo likha hai? (Then, why is it written in your testimony to the Khar police station?)"

Mekhail, in a low voice: "Kya bola tha yaad nahin (What I said I do not remember)."

Pasbola repeated, with aggression, pushing the point home: "Aise kyo likha hai aap ki zubani mein? (Why is it written in your testimony?)"

Mekhail: "Yaad nahin (Don't remember)."

Pasbola, upping the dramatics: "Aise kyo likha hai police ne?! (Why did the police write this?!)"

CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale in a kindly tone, coming to Mekhail's rescue: "He is not sure about it."

Mekhail, lamely: "Statement itna yaad nahin hai (I don't remember much about that statement)."

One of the lawyers muttered: "Today he is a little less arrogant."

Mekhail looked a tiny bit worried. There were creases on his forehead. His eyes searched some distant point in the room.

He didn't look at Pasbola and when Pasbola attempted to look at him his eyes slid away, as he was probably advised to do by the CBI.

He did look at Indrani discreetly from the far corner of his eye when she approached the lawyer bench, initially, to give some details to Pasbola.

Pasbola enquired about the trip Mekhail took to Delhi with his pals for 28 days away from his then frail grandparents in 2014.

He started reeling off the names of the friends -- "Pranjal Pathak, Partha Pratim Deka, Pinku, Raj Bakshi" -- and asked if he left Indrani's parents Durga Rani and Upendra Bora in the care of a driver named Sunil Hagoj and went off on his jaunt.

Pasbola, accusingly, as if the entire responsibility then had been 23-year-old Mekhail's: "Athais din baad jab aap Guwahati aaye toh aap ko pata chala ke aapke nani ki tabiyat bahut, bahut, kharab hai (When you returned after 28 days to Guwahati you learned that your maternal grandmother's health was very, very, bad)."

Mekhail, calmly: "Nani ki tabiyat 2013 se kharab tha. Dilli se aane ke baad aur kharab ho gayi (My grandmother's health was poor from 2013. After I came back from Delhi it got worse)."

He explained in a level tone that he had gone to Delhi for work and with just a few of the friends Pasbola had mentioned.

The lawyer next examined the details of Mekhail's version of Indrani's visit to Guwahati.

He countered what Mekhail had said in his testimony and said Indrani had come there and offered a job with a salary of Rs 50,000 in Kolkata to Mekhail and said she would take her parents to Mumbai.

Mekhail didn't agree. Or entirely disagree.

He sort of muddled through an answer in between "Bolee toh thee. Alag tareeke se bolee thee (Yes, she had. But in a different manner)."

He said she had also mentioned a job in Mumbai and did not provide the details. And she had spoken something about an old age home too for his grandparents.

Pasbola: "Unke words kuch bhi rahene do. Dono cheez manjoor nahin the (Whatever her words, you would not agree to either)."

In attempt to persuade Mekhail to her point of view, Indrani spoke to his friends and asked them to weigh in and that apparently made Mekhail lose his shirt.

Pasbola: "Aap naraaz ho gaye. Aapka aur Indrani ka jhagda hua tha. Maara maaree nahin (Pasbola smiles) bol chal. Aap ne bola na mein naukri ke liya bahar jaonga na Nani-Nana ko le jaane  dunga (You got angry that she had spoken to your friends and you and Indrani had a fight. You didn't come to blows. It was verbal. You said I won't leave to get a job and I won't let you take my grandparents)."

Mekhail: "Sahi (Correct)."

Pasbola: "Woh gussa mein bolee, 'Aaj se koi paisa ki madad nahin karungee'. Aapne bola 'Theek hai tum yahan se nikal jao' (In anger she said 'I won't help you financially any more.' You told her 'okay then get out of here')."

Mekhail didn't agree to the sequence of that exchange because he said in between he suggested they call Sheena and take her view.

Through this back and forth Mekhail looked uncomfortable. His hands were laced together in front of him.

Occasionally he would pause and take a deep breath. Or he would examine his hands with a strange concentration, as if he was seeing them for the first time.

Indrani, wearing all white Monday, with a white bindi and red sindhoor, was the most alert she has ever been, like a sleek lynx.

She watched the proceedings very closely and carefully observed the way Mekhail answered each question. Sometimes smugly.

Her face would often reflect a long, slow smile when she felt Mekhail had been cornered. She would turn to husband Peter Mukerjea and animatedly offer an opinion. She often signalled for her lawyers and passed messages ahead to Pasbola.

Pasbola continued saying Mekhail told his mother: "'Aaj se tumhe mara hua samjhenge. Aap mere liye mar gaye hai!' ('From today I will think you are dead. For me you are dead!')"

Mekhail: "Utna yaad nahin (That much I do not remember)."

Pasbola barked: "Yaad nahin hai?! Aisa Khar police station ko bola tha?! (You don't remember. But you told Khar police station this?!)"

Mekhail admitted: "Bola tha (Yes I did say)."

Pasbola in full on accusatory mode: "Nana-Nani ko lene ke liye is liye manzoor nahin tha kyo ki Rs 60,000 band ho jaata tha! (You were not in agreement and did not want Indrani her to take your Nana-Nani because the Rs 60,000 would have stopped!)"

Mekhail sharply, hitting back: "Galat Rs 60,000 nahin tha (Wrong. It was first of all not Rs 60,000)."

He added angrily something to the effect that if he had been so greedy then why for the next two years did he struggle to take care of his grandparents with no funding at all.

On that note of high drama -- Pasbola seemed to have planned for it to happen in this way, just like it happens in a theatre while watching a Hindi film, when the narrative is tightly building up to high theatrical pitch and suddenly 'Intermission' is announced -- the court recessed on the lawyer's request for lunch for an hour.

On Monday, Peter's lawyer Shrikant Shivade, who is Pune-based, was also present in court. He had arrived to attend to the high court matter of 2008 Malegaon blast accused Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit but there had been some delay so he came across to the sessions court.

During the lunch recess Colonel Purohit was outside Courtroom 51, accompanied by two Sikh army personnel, consulting Shivade.

After the hearing resumed Pasbola continued his post-mortem of that last fight Mekhail had with his mother.

Sanjeev Khanna's trial lawyer Niranjan Mundargi arrived and the full quota of 11 or so defence lawyers were trying to adjust themselves around the lawyer table, where on one side sits the prosecution lawyers.

CBI Special Public Prosecutor Bharat Badami, while making some space for Mundargi next to him, quipped waggishly: "This is the poor man's side. That's the rich man's side," pointing to the phalanx of more prosperous defence advocates.

Pasbola took up with Mekhail about his series of e-mails, messages and calls to Indrani after the final bitter quarrel. He said Mekhail had needed money and had tried to get in touch with Indrani.

There was a disagreement who the money was for. Pasbola suggested it was for Mekhail because he was sick, as per his statement to the Khar police.

CBI Special Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil and Mekhail vigorously denied it.

Patil said it was Pasbola's incorrect interpretation of Marathi.

Pasbola: "Wah means 'and'. My Marathi says 'and'."

Patil: "But there is no full stop."

Judge Jagdale placated them by promising to record her objection too.

The point Pasbola was driving home was that in his examination in chief to the court last month Mekhail had falsely said after his grandmother became more sick he had contacted his mother through every communication channel possible and she never replied.

Pasbola's contention was that she had indeed replied and that had been recorded in Mekhail's statement to the Khar police.

She had said she would not send Mekhail pocket money any more, but money for running the home and for her parents would be deposited in the Boras' driver Sunil Hagoj's bank account.

Mekhail looked discomfited. He studied his feet and fiddled with his hands: "Yaad nahin (Don't remember)."

Then he added compromisingly: "Shayad bola hoga. Mein ko abhi yaad nahin hai (I might have said. I don't remember now)."

Pasbola studied his face, his eyes piercing. Mekhail avoided his glance.

Pasbola then did a little rewind asking him to remember that last meeting with Indrani that took place in his grandparents' home.

"At the meeting (relatives) Tilak Hazarika, Amitabh Hazarika, Viraj Hazarika, Barnali Hazarika, Anirban Hazarika and cousins Mary and Anna the (were there)?"

Mekhail agreed.

Judge Jagdale cracking a joke: "Bhupen Hazarika nahin? (Not singer Bhupen Hazarika too?)"

Pasbola: "Wahan par bhi aapka aur Indrani ka vad-vivaad hua (Over there too you and Indrani had an argument)."

Mekhail disagreed on the semantics: "Baat-chit (Conversation)."

Pasbola, stubbornly: "Vad-vivaad. Hindi mein bolte vad-vivaad! (Argument. In Hindi we say argument!)" who had taken this bit of Hindi vocabulary from his colleagues a few minutes before.

The judge laughed heartily.

Patil said it was not an argument as per his statement to the Khar police.

Mekhail insisted, echoing her: "Vad-vivaad kuch nahin (No argument)."

Pasbola: "Hua tha meeting mein. Aap gussa ho gaye (You got angry at the meeting)."

Mekhail: "Thoda bahut (A bit)."

Pasbola repeated succinctly, mildly mocking: "Thoda bahut (A bit)."

Pasbola continued recounting the events of that meeting saying Mekhail got angry and all the relatives tried to calm him down.

He was then taken to the terrace of his uncle's house and an attempt was made to ply him with a "peg" to settle him.

For the next 20 minutes the Peg was the star of the Q and A.

What is was a peg of, was not referred to. It could have been a peg of buttermilk for all the court knew.

And that alcohol was always simply called a generic peg hung awkwardly in the Q and A, as if in Guwahati no one had glasses of whiskey or vodka but only pegs of an unnamed alcohol.

The back and forth on the peg went on, the words floating in the air bizarrely.

"Phir aap ke liye peg leke aayee... Aap ek peg liya... Doosra peg laane gayee... Aap doosra peg nahin liya... Doosra peg phek diya... Mein peg nahin liya..."

A dispute then erupted.

Mekhail had said in his testimony to the court that he had drunk "pegs" with Indrani in her hotel. But Pasbola said that in the statement Mekhail made to the Khar police he indicated another "peg" consumption episode too.

Judge Jagdale helpfully, with a tinge of humour: "Terrace par? (The terrace one?)"

Pasbola also wondered why the hotel peg session was not recorded.

Patil insisted that these were two different incidents. And that Mekhail had had pegs only once with his mother in Guwahati.

Mekhail for his part was befuddled and stumbled over the sequence of events. He pleaded confusion for what he said to the Khar police.

"Stress mein tha. Stress from pura situation jo tha (I was under stress. Stress from the whole situation)."

Looking like a sleepwalker quietly "Us me likha hai toh bataya tha (If it is written there, I must have said it)."

That Mekhail would have been under tremendous stress and emotionally disturbed at the time, having suddenly learned he had lost his closest relative, his sister could not be denied. But one was not meant to remember that on Monday.

Satisfied with the outcome of the peg story, Pasbola moved on to Mekhail's cars. Over seven years Mekhail had owned or at least driven 6 or 7 cars

Mekhail vowed that none of them were his.

"Mere ghar pe gaadi the. Mera naam mein nahin tha (There were cars at my home. Not in my name)."

But it emerged that all of them had perhaps been bought for him, even if they were not in his name and Indrani had funded each of the vehicles.

The home in Guwahati had seen everything from a Maruti Esteem to a Hyundai Verna, a Tata Arya, a Maruti Baleno and a Mitsubishi Lancer.

In Delhi too, Mekhail had been given a set of wheels for his use -- he drove about in a WB license plate Alto that was eventually sent to Sheena after he left Gurgaon.

He said the Alto belonged to Vivek Mittal, the INX Media Delhi executive, and was not for him.

Each of these cars had been fairly expensive.

The Tata Arya had been the most expensive at Rs 12 lakh (Rs 1.2 million) and had been purchased by selling the flat Indrani had bought for him in Gurgaon for Rs 9 lakhs (Rs 9 million, which according to Pasbola and Indrani prompting from behind had gone for Rs 10 lakhs to Rs 10.5 lakhs/Rs 1 million to Rs 1.5 million) and the Verna.

After that Mekhail drove around in cheaper second-hand cars for which he claimed he paid between Rs 40,000 and Rs 60,000 (for the Mitsubishi, Rs 40k; for the Baleno Rs 50k to Rs 60k) till they went bust and he was finally driving the older Esteem.

Pasbola, moving on: "Mekhail charas-ganja ho gaya, daru ho gaya, ghadi ho gaya, aap ko kutta ka shok bhi tha. Achche-achche breed ke kutte bhi aapke paas the (The topic of marijuana and hashish is done, alcohol too, cars too. Now your penchant for dogs. You had fine breeds of dogs in your ownership too)."

Golden retrievers, dachshunds, Labradors and British Mastiffs were some of the dogs Mekhail had raised.

Recording the spellings of these breeds was an arduous task for the court stenographer.

Mekhail sullenly: "Golden retriever Vivek Mittal ne diya (Vivek Mittal gave the golden retriever)."

Pasbola: "Doosra? (Next?)"

Mekhail: "British Mastiff."

Pasbola repeated for effect in a snooty tone: "British Mastiff! British Mastiff kab liya? (When did you get the British Mastiff?)"

Mekhail: "March 2012."

Pasbola: "Kitne ka tha? (How much was it?)"

There was an extended silence. Mekhail didn't answer. He was thinking.

Indrani was all ears at the back, they were standing up almost like a rabbit's.

Mekhail finally said: "Rs 20... Rs 25,000."

That didn't seem the right price from the pantomime Indrani was conducting artfully from the back with knowing smiles, mouthings and gestures.

Pasbola mused: "Sultan uska naam tha? (His name was Sultan?)"

Mekhail: "Uska naam pahele se Sultan tha (His name was Sultan from before implying he did not name him)."

Badami laughed.

Pasbola: "Golden retriever le ke aaya tha Guwahati. Golden retriever kitne mein liya tha? (You brought the golden retriever to Guwahati. How much did you buy the golden retriever for?)"

Mekhail shook his head saying he didn't know because it had originally been Mittal's dog.

Pasbola: "Aapko maloom nahin! (You don't know!)"

And then added for effect, "Uska kutta le kar aaye?! (And you took his dog?!)"

Pasbola, continuing in that vein: "Aur do Labs hai aap ke paas? Ye sab mehnge kutta hai (And you have two Labs too? These are all expensive dogs)."

Mekhail corrected him: "Labrador nahin (Not Labradors)."

Pasbola said Labradors cost at least Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000.

Mekhail: "Mein aap ko dilate hoon Rs 10k ka Labrador (I will get you a Rs 10,000 Labrador)."

The judge laughed.

They quibbled about how many dogs Mekhail had at a time.

Mekhail suggested Pasbola was inflating the numbers.

Pasbola suggested that at one time or another Mekhail had owned these five dogs.

And Indrani, as always, had paid the bill

Pasbola: "Yeh sab gaadi kutte mehenge hai aur aap jaan bhooj ke kaam kar rahein hai (These cars and dogs are expensive and you are deliberately assigning lesser prices for each)."

Mekhail: "Galat (Wrong)."

Pasbola: "Mehengi mehengi cheez ka shok hai (You have a taste for expensive things)."

Mekhail: "Galat.".

Pasbola, accusingly: "Is liye aap ko hamesha paiso ki zaroorat hai aur Indrani se baar baar paise mangte the (Therefore you always had a need for money. And you would ask Indrani for money over and over again)."

Mekhail: "Yeh galat hai! (That is wrong!)"

After a pause, Mekhail delivered the most deliberate heart-tugging line of the day: "Beta agar ma se paisa mang le to galat hai toh mujh ko bata do (If a son asks his mother for money is wrong, then tell me)."

At the back Indrani gave one of her most beaming smiles that was meant to convey the exact opposite.

This was no mother happy that her son had said he turned to her when he needed money because she was his mother.

No. Her happiness seemed purely ironic.

Pasbola spent the last 10 or 15 minutes of Monday's hearing exploring how Mekhail got the money to come to Bombay to visit Indrani in April 2012.

It evolved that Indrani's son said he borrowed the money from his then girlfriend (from whom he borrowed cellphones he had said on Friday) Supriya Pathak and another Rs 10,000 from his grandmother.

Pasbola wondered why he took money from his girlfriend: "Isse pahele bhi paise lete the? (Had you taken money from her before?)"

Mekhail nonchalantly: "Kabhi kabhi lete the. Living relationship mein the Gurgaon mein unke saath (Sometimes I took. I was in a live in relationship with her in Gurgaon)."

Pasbola climbing at that point strategically onto the moralistic bandwagon: "Unse paise lene se aap jijhakte nahin the? (You had no hesitation in taking money from her?)"

Mekhail: "Meri girlfriend thi woh bhi mere se lete thi (She was my girlfriend. She would take from me too)."

Judge Jagdale chiding Pasbola: "Things have changed a lot! Accept it." He added that he wondered what Pasbola was surprised at because times were quite different from Pasbola's day.

Finally, Pasbola wanted to know if he told his Nani-Nana that he was coming to Mumbai.

Mekhail said he had.

And did he tell Sheena?

Mekhail bowled a neat googly: "Indrani ne mana kiya Sheena ko bolne ke liye (Indrani told me not to tell Sheena)."

Pasbola was taken aback

Shocked or mock shocked, he asked: "Pahele dapha bol rahein ho? (You are saying this for the first time?)"

Mekhail said he had told the police.

Pasbola said it was not in his statements. Nor had he said it in court in his testimony.

He wondered why Mekhail had decided to mention this crucial fact for the first time on Monday. "CBI ke kehene par bol rahe ho (You are saying this on the instructions of the CBI)."

Mekhail adamantly: "Nahin, mein jhoot nahin bol rahein hai (No, I am not lying)."

The hearing ended there.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com
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