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'The lady told me her name is Sheena Bora'

By Vaihayasi Pande Daniel
July 07, 2018 12:00 IST
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That answer, the strangest of all till date in this courtroom, set off a ripple of excitement, surprise and muted amusement among those present, including Accused No 1 Indrani Mukerjea.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Dharam Poonamchand Jain is 78 years old.

The years have been only moderately kind to him.

The owner of a sari store, Manali Creations, located in the cluster of shops in Worli, south central Mumbai, Jain cannot walk erect.

He moves with a slow gait and is bent over.

His vision is good. His hearing is decent. His voice is a bit feeble and even from three metres away one cannot tell if he is speaking Hindi or Gujarati or Marwari.

Jain's sense of comprehension or exactness is deserting him.

He took the witness stand on July 6, Friday, at CBI Special Courtroom 51, Mumbai city civil and sessions, south Mumbai, to describe the visit to his shop of a few policemen and woman in August 2015.

Jain was asked who the woman was.

"Sheena Bora," he said with certainty.


That answer, the strangest of all till date in this courtroom, set off a ripple of excitement, surprise and muted amusement among those present, including Accused No 1 Indrani Mukerjea.

In 2015 Sheena had already been dead two years, according to the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, who had been handling the investigation into her murder.

There was no knowing who Jain had met.

CBI Special Public Prosecutor Bharat Badami was equally startled and dismayed. "Eh, Sheena Bora?!"

He attempted to have the mistake rectified, but CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale would not allow it, and said firmly that he would take it down on the record in the manner in which the witness had said it.

Prosecution witness nine (PW9), Jain's bizarre account, in Hindi, went like this: "Police officers of the Khar police station and one lady had come to my shop. They asked me as to whether I had sold a sari to Sheena Bora. The lady told me that her name is Sheena Bora."

Jain, who would have been briefed before entering the witness box -- and probably had a much sharper memory three years ago -- when he had given a statement to the police, had confused Sheena's name with her mother's -- Indrani.

While the investigation was being handled at the Khar police station in August 2015, and Indrani was detained there, in the confession that was filed, Indrani stated visiting this sari store.

The alleged 2015 trip to Jain's small store was about verifying her account to the police.

That visit was the substance of Jain's 10-minute account to the court, that took longer than necessary since many questions had to be repeated to him. His understanding was vague at best.

The balding sari merchant, who lives in Dadar, central Mumbai, wore a white shirt, white pants, black bedroom slippers, glasses, and had a puja thread on his right hand and a black watch on his left.

He was unable to stand in the box and was given a chair. One of his shop employees or home help had brought him to court for the hearing and was seated in the front row.

The chair afforded him a limited view above the railing of the stand and his large headlight eyes, barely peeping over, contemplated the room.

After announcing his meeting with 'Sheena' in 2015, no one set the record straight with the elderly gentleman and he was oblivious to his mistake.

Post that momentary but historic pause in Jain's testimony in the Sheena Bora murder trial, Badami piloted the sari merchant ahead on his bumpy ride through court.

Jain: "I showed her two saris of Rs 200 each. Mehenga sari ke liye poochi (She asked for a more costly sari)."

He showed her a more expensive sari.

Jain: "Woh bolee halka chalega (She said a lighter/cheaper sari would work better.)."

Badami: "Aap ne diya? (Did you give it to her?)"

Jain: "Do sari diya (I gave her two saris)."

Badami: "Police ke saath jo lady aayi thi woh court mein hai? (Is the lady who came with the police that day present in court?)"

He said he sold the saris to the lady three-and-a-half years ago, when in fact six had lapsed since that day in April 2012 when Indrani allegedly bought those two cheap saris (Rs 200 can only buy the shoddiest of saris, if any) to wrap Sheena's body in.

After craning his head this way and that, Jain spotted Indrani, who was wearing a grey sleeveless kurta with a red chunni and salwar, sindhoor, a red bindi (the bindis are a special fixture with Indrani).

He pointed at her from his seat, and Indrani who had her hair in an attractive new style on Friday, even though she no longer had access to Angel and her Chang Ladies Beauty Salon, nodded her head sideways in acknowledgement and gave a placid smile.

One of her eyes was mildly swollen. The result of an ant bite in the night at Byculla jail, she explained later.

Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola, Indrani's lawyer, began his five-minute cross examination.

During the course of his swift Q and A, he established from Jain the various details about his business, which he had been running for 20 years and in which he was assisted by his son.

Jain said he sold saris daily and it was his "dhanda" or business.

He said he had no clue as to how many saris he sold on a regular basis nor could he recall details of his customers except that they were all "Ladies."

He didn't have an explanation for why the details about the types of saris 'Sheena Bora' looked at was not in his statement to the police.

Pasbola: "Yeh baat CBI ko batayi? (Did you tell the CBI what you said in court today?)"

Jain: "Nahin bataya. Bola sari le ke gayi (I did not tell them. I said she took saris and went)."

Pasbola: "Yeh saris ka bill hai? (Do you have a bill for these saris?)"

Jain started up: "Hamare retail shop hai (We are a retail shop)..."

Pasbola cut him off shortly.

Badami tried to cut Pasbola off.

Pasbola growled at Badami: "Don't start disturbing me again."

Badami smiled disarmingly. Peace prevailed.

In his earlier statement to the police Jain had mentioned selling saris to Indrani (not Sheena), who he had described, then, as a well-to-do customer.

Pasbola charged that Jain's testimony was false and no lady was ever been brought to his shop or had purchased saris in 2012.

Jain suddenly less vague, his eyes alert, insisted: "Aayi thi (She came)."

Ansari Masleuddin Shohbuddin Ansari wore his Sunday best to the Friday hearing, probably his first court appearance and a big day for him.

A short stocky man of 28, he was wearing blue jeans, rubber sports sandals and a black shirt. The black shirt had long sleeves and was open till his chest. The front twinkled with silver spangles.

As Ansari took the stand, after Jain, as PW10, Badami hissed at him to shut the last two buttons of his shirt.

He quickly closed up his chest and stood obediently in the stand, hands clasped together in front of him, after giving his personal details to the court clerk.

Ansari sells luggage at Dadar. He runs one of those footpath stalls that stretch from somewhere near the Dadar TT flyover towards the Chhabildas Boys School, with his father Shohbuddin Ansari and a cousin, Rajullah Ansari, who is the son of his phupha (father's sister's husband).

Ansari lives in the crowded locality of Kamalaraman Nagar, Baigan Wadi, Dumping (Ground) road, Bihari Masjid, Govandi North, north east Mumbai.

Ansari would be one of the nearly 50,000 people who live in the Baigan Wadi slum, which is bordered by mountains of garbage belonging to the city's largest trash dumping ground, that often smoulders with its own self-ignited fires caused by the excess of methane gas.

Badami: "Kya dhanda karte ho Sahib? (What's your profession/business, Sahib?)"

Ansari: "Dadar mein bag bechte hai (I sell bags in Dadar)."

Badami asked what kind of bags.

Ansari reeled off: "Trolley bag, suitcase, Rexin bag, handbag, college bag."

Badami: "August 2015 ko kaun aaya tha aap ke paas? (In August 2015 who were the people who visited you?) Were you visited by the police..."

Pasbola objected: "Please, please. This is leading the witness."

Badami, humbly: "Sorry."

He started again: "What happened in August 2015..."

Pasbola: "Even that is too."

Judge Jagdale offered sagely, with a kindly beam: "A leading question is that question that suggests the answer (in the question)."

"Police aaya tha. Indrani ko shop dikhaya. Doh bara bag diya tha unko (The police came. Indrani Mukerjea showed the shop. I had given her two big bags)," Ansari said with an amazingly sharp recall, as if these two bags were the only two bags he had sold in six years, when in fact they were two bags among some 15,000 to 20,000 he had hawked (as per his own sales figures).

Badami: "Kitne mein diya tha? (For how much did you sell them?)"

Ansari: "Do hazar" (Rs 2,000)."

The bag seller, who spoke in a low voice, timidly but bravely all through, said he loaded the suitcases into her car.

Badami queried: "Yeh kab hua tha? (When did this all happen?)"

Ansari: ""em>Dhai ya teen saal pahile (two-and-a-half to 3 years ago)."

Badami sternly: "Soch ke batao! (Think and say!)!

The luggage man corrected himself: "2015."

Badami asked if he would be able to identify one of the bags, which he sold to Indrani six years ago.

Ansari said he could.

For the third time, since the trial began early 2017, the grey, not-very-large suitcase with straps, made its familiar entrance.

The bag is now as much a part of the court furniture as the 30 trunks.

This suitcase, which is in the court's possession, is believed to be the twin of the suitcase that had been used to store Sheena Bora's body, through the night of the murder in the garage of Marlow, the building where former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea lived.

Ansari looked at the bag too cursorily and declared it was one of the two bags he had sold the lady.

Either he knew exactly the kind of bags he sold, even one from six plus years ago, when he was a callow 22, and had an elephant's memory.

Or, for whatever intentions, he called the bag, his without much inspection.

The bag seller for some odd reason was not asked to identify Indrani. Was Indrani waiting for that moment?

Pasbola took over the witness. His initial questions were about who Ansari ran the stall with.

The lawyer grilled Ansari in a rough, not entirely kind way, quite different from say the way he spoke to Joint Commissioner of Police, law and order, Deven Bharti earlier in the week.

There was nothing remotely deferential about his conversation with Ansari, who was a modest, polite, man.

Pasbola: "Aur footpath par dhande karnewalle bahut hai? (There are many sellers on this footpath?) Thirty shops?

Ansari: "Zyada hai, line se (More than that, it is a long line)."

Pasbola: "100?"

Ansari: "50-60."

Pasbola: "Tarah tarah ke bag bechte hai, alag-alag company ka (They sell many kinds of bags from several companies/makes?)"

Ansari: "Ha (Yes)."

Pasbola: "Jaise bag aap ke paas rahte hai, doosre ke paas bhi rahte hai? (The kind of bags you sell are also available with others on this stretch?)"

Ansari agreed.

Pasbola: "Yeh illegal dhanda hai? (This is an illegal business?)" He added something to the effect that it was not licensed by the BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation).

Ansari had no answer.

Pasbola: "Din mein kitne bags bechte ho? (How many bags do you sell in a day?)"

Ansari: "Dus-gyara (10-11). Season ke mutaabik (It depends on the season)."

Bags sold on the footpaths of Mumbai evidently had a season too. Who would have known.

Pasbola: "Bag bechte hai uska bill-will nahin dete ho? (You don't give a bill to the customer for a bag sold?)"

Ansari shook his head. Pasbola enquired if they had bills for the purchase of the luggage from the wholesaler.

Ansari's answer wandered off and he prattled on about the big godown where they would bring the bags from.

Impatiently and rudely, Pasbola shut him down.

Ansari was unfazed. He might be a small man but he had a kind of bravery beyond his station in life and though the court proceedings, a judge and lawyers like Pasbola would have probably been daunting, he took it in his stride, answering most of the questions put to him objectively.

The lawyer's questions then moved on to Ansari's regular sales and customers.

Pasbola: "Kisko bag becha, kitne beche, kab becha, yeh aap nahin bata sakte? (You can't tell us how many bags you sold to whom and when?)"

Ansari, who said he had been selling bags for nine or 10 years, didn't really answer. Nor was given time to answer. He mumbled something about remembering those to whom he sold big bags.

Pasbola checked with the bag man whether -- when the police came with Indrani -- if they asked Ansari any details of the bags he had sold to Accused No 1.

Maybe the colour. Or the make. Or the size in inches. Ansari said they hadn't but he showed them that it was a large-sized bag.

Pasbola in Hindi: "Did you tell the police that you sold the bags for Rs 2,000?"

Ansari confirmed he did. Pasbola asked then why did his statement, to the Khar police, say he had sold the bags for Rs 2,200.

Ansari had no reply. Nor did he look uneasy.

A discussion ensued on the distance between Ansari's footpath luggage 'boutique' and the Dadar bridge.

Ansari felt it was two minutes away. Pasbola said half a kilometre. But which Dadar bridge was in question was not clear.

Pasbola wondered if Ansari remembered the colour or make of car to which he carried the bags. Or who was in the car.

Had the police asked these questions of him. Ansari said they had not.

Did he recall how the car's "dicky" (boot) opened, asked Pasbola, as if it was something Ansari should have remembered.

Ansari meekly and apologetically but courteously: "Itna yaad nahin hai (I don't remember all that).

Pasbola: "Dicky mein aur kuch tha? (Was there anything else in the dicky?)"

Ansari did not remember, or maybe he did not look.

"Seedha bag dala (I just put the bag in)," he said.

Pasbola then accused Ansari of telling a false story.

A harmless perhaps semi-lettered man, not in tune with the court format, Ansari suddenly looked dumbfounded.

Judge Jagdale had to gently reassure him. Ansari then denied that his statements on Friday in court were lies.

As the cross examination came to a close, Pasbola asked Ansari if there was any way one could verify if he was even a bag seller at all.

He had no bills. Or licenses. How did one actually know that he sold bags for a living or that he existed as a bag seller?

Ansari pondered for a moment over this existential question.

His face lit up: "Hamare paas BMC ka challan hai jo dete hai jab samaan uthake le jaate hai. (I have a receipt from the BMC when they take away the wares of my stall). He said he could show that.


Judge Jagdale gave a hearty laugh, marvelling at the young man's quick thinking.

Pasbola, Badami and the rest of the lawyers grinned too. The room smiled in unison, the accused too.

In that moment Ansari won Courtroom No 51 over. Even if his jazzy shirt had done half the job earlier.

Lesson: Even a simple man selling unbranded, inexpensive, luggage on a Mumbai footpath has brilliance much beyond expectations.

The lawyers for Accused 2, Sanjeev Khanna and Accused No 4 Peter Mukerjea declined the opportunity to cross examine either Jain or Ansari.

July 11 was set for the next hearing. The prosecution said they would reveal the names of witnesses in due course.

Sanjeev had his cousin in to see him. Peter had a surprise. Happiness on a grey day. His brother Gautam and wife Aarti were in court to see him.

Gautam looked feeble and used a cane. They brought a club sandwich lunch for him. And the trio sat down together along with the lawyers.

Afterwards, the defence ribbed the prosecution saying they could not give the names of the next witnesses because they had to decide which of their witnesses was best prepared.

One of the members of the prosecution looked disbelieving.

"Prepared? This would not have happened today then!" referring to Jain and his ostensible meeting with Sheena Bora.

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