24 April, 2012
It was yet another birthday of Sachin Tendulkar. Team India had just won the ICC World Cup the previous year and the master blaster was on an all-time career high. Banners and festoons hailing Mumbai’s wonder boy flooded the city as Mumbaikars celebrated; prayers too were offered by ardent fans at the Siddhivinayak Temple.
India’s Maximum City comes out more alive in the evening. The evening of 24 April was no different. In Bandra’s Linking Road it was business as usual — hawkers soliciting customers; dazzling showrooms showcasing expensive clothes and fancy footwear, arranged to attract the evening shoppers out for a stroll. It was summer, and humidity was soaring. Still, shoppers were not deterred from hitting the roads, with many parking themselves briefly in front of the showrooms; if not real shopping, why not have fun with window shopping?!
In the entire bustle that was going on, at one corner of the crowded road there stood two men and a woman who were waiting for someone. They looked preoccupied and were almost inattentive to their surroundings. Nobody in the crowd would have known who they were or the conspiracy that they had hatched and were about to execute. Some present in the crowd may now recollect the vaguely familiar face of Indrani Mukerjea who was at the Linking Road with her two accomplices, gathered to trap her daughter and eliminate her. Among the partners in crime were Indrani’s ex-husband Sanjeev Khanna and her driver Shyamvar Rai.
Sheena meanwhile had decided to leave office early that day to get ready for dinner. Rahul picked her up from her office in Andheri around 3.30pm and drove back home for her to freshen up. Indrani called Sheena in the evening, offering to buy her a diamond ring and a sari before they set out for dinner. Sheena was asked to reach near Amarsons, the famous fashion and lifestyle emporium in Bandra.
Shyamvar Rai in his detailed statement to Khar police officials said that Indrani, on the way to the dinner meeting, had told him that Sheena was demanding a three-bedroom-hall flat in the prominent Pali Hill area of Bandra, a car and a ring. "I have called Sheena on the pretext of buying her the ring today and hence she is ready to meet me," Rai said in his statement, quoting Indrani, who also asked him to drive fast saying that Sheena and Khanna may reach before them. Rai took the Bandra–Worli Sea Link, a cable-stayed bridge with pre-stressed concrete–steel viaducts on either side that links Bandra in the western suburbs with Worli in South Mumbai.
In another part of Mumbai — Marol area of suburban Andheri — that is roughly 18km away, Rahul took out his Maruti Alto from the parking lot of his building with Sheena sitting next to him. The two had no clue that this would be her last ride in Rahul’s car, and she would not come back to the home where the couple shared many memories. Indrani, at the other end, was desperate as the final stage of her plan was taking shape, and she was not willing to take any chance. In his statement, Rahul said that while he was driving towards Bandra, Indrani and Sheena were on the phone. Sheena was telling Indrani about where they had reached and how much time they would take to reach the destination. Though Rahul could not hear what Indrani was saying, it seemed to him that she was anxious about when Sheena would reach. Indrani wanted to make sure that Sheena didn’t change her mind and reach as per schedule because she had worked hard for this day, and any change in it would mean revising the plan all over again.
It was around 6.40pm when they reached near Amarsons, and Rahul stopped the car to look for a parking space, another challenge for any vehicle-owner in Mumbai. While parking, Rahul noticed a metallic grey-coloured Opel Optra car parked on the roadside near Amarsons. He saw a woman and a man sitting inside and recognised Indrani and Rai. He also saw another man smoking outside the car. What Rahul saw could easily be identified with many scenes from Bollywood thrillers — would-be assassins lurking around a corner, the unsuspecting target conveniently walking into their trap. Had Rahul even remotely sensed anything, he would not have left Sheena alone. But the plan was scripted by Indrani who had left not a single piece amiss that could alert anyone. Seeing Rai, who was his father’s trusted driver, also in the group, Rahul had nothing to worry about and he dropped Sheena outside Amarsons and drove back home.
Indrani welcomed Sheena with open arms and a delicate hug, a common practice of the high-profile sections of the Mumbai population, a marker of the Page Three culture that pervades the city. Indrani offered water to Sheena who took a few sips; the younger woman had no clue that it was spiked and her own mother had numbered the hours of her life. They now headed towards Amarsons to buy the sari. Indrani did not take Sheena to the jeweller as the diamond ring was only a bait and once dead, the ring would be of no use to Sheena. The ring was the carrot to lure her into the trap.
As the sedative needed some time to kick in, Indrani kept Sheena busy looking at saris. About half an hour later, they returned with Sheena carrying the bag of sari she was gifted by her mother. They proceeded in the car that Indrani had hired for the execution of the plan. Khanna was sitting next to Rai. Sheena knew him well as he was Vidhie’s father and, hence, there was no question asked about his presence. Indrani and Sheena sat at the back.
Indrani instructed Rai to take the car towards Pali Hill, the address of some leading Bollywood personalities, occasionally thronged by tourists and sometimes by Mumbai residents themselves to have a glimpse of their favourite stars. The two sat at the back, chatting animatedly till Indrani noticed the drugged water making its effect. Sheena soon started slurring and became drowsy. Within minutes, she closed her eyes.
The plan was now reaching its climax.
Indrani instructed Rai to take the car to a quiet lane where they could stop. Bandra, though a bustling shopping area and a tourist attraction, has some lanes which are desolate, even during the day. They found one such lane and the car came to a slow halt. The moment it stopped, Khanna got down and shifted to the back seat next to Sheena. Indrani and he took a quick look of the deserted lane, ensuring nobody was watching them. The timing was crucial — every single moment counted now as the effect of the medicine could fade away or a passer-by could intrude upon such a well laid-out plan.
Rai turned back and gagged Sheena while Khanna roughly pulled her hair. Indrani, who was till now a paragon of motherly virtues, went down to business. In his later statement to the CBI court, Rai narrated the following: Indrani sat on Sheena’s lap to position herself comfortably to strangle her. The jolt of the physical shock woke up Sheena with a jerk, and she started making desperate attempts to get out of the clutches of her three assailants. She was struggling, shaking and gasping for breath. But she was a lone girl, fighting against two men who were much more powerful. Sheena still tried hard and bit Rai’s right thumb which started bleeding. The driver lost his grip and reeled under the pain. All attempts made by Sheena though turned futile, and she collapsed against the united attack.
Sheena, thus, was strangled to death by her own mother.
After making sure that she was no longer breathing, Khanna returned to the front seat, and Rai started driving towards the busy road of the suburbs. Sheena’s body was made to sit in such a way that it would not raise any suspicion. And in Mumbai, a city that stops for no one, this is not too difficult to achieve as passersby would rarely give a second glance to a moving vehicle. A few minutes later, Khanna got down from the car and left for his hotel in Worli while Indrani proceeded towards Taj Lands End. "Three BHK flat Sheena ko mil gaya," (Sheena got the three BHK flat), she kept muttering in the car while sitting on her dead daughter’s face.
In an attempt to leave a false trail, Indrani had used Sheena’s phone a few minutes earlier to message Rahul that they were going to the Taj. Hence, after the killing, Indrani visited the hotel with Sheena’s body and her phone to prove their mobile phone location. This was something that she repeatedly used later in her conversations with Rahul when he kept insisting about Sheena’s disappearance.
Before going inside the hotel, Indrani instructed Rai to park the vehicle, lock it and stand at a little distance to avoid any suspicion. He was also asked to keep constant watch to ensure that nobody peeked into the car in which Sheena was lying dead on the back seat. About ten to 15 minutes later, Indrani returned and the car now moved towards Marlow where lay the uphill task of keeping Sheena’s body for the night. On the way, they picked up Khanna from Worli.
Marlow is a five-storey building situated in Worli, the heart of Mumbai, which is dotted with many landmark towers and is the address of a number of who’s who of the city. The building is situated just opposite the Mumbai Police traffic headquarters and the Mumbai Police officers’ mess is also a few metres away. This high-profile location could have been reason enough to dissuade anybody from taking a body inside the building. But Indrani was not to be discouraged by such mundane practicalities; this premeditated murder was the solution to the monetary and property dispute tangle that she was confronting at that time, and the mere presence of a few policemen in their mess was not definitely a deterrent.
On reaching Marlow, Rai parked the car in front of the garage that Indrani owned. The building, built a few decades ago, had some closed garages, a rare thing now. Though each garage had enough space to park in a car, the one owned by Indrani had less space as it was once used as a makeshift office which was later shut when society members objected to its commercial use. The garage still had some wooden fittings which made the space smaller and hence the entire car could not be parked inside.
What happened next is an inspiration even for a seasoned criminal. Indrani and Khanna stuffed Sheena’s body in a bag that Indrani had already kept in the boot. Rai, who was all this while keeping a watch to ensure secrecy, helped Khanna take out the bag with Sheena’s body in it. The garage was opened only when the three were ready to take Sheena’s body inside and dump it.
Surprisingly, the entire act went unnoticed despite a few servants’ quarters situated on the ground floor. However, posh sections of Mumbai city are known to be quiet where residents barely interact and are least interested in what is happening around them in the neighbourhood. They live in a world and a bubble of their own, rarely punctuated by external incidents. Even servants and their families are expected to be reticent and maintain decorum. The presence of the Mumbai traffic police headquarters and the police officers’ mess a stone’s throw away too failed to deter Indrani from taking the risk.
Indrani and Khanna decided to meet early in the morning to wrap up the final part of the crime. Khanna went back to his hotel for the night while Rai went to the driver’s room.
Nothing more happened that night. The perpetrators of a heinous crime called it off for the day.
The Sheena Bora Case by Manish Pachouly; Roli Books; Rs 395
25 April 2012
At around 4am the next day, Indrani called Rai and told him to get ready for the trip. When Rai came down he saw Indrani and Khanna near the garage; they were carrying two small bags. Rai dragged the bag with Sheena’s body from the garage and kept it on the back seat. They removed the body from the bag and placed it in a sitting position to make it seem that she was living. The bag was kept in the garage and Rai locked up the door. Khanna sat next to Rai while Indrani took the back seat; the sitting arrangement was the same as it was the day earlier.
The destination now was Pen, a small town in Raigad district. Pen is infamous for the frequent unearthing of bodies, dumped by murderers and, sometimes, unclaimed by any family or relatives. This was the location Indrani zeroed in on as the ideal spot to get rid of Sheena’s body.
Mumbai was just waking up — vehicles were few on the road, mostly milk vans out for delivery. It was a 100km drive to Pen from Mumbai, with quite a few check-posts on the road; hence, Indrani and Khanna had to ensure that they avoided any detection.
The next stop was at a petrol pump on the highway where Khanna went with a 20-litre can, purchased the previous day, and bought around 10 litres of petrol. Meanwhile, Indrani kept checking Sheena’s body from falling down. Almost twelve hours had passed since the murder and her body had started to stiffen. Conscious of the fact that there will be some check posts en route, Indrani applied lipstick to the dead and combed her hair to give the body a normal look.
Rai and Indrani, who had recced the spot earlier, missed a turn on the road which led to the designated spot — the village of Gagode Khurd — but Indrani soon realised the mistake and asked Rai to take a U-turn. As soon as the three got down from the vehicle, they saw a man riding a motorcycle coming towards their direction. Unexpected as this was, they immediately became tense. The man looked at them suspiciously — three people huddled in a spot usually isolated and abandoned — but as luck would have it, he passed without stopping. Relieved, Indrani asked Khanna to bring Sheena’s body out. While she and Khanna pulled Sheena by her hands, Rai held her legs, and they started dragging her to the spot where she was to be finally disposed of.
The compressed mud path has sharp turns and is covered by thorny shrubs. As one moves a little ahead, the shrubs come to an end, revealing a steep drop of close to twenty feet with a small stream flowing at the bottom. Indrani chose this area as it was a lonely stretch. She had chosen the place carefully, as she believed that like many other bodies, Sheena too would remain unidentified and the case would never come to light. Another advantage was the lone police chowki in Warsai village that was situated around a kilometre away. The chowki was handled by a single constable, and it remained locked while he was away to Pen police station, which is nine kilometres away, or was on patrol.
Sheena’s body was dragged through the shrubs and thrown into the steep drop. Indrani next dropped the two small bags and the sari that she had bought for Sheena the day earlier and a box containing a few pairs of gloves she had bought. Khanna now poured the entire can of petrol on the body.
Indrani took one look that everything was in order to set the body ablaze. Once satisfied, she then lit a match and threw it on the body of her dead daughter. Almost immediately, the dump with the body was covered in flames.
A young, twenty-five-year-old, with all the hopes and dreams of youth and love, was burnt without a trace, and nobody knew better for the next three years to follow.
Indrani had purchased three pairs of shoes which they wore while disposing of Sheena’s body. She wanted to leave no evidence as their regular shoes would have carried traces of the mud from the village. While on the way back, Rai and Khanna removed their shoes and handed over the same to Indrani. The shoes were later recovered from Khanna’s house in Kolkata in a police raid after the arrest.
On reaching Bandra, Indrani asked Rai to stop near an outlet of Café Coffee Day, situated close to the famous Mehboob Studio. They had coffee there following which Indrani asked Rai to leave, as they wanted to fly to Kolkata to ensure the safe hiding of the shoes that could become strong evidence against them. Before leaving, Indrani gave him Rs 5,000 and instructed him to take the car to a garage for a wash so that all evidence would get cleaned. This was important since the vehicle was taken on rent. She also told him that the parcel, which he had received some time back on her instructions from a man who had arrived from Kolkata, was in the car and asked him to keep it secured. She threatened Rai to keep quiet about the incident, saying, "Nahin to tumhara bhi theek nahin hoga" (Otherwise it won’t be good for you too). After taking custody of Sheena’s handbag, mobile phone and earrings besides the shoes, Indrani asked Rai to leave.
Following his employer’s instructions meticulously, Rai took the car to a petrol pump in Worli and got the vehicle cleaned and polished for Rs 1,800. He then drove to Marlow and went to the Mukerjea’s apartment to meet Pradeep Waghmare who was cleaning the place. He told Waghmare that Indrani had asked him to throw a new bag kept in the garage and inquired if he was interested in keeping the same. Waghmare saw the bag and agreed to take it, clueless that it was used to conceal Sheena’s body.
The next day, Rai went to the airport to pick up Peter, who had arrived from the UK, and brought him to Marlow where Rahul was waiting for him in the society compound. Father and son went to the apartment while Rai followed them with Peter’s luggage. Rai, in his statement, said that the moment he reached the apartment, Rahul asked him, "Shyam, where is my Sheena?"
Rai had no answer and later reported to work at 9pm to drive Peter and Rahul to a restaurant for dinner. After dinner, Rahul left for his Andheri house while Peter came back to Marlow in the same car. The next day, which was 27 April, Rai reported for duty when Peter told him that Indrani would arrive from Kolkata in the evening and they had to pick her up. Two days later, Peter and Indrani left for Goa when Rai returned the car to the agency from which it was hired and paid Rs 5,000. Rai kept the parcel that was in the car, oblivious of the content, and unaware that three years later it would land him into trouble.
In November 2012, Indrani spoke to Kajal from the UK and told her that there was a slowdown in the business and she wanted to reduce the number of staff. She asked Kajal to speak to Rai and ask him if he would join a security firm which was once associated with their company. Rai, however, refused to join and said that he would instead go back to his village. He left the job, taking three months’ salary
It was then that Rai decided to open the parcel and was left shaken when he saw a country-made pistol in it…
(Excerpted with permissions of Roli Books from The Sheena Bora Case by Manish Pachouly.)