It’s a tough one to swallow! After all the sinister references in full public gaze, the accusations and the counter charges, the now quietened down case of Sheena Bohra murder mystery, was brought to light again. And for what reason? The prime accused, and acquitted, has written a book, published by none other than Harper Collins, came on stage to be questioned again, happy to say she has had enough of her quiet life, has a softness for older men, and will dare being herself, all over again. In an open and most engaging conversation with eminent Mumbai based journalist Bachi Karkaria, Indrani Mukerjea faces the jury this time, of the audience at the Khushwant Singh Literary Festival in Kasauli. We produce only excerpts of the full conversation.
So if you had to live your life all over again, what would you change?
If I had to live my life all over again, I would live as Indrani. I live life as it comes. I think Mukerjea or Bora is just a surname. It doesn’t really matter.
So, what has really been the biggest learning?
I think what I’ve really learned is that the human spirit is resilient to all external circumstances. And we all have the inner strength to fight and to rise again and again no matter what your struggles are. And the circumstances that I have gone through are not very easy as not very easy perhaps is an understatement for a regular person.
So of all the stories one has heard around this case, what maybe has upset you most or hurt you most or what you found the most laughable?
So I think the most hurtful moment was when I was accused of filicide. I think that was very, very difficult for me because I was dealing with two things. One is the loss of a child and loss of my firstborn child irrespective of the paternity. I’m her mother and she’s my firstborn child.
Everyone decided that I was that horrible monster accused my own child without really even my charge sheet coming in or without any evidence in court. But nobody really realized that there was a grieving mother inside. I was dealing most importantly with the loss of child.
The other thing that hurt me a lot was my own family abandoning me because when I went into prison. So that was very painful because I couldn’t really figure out that how could a man who lived with me, all the family who I take my life to, who lived with me for 17 years actually believe something like that. Or even if for a moment it was true that what would I have done if he had been arrested in my case.
So, the laughable, this was when somewhere I read that I come from the northeast! So, I do black magic and so I must have done black magic on Peter and everyone else and that is how I rose so high and I became a person of high net worth and it’s very laughable because I wish I could do black magic. I wouldn’t have spent six years in prison.
But why do you think all your family was willing to believe the worst of you?
I don’t know about everyone because only everyone who had to say a lot of things about me. I don’t know most of these ‘everyone’. My parents were not alive. Actually my mother had a heart attack the day I was arrested and passed away in 15 days and my father passed away immediately after. And in fact, I have because I’m the only child, so I have to step out of prison. I had to take court permission and do their last rites.
What did come to me as a surprise was that Sheena was the child of the rape by your father and that was the second time that he had raped you, first at 14 and then at 16. So do you think that this rape was apart from all that happened afterwards, was that really the defining factor in your life because would it change your life pretty much after that, from that protected angel background to make your own life? So was that really the defining factor?
Actually I have always I think had an inherent strength within me, which is why I think I survived from a very young age, I have learned to be on my own. And when I’m saying on my own, doesn’t necessarily mean not being around with people. But I have learned to deal with circumstances even when nobody supported me. I’ve had the courage to, I was a very, very good student. So, I did not let anything come in the way of my education, for example. And I continued to study, I topped the university, I continued with my career. So that was something I realized very early on in life and which is what actually ultimately stayed with me.
So what do you think about yourself? I mean, would you say that yes, you are pretty harsh about relationships?
You know I do not conform. I never have and I will not conform to the good girl syndrome. That’s the first thing. The second thing is I do not believe that if I cannot be happy in a relationship, if I’m not happy in my relationship with a person, I cannot then make the other person happy. Do I put my happiness before the happiness of the other person? If, that is the question you are asking me, it depends who the other person is. If it is you are talking about my three children, I would put their happiness before mine. If you are talking about a man in my life, I’m going put my happiness before the man’s happiness.
Okay, tell me now, what was the point where the whole lot has been said about how you tried to pass off these two children as your siblings and going by your book, that your parents thought that it was too much for society to take. And your parents then decided that those two children would be brought up as theirs, but if for the sake of society they didn’t want to be exposed to that, then how do they explain to that same society how these two young kids came into their life?
I have had Sheena when I was 16 years old. I was still a minor and I, irrespective of what people have to judge or think at 16 I was not in a position to take care of kids. And that is the realities that I would’ve ended up probably instead of finishing my education, I would’ve ended up becoming a hooker. So I wouldn’t have been where I am. But most importantly, the day I was financially independent came the day I believe that I could take care of myself at the very same time I brought my kids back to me because I would not have done justice to them.
Now your question is that when my parents decided that they were going to adopt the children and raise them as their own, it happens in a lot of cases. That is not the painful part of it. The painful part of it for me, I can only talk about my feelings. Because the agreement was that when I finished my education and I could take them back, I would bring them back to me.
But when I went back, two things had happened, which was a very heartbreaking moment for me that my children did not recognize me. That was the most heartbreaking moment for me because they were obviously, one was a little baby, the other was a toddler. And also, I had to go to my grandparents, my parents and my mother had not brought the kids to meet me till the last minute. And I had already given up. I was 17 years old. I didn’t know about all the legal ramifications and I didn’t realize that I had given up my rights to my children at that point, I didn’t realize it. And so, after I left, I did not connect back for another 10 years. It was my parents reached out to me when they became old and they needed me and they needed the support and they couldn’t obviously maintain their lifestyle the way they should, but I didn’t grudge them for it.
In the meanwhile, you had reconciled yourself to the fact that these kids, I mean, okay, they’re my siblings, but they’re not my children.
I was not even in touch with them. So, for me, honestly, I did not perhaps emote the way I should have as a mother when I met them after, because I think Sheena was almost 15. And also for them, also for Sheena, because it was like she grew up with my mother as her mother, but we bonded very, very well over a period of time and all these unnecessary talks that were around obviously in the media. Oh my God, she was heartbroken that I did not accept her as a daughter. That’s all rubbish because that is not true.
Could you describe for us, that time which must have been very traumatic when your kids were told by your parents or who ultimately, that they were actually your children. And I think that was a bit of a surprise to me.
That came was a bit of a surprise to me as well as to them actually. Because it was when my parents had reached out to me for financial help obviously. And that was the time, they had to break the news to them.
Did they discuss it with you that now we are going to tell them the truth?
They did. It was a very kind of awkward situation really because very few people, apart from my ex-husbands, and actually both my husbands are ex-husbands now.
So apart from Sanjeev and his mother as well as Peter, very few people and very, very few people, close people, not too many people knew about Sheena and Mikhail at all really. But when they reached out, and this was a conversation that I had with Peter, which is what I had written in my book, and that time Peter was the CEO of Star and he said, oh my God, this is going to destroy my reputation.
So, in hindsight, I feel I should not have put the man before my kids and that was the mistake I made. So see the easiest thing for me to do would’ve been to send a cheque every month to my parents and that would have ended it all. But I wanted my kids back, I wanted them back in my house. I wanted to live with them. That is why I got Sheena back to Bombay. I wanted to make up on that lost time. And that is something nobody ever really understood or realized.
So now this book seems to be almost as much about damning Peter as exonerating yourself. And you have definitely murdered Peter’s reputation, personal and professional, even if you haven’t murdered your daughter. But the point is, Peter was this iconic figure. He was a media star and the way you made him out to be, as if he was a wimp in his personal life, in the way that he handled his ex-wife and couldn’t extricate himself from her. From the fact that you made all the wise decisions and Peter was making the wrong decisions or he wasn’t making any decisions because he was either travelling or doing whatever. How do you swallow that?
Let me, since you have several questions in this, let me address each of your questions one by one. When I had written this, I had written this book in prison. So, when you talk about pen to paper, yes, no, no, no, I did not say that. I have written this. And it was, when you talk about writing, actually this is, I’ve written it with a pen. Pen to paper. So that is how I wrote the book. And I think someday I hope to sell that manuscript, handwritten manuscript for a fortune. I’m a businesswoman at the end of the day. So anyway, coming back to this. So that is how it got printed so quickly because the book was ready. Yeah, Peter, Peter, I’m talking about Peter.
When I actually wrote this book, a lot of people, when I came out, including very, very close friends, had said that, listen, you must write this as a fiction based and say it’s a fiction based on your life. And the reason I chose not to do that, and instead I said that no, I am going to write it as a memoir and I’m going to take the name of names of every single person and publish it only with a reputed publisher. There are two reasons behind it. One is somebody like Harper Collins, and particularly when you write a book without putting pseudo names, they do not put in anything in the book until and unless it is validated, you would know this because you’re a journalist and a very reputed one. It took six months, my book was ready. It took six months of legal validation of every single word that I said.
He cannot dispute it. He cannot, he cannot, cannot. But the opinions are thoughts and opinions are different, facts that I had. See, the day I got arrested, there were two things, two very interesting things that happened, that the next few days Peter just spent just interviewing, which all the journalists saying, what a monkey I made out of him. That is what, those were his words. Hello, you are supposed to be this cool, the CEO of Star. And if a woman came and made a monkey out of you, then I am clearly smarter than you. Okay.
My earlier question before I come to ask the end of your book was why should we believe you? But I explained about that whole thing about the exhuming and the body. So please read the book to find that out. But my last question is why has Sheena not reached out, if you think she’s alive?
See, I do not know or think of anything. That’s the first thing. Okay. I have been informed that people have cited her, but I haven’t seen her myself. But I believe only in the hardcore evidence that has come on record in court. And I’ll cite only three evidence. I know for me, talking about skulls and bones has become the new normal again, because I know it’s not very easy for people.
But I’ve done this for the last six years. In fact ended up studying a lot of law books and case study for this. So, the DNA expert has come and admitted in court that he forged the DNA report. Okay, he got suspended. So anyway, so that obviously is very telling. Why would somebody until and unless somebody’s really hell bent on framing me for reasons best known to them, why would anyone want to fudge a DNA report? The second thing is also as per the post mortem report, they had said that the skull of that skeleton, which was found, was cut open. My reason to believe is because Rahul Mukerjea has come and admitted in court that there are messages, and he admitted those messages in between him and Sheena five months after she allegedly disappeared and we allegedly strangled her.
Why has Sheena not reached out?
That I cannot say. That is only an answer that Sheena can give me. She’s under duress. It is definitely all the evidence exonerates me. But I still need to find Sheena. I still need to find what has really happened. And this has got nothing to do with the court and, you asked me another question, why should we believe you? Right? You asked me, I’ll answer, I’ll answer. No, I don’t want anyone to believe me or not believe me because it doesn’t really affect my life whether people believe me or not. Because people decided I was guilty till everything, all the evidence came and caught and everyone realized that the agency didn’t just have an egg on their face. They had an omelette on their face. Okay? So that was big, but that really doesn’t make a difference to me anymore.
But the court, ultimately, it’s the court. The case is the court. And the rest of it is, I think people have to accept me for all that I have gone through and people who decide that they want to be my friends and true friends, not fair-weather friends. I will never be the good girl that society expects me to. And that’s a warning to anybody who wants to be my friend.