When I joined Star News in November 2002 in a run-up to their launch, there was lots of office gossip about the CEO Peter Mukerjea getting married to a young, beautiful co-worker. Indrani was at that time not yet 31, and there was the usual curiosity about the HR professional who was marrying the top boss. I was in the Delhi office and so away from the main scene of action in Mumbai, but his wedding just a few days after I joined, to the woman he was living with for the past one year, was of much interest among the social set.
I wasn't really acquainted with Peter Mukerjea though, as Ravina Raj Kohli was more involved with news operations. As he said when I first wrote to him, 'I recall your name from the Star News time although it's been a while, I'm struggling to put a face to it. Hope you won't be offended by my candid response but lots of water has flown under the bridge since the Star News version 2 days!'
There are many stories, many versions of the backstory of Peter and Indrani, but perhaps it's safest to go with what CBI found out and put on record in their multiple charge sheets. According to them, both Indrani and Peter have Shillong as their common ground. She studied there for a bit and so did he at St Edmund's when his parents were posted there for two years as Army doctors. This was years before they met.
When Indrani was only 15, she became intimate with another student called Siddharth Das. Their relationship led to the birth, in nearby Guwahati, of Sheena in 1987, and Mikhail, just a year later in 1988. So, by the time Indrani was 16, she was a mother of two. The CBI doesn't go into details of how that must have gone down in the relatively conservative town of Assam. They just say that her parents, Durga Rani Bora and Upendra Kumar Bora, adopted both the children. This was legitimized with an affidavit in 1992 which declared them parents of Sheena and Mikhail.
According to the CBI, after taking care of this legal adoption Indrani left for Kolkata. There, she met a businessman called Sanjeev Khanna who was a cable operator, and in 1993 they got married. In the next three years, Indrani set up an HR firm called M/S INX Services and they bought a flat in Howrah. In 1997, at 25, Indrani had her third child, a girl she named Vidhie. It was in Kolkata that Indrani met adman Alyque Padamsee and the CBI says that he 'offered her help for starting a business' in Mumbai. At this point, the CBI seems to have suspended its investigating skills and gone by moral judgement and general impressions, because the charge sheet then mentions that Indrani 'a lady of highly ambitious nature immediately shifted to Mumbai'. The agency wasn't sexist though because they've also used Peter's ex-wife Shabnam Singh's statement to prove that he always had 'a fascination for young women', which is why she left him. In Indrani's case, they also mention her husband's friend, a Balwinder Dhami providing a joint venture and giving her a place to stay in Mumbai.
But apparently, Indrani didn't really need that because by then, she'd been introduced to the Star News CEO, Peter Mukerjea. They met at the Library Bar of Hotel President, introduced by Alyque. Peter at the time was almost divorced from his wife and mother of two sons, Shabnam. It didn't take them long to hit it off and they started living together in 2000, planning to marry as soon as they both got their divorce. Indrani also got Vidhie to Mumbai and when the marriage took place, all of them got British citizenship.
Now, these were heady times for the Mukerjeas - Star News had replaced NDTV as Rupert Murdoch's production house in India, and so there was considerable media interest. As Vir Sanghvi, a colleague from both Star and NewsX noted, Indrani was an attractive, charming woman and so as a power couple, they featured regularly in social pages of newspapers. It was one such photo that Upendra Bora saw in the Guwahati edition of the Telegraph
when he decided to reach out to his daughter. He told her that they were hard up for money and so couldn't really afford Sheena and Mikhail's education, and asked if she could help out. According to the investigation, Indrani agreed to meet the kids in Kolkata and paid for their tickets.
Indrani had taken along her daughter Vidhie and this meeting took place at the Oberoi. There, as the CBI says, she made her two kids an offer. She would pay for their education and their maintenance, but they must keep up pretences that she was their sister. They had no choice but to agree and they took some pictures, which the CBI has submitted as evidence.
'Indrani informed Peter Mukerjea about her younger siblings Sheena and Mikhail. She also informed that since their financial condition was pathetic, in order to continue her education, Sheena Bora was coming to Mumbai.'
This sets the stage for the romance that led to murder and arrests. In 2005, Sheena was admitted to St Xavier's College, Mumbai, and while she stayed as a paying guest, she'd come over to the Mukerjeas' Marlow Building apartment in Worli on weekends. In some time, Rahul, Peter's younger son, moved in with them and the two young people met and hit it off. This was more than what can be said for Rahul and his step-mum Indrani's relationship. Writing to me from jail, Peter acknowledges his wife and son's relationship was so stressful, he had to meet Rahul behind her back at times.
'My relationship with my younger son Rahul is a perfectly normal father-son relationship. Things went astray along the way for certain reasons. Indrani, my wife and Rahul didn't see eye to eye virtually from their first interaction many years ago, which was then further eroded when Sheena and Rahul got into a relationship and then got engaged.
'As father and son we continue to share a normal relationship now, once again, after a hiatus of 2-3 years when I had to communicate with Rahul "secretly". While I was in Mumbai and he was a student in the UK, we would meet during college term holidays; then when he was in Mumbai, we'd meet all the time - until I left for the UK and then our contact was limited to telephone conversations. I share a free, happy and perfectly normal father-son bond and of course we have our differences but that's what makes it normal.'
So, it was in 2008, three years after she moved to Mumbai that Sheena told Rahul that Indrani was actually her mother. The CBI says Rahul told his father immediately. How Peter took it is unclear but he does say in interviews after Indrani's arrest, it was his son's word against his wife's. What the CBI does put on record is that the Mukerjeas actively worked to separate the couple. Indrani first sent Sheena away to Guwahati, and then to Delhi, where she allegedly spiked her daughter's medication with some that are for mental illness. The CBI believes she was able to do this with the careful manipulation of her own employees and acquaintances in Delhi and Bengaluru who she made her daughter stay with, and who she could manipulate. When Sheena was taken to Bengaluru and became ill, Rahul came and took her away to his grandparents' home in Dehradun. That's where on Diwali of 2011, the couple got engaged supported by Rahul's mother and Sheena's grandparents.Excerpted with permission of Roli Books from Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India's Most Famous by Sunetra Choudhury available in bookstores and online.