The shamily

The story of the wife whose past Peter says he knew nothing about

By Samyabrata Ray Goswami in Mumbai
  • Published 27.08.15
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Mumbai, Aug. 26: At 16, Upen Bora's daughter Pari had run away from her modest home in Guwahati. Years later in 2003, she returned home as the wife of STAR India chief executive Peter Mukerjea.

Now, Indrani Mukerjea has exploded on the national firmament as a suspect in the murder of her eldest daughter Sheena.

Some of Pari's neighbours and relatives in Guwahati recall a fleeting visit in 1990 when she had come back to her parents' Sundernagar home with two children - Sheena (2) and Mikhail (1).

"She was living in Calcutta at the time with one Sidhhartha Das. Sheena and Mikhail were the children of Pari and Sidhhartha. She left as quietly and as hastily as she came, leaving the kids with her parents, never to return till after her marriage to Peter Mukerjea," a relative said.

The relative was corroborating what a family friend had told The Telegraph on Tuesday night soon after the news of Indrani's arrest broke.

Sidhhartha, who operated out of Calcutta and Tripura and had some relatives in Guwahati, did visit the children a couple of times at their grandparents' home.

"He participated in one of Sheena's parent-teacher meetings," said a pre-school teacher. But Sidhhartha's visits gradually became fewer and then stopped.

Sheena went to Disneyland School in Guwahati where her teachers remember her as a quiet, withdrawn and bright child.

"She had a very close circle of two-three friends with whom she would share her angst about the parents she did not know. She broke down before the entire class as a 14-year-old when the morning papers carried a picture of her mother with Peter Mukerjea announcing their marriage," recalled a teacher.

Peter and Indrani got married in 2002. She was then working as a human resource consultant and Peter was the CEO at STAR India.

After her marriage to Peter, Indrani had returned to Guwahati in glory, renovated her parents' modest house and helped her father start a guesthouse in Sundernagar which he still runs, a relative said.

All forgiven and forgotten, Indrani sent Sheena on a vacation around the world after her secondary exams. "Sheena moved to Mumbai after that while Mikhail stayed on in Guwahati. She joined St Xavier's College to study economics in 2006," the relative added.

One of her closest friends recalled: "Sheena would tell us that she was not as upset about her mother's remarriage as about the fact that her mother had another daughter."

Another friend added: "It was difficult for her to accept that she had been abandoned by her mother, while another child from a later husband was in her mother's custody and care."

Indrani had a daughter called Vidhie after she got married to Sanjeev "Sanju" Khanna, the Calcuttan who was arrested today.

Indrani had filed many cases against Sanjeev for harassment, fought a bitter divorce battle with him and won the custody rights to Vidhie who is now in the UK. (Vidhie has since then been adopted by Peter and is now Vidhie Mukerjea, according to some television channels.)

Against such an acrimonious past with Sanjeev, it is ironical that the former husband has been arrested as an alleged accomplice to nothing less than cold-blooded murder.

A police officer said that Sanjeev was arrested on the basis of Indrani's confession. "Indrani has said in her police confession that Sanjeev was in the car with her when Sheena was murdered," he said.

Sheena had graduated from college in 2009 and had begun working in a private company. In Guwahati, her brother Mikhail said today that his sister used to work for Anil Ambani's Reliance group.

"Sheena was in a relationship with Rahul (Peter's son from an earlier marriage), a sound engineer. They had begun living together in Mumbai. I have visited them a couple of times," said one of Sheena's schoolmates. Rahul was being questioned by police late tonight.

A police officer said Indrani told her interrogators that the relationship "enraged Indrani and she claims this to be the reason for the murder. But there is more to it".

"There is a money angle here," the officer added, a perception echoed by some of Sheena's friends and at least one close relative.

Sheena's friends claimed that Indrani had entrusted a huge amount with her daughter and wanted it back.

"When she first came to Mumbai, Sheena lived as a paying guest in the Fort area of Mumbai. Later she moved in with Peter and Indrani and began living in their Worli Seaface flat," said a friend.

This was around 2007 - when Peter and Indrani had just raised Rs 800 crore to set up the INX Network - later named 9X Media. The network had a news channel and a music channel with plans to launch a general entertainment channel.

Apart from a top Indian corporate, a Singapore-based firm had invested in the network.

"But within 18 months, the company was in the red. The Singapore firm ordered an audit and it was suspected that large sums of money were funnelled out. Usually in such cases, the money is parked with family members not overtly associated with the business," a police officer said.

The police sources said the suspected financial fraud was at the heart of the murder and not Sheena's relationship with Rahul.

Peter and Indrani exited the business in 2009.

Gautam Mukerjea, Peter's brother who brings out a magazine, has been summoned for questioning tomorrow.

Sheena's closest friends said she had told them that her mother demanded the money back but she did not want to return it because she hoped it would help her life with Rahul.

Sheena applied for leave from April 24, 2012 - the day she was killed. On May 6, an email from her tendering her resignation was received by the company that employed her. The police are now investigating who sent that mail.

Indrani has told the police that she and her driver Shyam Rai, along with her ex-husband Sanjeev, had picked Sheena up from near National College in Mumbai's Bandra, an officer said.

"Sheena was then strangulated in the car, her body was cut into parts, burnt, put in a bag and buried in Pen in Raigad district," the officer added.

The police found the unidentified body and disposed it of later. (Maharashtra police have begun an inquiry against all officers posted in Raigad since April 2014. Not even an accidental death report was registered despite the discovery of the unidentified body.)

Sheena's friends, concerned about her disappearance from their radar, had contacted her family. "Her last Facebook post was in December 2011 - only two-three people spoke to her in the first week of April 2012 and they found her agitated," said a friend.

Sheena's grandparents in Guwahati claimed she had married and settled in Los Angeles, while her brother Mikhail said his mother told him she was in the US. "No missing complaints were lodged by the family, or Indrani," a police officer said.

An anonymous tip-off prompted the police to arrest Shyam Rai last week. "He would often visit the forest where Sheena's body was found, though he did not belong anywhere close to the area. Samples for DNA tests were not kept either. But Shyam Rai's arrest some days back and his interrogation revealed the story. He claims that he only disposed of the body - and that Indrani murdered Sheena," said an officer.

Indrani is being interrogated at an undisclosed location. Police sources said the daughter of a senior Delhi-based political leader had already made a "concerned" call and described herself as a close friend of Indrani.