Indrani Mukerjea is learning to live alone. She is home after six and a half years in the Byculla women’s prison, in the house no longer for Mr Mukerjea. Single, and with a lot of “me time’’. She dances everyday. She’s been getting lessons in ballroom dancing with a friend. There is yoga four times a week, and each morning begins with kickboxing. At 51, she is now fit, free and fighting. “I am almost healed,” she says.
On Instagram, Indrani is kitted out in boxing gloves and still learning to throw a right hook with force. But on paper, she is in form. Her memoir, Unbroken: The Untold Story, is defence at its most damning. “[The book] is my response, not a reaction,” she says. “Which is why I took my time.”
She spares no punches. Unbroken is her side of the story in one of the most sensational murder cases in India. It is a blockbuster of a book, a no-holds-barred account of everything, from her first husband Sanjeev Khanna’s conservatism to the relationship of Peter, her “favourite” husband, with his first wife, Shabnam, which became a cause of marital discord and her reason to “testify” in the Karti Chidambaram case. “It was something that was on my conscience for a long time,” she writes.
It is a Monday afternoon, and Indrani is back from Kashmir. We are having a Zoom interaction, and she sits on a rust leather couch with deep orange cushions. You can see a lift button in the beige background―a hint at the sprawling house she now lives in. Unlike the sheer white earlier, her hair is now completely black. Hair dye is a detail that she is clearly obsessed with. (Appearances are important to her.)
“I did not have a voice the moment I went to prison, because I was not allowed to speak,’’ she says. “Everybody, including people who did not know me, came out all claws and daggers. This is a very gentle reminder that I have a voice as well. Just because I kept quiet does not mean I have forgotten. Forgiving is one thing, but I have not forgotten.”
As twisty as an OTT crime show, no other murder case has matched the frenzy of this one, in which media tycoons Peter and Indrani Mukerjea were accused of murdering Indrani’s daughter, Sheena Bora. The closest match in sensationalism is perhaps the Aarushi Talwar murder case, again one that boiled down to parenting and secrets. If Aarushi’s mother Nupur was judged to be not emotional enough, Indrani was too ambitious. “Everyone forgot about the case,’’ she says. “People started scrutinising me as a good mother or a bad mother or the worst mother alive. How could she abandon her children, they said. There is no good mother or bad mother. Every mother raises their children the way she thinks and believes is the right way. In my head, I do not believe I am a bad mother. I have done for all my three kids what is best for them. And I will continue to do that always.”
The Sheena Bora case was spun into a binge-worthy news story, with breathless reporting. There are different versions of the truth. There is also her daughter Vidhie’s book, Devil’s Daughter, the rights of which she is rumoured to have sold to Westland for a large sum. Peter has written, too. But his book was based on his experience in television.
Indrani claims Sheena is still alive. The body found in Raigad remains unidentified, she writes. The skull discovered there is not the same as the one produced before the trial court in Khar. And what’s more, Sheena has been sighted. “I have not met her myself,’’ Indrani says. “But several people have even gone to court filing affidavits about there being CCTV footage, which is still sealed in court, which obviously establishes that there is a very strong possibility that Sheena is still alive. I would also like to add that there is enough evidence on record to definitely establish that she was alive after the alleged murder date.”
This is Indrani’s truth, unvarnished and certainly unfiltered. She was raped by her father when she was 14 and 16. So, that makes Sheena her daughter and her sister. Her mother did not stand by her. (She later gets back with her father, who adopts her children as his own). Indrani narrates in the book that the first time it happened, she was 14. Pari, as she was called then, was taken by her mother to a doctor who was told that the culprit was a boy in her tennis class. The next time it happened, she was 16 and her father, “his eyes filled with lust’’, told her that she needed a “real man’’. Her father was finally told to leave by Vish, the boy she loved.
In the tell-all book, Indrani dishes it out in a pulpy, voyeuristic fashion. It provides plenty of headline-grabbing nuggets. Her sister-in-law asked her daughter Vidhie to refer to her as Lucy, short for Lucifer. Hence, the title of Vidhie’s book Devil’s Daughter, where she clearly sides with Peter. Since then, mother and daughter have made up.
There are fake orgasms with Sanjeev, her first husband and Vidhie’s father. (Yet, his family continued to bring her food in prison). But it is Peter’s life that is stripped bare. She spent her first night with him, unfulfilled. The next morning, while brushing his teeth in his grey nightshirt and shorts, he told her, “You’ve got small b**bs. But your nipples make up for it.” But she surely did not need to hear it early in the morning, that too after being deprived of sexual satisfaction the night before, she writes. So, she shoots back, “You’ve got a small willy. And your jewels don’t make up for it. But I’ll get by.”
Her book is anger-fuelled and chillingly cold at the same time. She has not chosen to hide either. If anything, Indrani wears her ambition front and centre, daring you to call it out. There is no doubt that she is driven, determined and unwilling to settle for domesticity. When she was barely 19, with Rs5,000 in her account and two kids―Sheena and Mikhail―to take care of, she refused to get tied down when Siddharth, her friend and the father of Mikhail, asked her to marry him. Indrani wanted much more. As she leaves her children with her parents to go to Calcutta and make her fortune, she is confident that she has made the right decision. It is this burning, naked ambition that propels her. It is what makes her a survivor, even in jail.