Murder becomes hypnotic when it is pure evil. We stare at it compulsively, obsessively, with limitless appetite. A psychoanalyst would be able to suggest reasons; I can only offer observation. Evil is never warm, it is cold-blooded. Evil is icy calculation wrapped in endless layers of deceit. And when a high profile murderer gets protection from a social cabal, then each lie, masquerading as a theory, seeks to mislead a police force looking for leads, even as it provokes the public thirst for macabre entertainment to generate confusion. The murder of Sheena Bora is evil in its purest incarnation.
A lie cannot be sustained unless the press is utterly gullible and the police hopelessly compromised. India media may have its faults, but it cannot be taken for a ride. It can volley and smash. Take the latest story promoted by the main accused, Indrani Mukerjea, that Sheena was born after she had been raped by her stepfather, Upendra Bora. The Times of India considered this worthy enough for lead prominence. But on the same day, Saturday 29 August, the same paper carried Bora’s version [albeit inside, on page 17] denying this allegation, and claiming that the real father was the man that Indrani married when she was a teenager, a certain Siddhartha Das. There is a very simple way towards clarity: DNA tests.
When dust makes a story, there will be dust storms in the air. It is easy enough to blame media, but media will travel only so far as public interest takes it. If there were no readers there would be no story. Why are we so transfixed by this murder? Because this is not just another murder: the depth of barbarism is beyond the comprehension of imagination, let alone the much smaller circumference of our experience. The holiest moral code of life, whether in the human or animal world, between a mother and daughter, has been brutalised beyond belief.
It so happened that I was reading a splendid new book, The Golden Age of Murder, when this story broke. It is about that exhilarating generation of British writers, from G.K. Chesterton to Agatha Christie, who created such an extraordinary oeuvre of British literature, the murder mystery. The murderer is always beyond suspicion because he or she is so normal, so “one of us”. It takes the genius of an eccentric sleuth to serve justice.
No one does murder with the finesse of the British. Americans excel in gang slaughter, which is quite a different story. [Indians have nothing comparable. It cannot be because we do not have murders in India. We probably simply do not have any faith that it can be solved.] I was a bit surprised to learn that many of these mysteries were based on true life murders in Britain. What strikes me now, is that there is no book in such a vast library of fiction where a mother murders a biological daughter — not in sudden anger, and certainly not with the cool ferocity that Indrani allegedly displayed when she first drugged and then strangled Sheena. It seems Sheena’s brother Mikhail was on the hit list too, which confirms another truism established by Christie: the first murder is such a liberation from any moral code that there will inevitably be a second.
What is truly astonishing is the silence that suddenly descended upon all concerned. Indrani’s affluent husband, Peter, says he bought the nonsense that Sheena had disappeared to some place in America, which does not have either an address or a mobile phone. He must have travelled to America in these three years. He even abandoned curiosity? This is hard to digest.
The biggest motive for murder is greed, closely followed by fear. Those who live by greed begin to believe that they can buy safety with money. They have cause for confidence. Never forget that Indrani almost got away. This case could have blown up three years ago, but the police officer posted to the area where the burnt corpse was abandoned refused to investigate when a tribal villager brought information. Why? Was he paid? If yes, who gave the money? Why did the Mumbai police take Rahul Mukerjea’s complaint three years ago lightly?
But what is truly astonishing is the silence that suddenly descended upon all concerned. Indrani’s affluent husband, Peter, says he bought the nonsense that Sheena had disappeared to some place in America, which does not have either an address or a mobile phone. He must have travelled to America in these three years. He even abandoned curiosity? This is hard to digest.
The silence of Indrani’s second husband, Sanjeev Khanna, who helped strangle Sheena, is more explicable. He was bought out. This one-time petty businessman suddenly became affluent. Money does buy everything, including murder.
For a while. Perhaps this case also proves that there is justice — divine justice. The silence was broken by one of those accidents that can only be explained by some sort of divine retribution. We think of Hell as God’s punishment after death. But there can also be hell on earth. This is where Indrani Mukerjea and Sanjeev Khanna have already reached.