A murder most foul. That’s the total recall of the high drama that played out in 2015, when Indrani Mukerjea, a senior Indian media executive, was arrested for allegedly murdering her eldest daughter Sheena Bora, 25, a crime committed three years earlier. Bora had allegedly been strangled to death in a car on April 24, 2012, following which her body was burnt and dumped in a forest in Raigad, which is located around 100 kilometres away from the teeming western Indian metropolis of Mumbai.
The Mumbai Police had also arrested Indrani’s second husband Sanjeev Khanna, who is the biological father of her youngest daughter Vidhie, on the basis of the information provided by the prime accused’s driver, Shyamvar Rai. Rai has since turned an approver in the high-profile murder case that had caught the public imagination in India and beyond. A few months after Indrani’s arrest, her third husband and Vidhie’s stepfather — media baron Peter Mukerjea — whom Vidhie describes as her “knight in shining armour” — was also arrested and granted bail in 2019.
Vidhie was only 18 years old, when her mother was arrested. Though she has never been either an accused or a suspect, she has all along been stigmatised for the purported crime perpetrated by her parents — Indrani, Sanjeev and Peter.
Vidhie, who has been living in Goa after being stranded in Hong Kong last year because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, has recently written her memoir Devil’s Daughter, a poignant tale of her inner struggles that delineates the reasons behind her not wanting to be known only as Indrani’s daughter.
wknd. caught up with Vidhie, who is immersed in Taoism and learning about other ancient philosophies.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Why the unsettling title Devil’s Daughter?
I understand why it could be “unsettling” for a few people, but it doesn’t unsettle me at all. This title, to me, is like hidden art — I see it as a beautiful and deep metaphor. When I first thought about the name Devil’s Daughter, I didn’t have any particular person in mind. It just captured how I had felt the last six years, being under the scrutiny of the public, the media, the law and, ultimately, my own self.
Why do you describe your stepfather Peter Mukerjea as your “knight in shining armour”?
Why wouldn’t I describe him as that? The word “step” isn’t in my dictionary. Peter is my father and he has raised me since I was a child. He gave me the best life and made me his own. He is the best father and role model I could ask for. He is someone I can talk to about anything, without ever feeling judged for any of it. Even though we weren’t able to physically be with each other for six years and continuing, we are always with each other in every other way. Our bond only got stronger and continues to from afar.
What does it mean to be a young woman of privilege who was and is put under intense media scrutiny?
It’s true that I was brought up in a privileged environment where I went to good schools and university, and didn’t have to worry about my next meal. That, to me, is a privileged upbringing in any environment in any part of the world. But for anyone to go through what my family and I had to from the media — it was almost inhuman. There were many journalists that used their seniority to make profits off our terrible situation. It was deeply disappointing, but it doesn’t affect me much anymore.
Why have you been grossly misunderstood after your mother Indrani Mukerjea was arrested as a prime accused in the Sheena Bora murder case?
I’m not too sure myself; it’s something I’ve grappled with for a long time. Perhaps, some people felt I was like my mum, perhaps some people just wanted to put me down and some were probably just bored out of their minds.
Explain for a lay reader, what does this mean when you refer to your mother: “I do not know her or fully understand her. I do not understand some of her decisions and actions, and hope to get some answers and clarity in the coming years”.
The quote is quite self-explanatory: she hasn’t known me for the past six years, and I feel like I haven’t known her for quite a while, which is why I’m confused about some of her decisions and in the coming years, I hope to understand her better.
Why has your relationship with your biological mother been so unusual? I only have one mother and that is my “biological” mother. Aren’t all parent-child relationships unusual in their own ways? I can’t answer this in one sentence — I’ve written pages, perhaps chapters on it in my book.
How was your relationship with Sheena Bora? Did you share a bond like normal siblings?
We were like sisters, we had a natural and organic sisterly bond and we loved each other very much.
In retrospect, are you empathetic to your mother?
The reason I was able to reconnect with my mother was because I began to empathise greatly with her and her struggles.
Has writing the book helped you unburden your pent-up feelings?
Yes, definitely. It all came pouring out and it was an instant relief. I remember as I finished writing the last chapter of my book, I felt this huge emotional weight off my shoulders. I felt I could start living again, unapologetically.
Lastly, how would you say the Indian media covered the case? Did fiction overtake facts? If so, can you illustrate with an example or two? It was entirely a trial by media for the first few years. Many things that were said were entirely untrue and yet were being broadcast on TV by so-called reputable journalists. I was targeted by one senior journalist who wrote a very distasteful article about me, someone we, in fact, knew personally, and that person ‘backed’ the article up with photographs from another time. She shamed an 18-year-old for a column and her readers’ amusement.