Man with No Name
by Megha Mehta
The body was discovered on a Monday morning, by two aunties in salwar kameez and Nikes.
The shrill ring of the phone tore through the early morning quiet of the Joshi household, startling Dilip out of deep sleep. He switched to instant wakefulness, honed more by the instincts developed in the past 7 months, than the instincts developed by more than a decade of police work.
He switched the ringer off, and sighed, as he heard Madhur stir beside him.
A few short words – thank God Sawant did not ramble! – and Dilip was tiptoeing to the bathroom. Hopefully, he would not disturb the sleeping lioness again.
A quick shave (“I really should try this robo-shave everyone is raving about”) and a quicker shower later, Dilip was back in the bedroom reaching for the clothes Madhur had laid out the previous night. The search for a matching-pair-of-socks defeated him in broad daylight, so it was unlikely to be successful in the still-dark room.
Dilip shrugged, accepted his fate, and slinked towards the living room, with yesterday’s socks turned inside out.
And there she was, his glowing, waddling, lioness of a wife, with a fresh pair of socks, and a snowy white handkerchief!
“Kal hi phir koi Shah Rukh ki picture dekhi hogi,” Dilip mumbled to himself. Out loud he said, “Get some sleep yaar Madhur, sorry aaj early morning call expect nahin kiya tha.”
“Mil gaya subah subah case, now I can forget about you showing up for this evening’s doctor’s appointment!”
“Aa jaoonga time par. And if not, to Aai ko phone kar doonga. She will take you, relax Madhur.”
“I can also call Aai, you don’t need to worry about that. Waise bhi, it’s not as if you’ve worried about DJ and me in the last 7 months,” Madhur patted her belly for added emphasis. “Abhi se ye haal hai, I don’t think you will be around much for the next 20 years or so, might as well get used to it,” she ended on a sigh.
“Ho gaya tumhara emotional atyachaar? Relax yaar, it’s a normal pregnancy, our boy is fine, and I promise to take the full 6 months of paternity leave once DJ arrives, pukka! Ab jaoon main?”
“Haan haan, ye bhi dekh lenge,” Madhur considered her job of getting him off to a normal start done, and switched to practical matters. “Please charge your nutri-meter, else you’ll forget to eat all day again.”
“Yes, madam, and please don’t call Sawant in case I miss my tea break.”
“Then don’t miss it!”
Dilip smiled, shook his head, and waved a good bye to his wife, as he turned to the iris scanner on the door. The doors slid open with a soft whoosh, and he jogged down towards the nearest hover-rail stop.
“Wait up, Zarapkar!”, Dilip waved to his friend and neighbor, the chief medical examiner in the Mumbai Urban Area Police Force (MAP-U).
“Good morning Joshi, I just missed the 7.11 rail for you. Next one should be by in 1.5 minutes.”
“Yeah, yeah, much obliged and all that”, Dilip grinned, “Remember how we used to bike pool when we first joined MAP-U? Hard to believe it was just 12 years ago. Tech is literally wiping out the old ways every decade… who knows where we will be 20-30 years from now.”
“You will definitely be jogging, give me my armchair, a comfortable retirement home and some medical mysteries any day!”
“It seems to be another suicide this morning”, Dilip turned to Zarapkar as they both chose to stand near the exit doors, “Har doosre hafte Versova men drowning hota hi hai.”
“And they still don’t agree to put in 24 hour lifeguards in place!”
“Anyway, I will try to fast track the identification process and the autopsy reports for you. I wish they would hurry up with the new crime scene kits, then you wouldn’t have to wait to identify the bodies.”
“Haan, kya karen, another round of budget cuts. Khair, you try your best.”
“Of course. At least the work on the national database is complete. We finally have every Indian’s fingerprints and iris scans on record. We finished the NRI mapping process too last month.”
“Chalo, some silver lining.”
Two hours later, Dilip wasn’t feeling so stoic anymore.
“Joshi…is aadmi ka to koi record hi nahin hai,” declared Dr Zarapkar, from the mortuary.
“How is that possible? Koi system error to nahin hai?”
“Nahin Joshi, I ran the records myself a second time.”
“Hmmm, OK, I will come down to the mortuary with Sawant. When are you starting the autopsy?”
“Bas, start karne hi ja raha tha.”
“OK, see you there in an hour then.”
Dilip and Sawant made it to the mortuary only to find the place in disarray.
And Zarapkar was actually screeching! “Ha Vinod aahe ka?! How can you lose an entire dead body? Shodha!!”
“Oh oh,” thought Dilip, “As if the case wasn’t complicated enough”
Dilip walked up to Zarapkar, “Calm down, Zarapkar. We are taking about the same body, I take it? Have you checked the CCTV footage?”
“CCTV…,” Zarapkar sputtered.
“Come sit,” Dilip pushed a glass of water towards Zarapkar, and nodded at his deputy.
“Sawant, can you ask the security guys to share the CCTV footage immediately please?”
As he rushed off, Dilip turned to Zarapkar, “Ab aaraam se bata, kya hua hai?”
“I wish I could tell you, Joshi,” a visibly calmer Zarapkar said, “I went to the morgue some 10 minutes after our call, and we couldn’t find the body. Now obviously we don’t have any security here, but who would want to steal a dead body?!”
Just then Sawant walked in with the tech guy, Pradhan. Pradhan walked up to the holo screen, mumbled a few instructions, and the CCTV feed came to life.
“Hold on, what….what was that?” Zarapkar started screeching again.
This time around, Dilip had no words for him. He was just as gobsmacked as him. “Pradhan, punha play kara”, he said, hoping that he had got it all wrong. But no, there it was, the body they had seen at the beach this morning, dressed in a fresh pair of clothes, looking like a regular person – and vaguely familiar – calmly walking out of the morgue.
“Sawant, send out a missing person update, I need to see all camera footage, it won’t take long to figure out exactly where he is.”
“Yes sir,” Sawant turned to speak into his office-issued wrist unit. “Alert for male, 30-35 years old, 6’1”, black hair, black eyes, beard, wearing a white hoodie T-and navy cargo pants. Picture and screen footage circulating now. Detain only, approach with caution.”
“Don’t worry, Zarapkar, kuch medical locha hua hoga, we will figure it out,” Dilip said, as much to convince himself as Zarapkar, “I will be in touch. Sawant – let’s go.”
As they walked outside, Sawant started briefing their team on surveillance and tracking, while Dilip turned to answer Madhur’s call.
“I have to leave for the doctor’s office in 15 minutes. You definitely can’t make it?”
“No yaar, the case is quite complicated, will explain over dinner. Aai is with you?”
“Yeah, she is. Take care, I’ll give you the Dilip Junior update in the evening. Bye.”
As Dilip ended the call, he heard Sawant do the same with his mumbling, “We’re on our way.”
“Boss, I have a bad feeling about this one.”
“What did you hear?”
“The man matching the videos and our description just turned up at the thana, he’s in our custody, but…”
“He turned himself in?! But what?”
“He’s refusing to answer any questions. Says he will only talk to you.”
“Yes boss, he asked for Inspector Dilip Joshi.”
“Aaj to poora kaali daal khane ka din lagta hai, Sawant. Come on, let’s find out what’s going on.”
Dilip wasn’t sure what to expect as he walked into the interrogation room. But it certainly wasn’t the sight in front of him.
The man from the morning, looking vital, self-assured and very much alive, was gazing back at him with a strange light in his eyes. When he met Dilip’s eyes, the inspector felt a slight flutter. He ignored it, and addressed the man with the authority of a veteran.
“So, you’ve been running us a merry chase – first as a dead body, and then as a….I don’t know what to call you now. And now I hear you will only talk to me. So here I am, now start talking,” Dilip broke the stalemate.
The man continued to stare at Dilip, with the slightly goofy look on his face.
“Maybe he’s sick, or a dimwit,” thought Dilip, then sighed and started to get up to call for a doctor, when the man spoke for the first time.
“I am sorry, I didn’t intend to cause so many issues for you.Sometimes, all our preparation and careful planning fails us,” he shrugged and smiled, seeming sincere.
“All that is well and good. But I am not looking for philosophy here. Start answering questions. Who are you, to start with.”
“My name is, like yours, Dilip.”
“OK, that’s a start. Do you have a last name Dilip? Where are you from? And why are your fingerprints not registered on the national or global databases for that matter?”
“Well you see, where I come from, fingerprints and iris scans are not in use.”
“Hmmmmm, maybe he’s from some lost island somewhere in the Indian ocean,” Dilip thought. Aloud he said, “OK, I get that. Now tell me how you were dead this morning and are alive and healthy now.”
“Actually, let me tell you in easy words. I had taken some sort of…. medication, yes, that’s the word…medication. You mistook me for dead because it makes the body mimic some of the symptoms like slow heartbeat, suspended breathing etc.”
“OK. So you’re alive and well and healthy. It’s a simple enough matter. I can send someone in to capture your details, give you a medical examination. In the meanwhile, let us know if we can contact anyone in your family.”
Even as he said this, Dilip couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was missing something… The stranger reminded him of someone he knew well.
“Ah, I wish I could, but I cannot give you any details. You see, the space-time continuum is a delicate balance, and can’t be tampered with.”
“Actually, I wanted to double check quickly, the time is 5.30pm?”
“Yes, that’s right. Why?”
“Erm, can I write down my….confession?”
“Of course. We would have to audio and video record it as well. But we can do it while you’re reading your written – the word is statement, not confession – out loud.”
“Great. May I request some privacy?”
“What a weird duck,” Dilip thought as he started to rise.
Dilip paused, turned.
The man extended his right hand, “It’s been a pleasure beyond my wildest dreams. I do hope we meet again.”
“Definitely a case for Zarapkar,” Dilip thought as he extended his arm for a shake, “I will see you again in a bit, stay out of trouble till then.”
“Boss, boss….” Dilip was writing his report when Sawant burst into his cabin. He had risen out of his seat with his hand at his weapon, driven by the urgency in Sawant’s voice, “He’s disappeared again, boss!”
“What?! You’ve got to be kidding me…” Dilip stormed down the stairs towards the interrogation room.
As advertised, it was indeed empty, with no trace of the man who’d sat there just a half hour ago. The only sign that someone had been there was an envelope with his name on it, which said ‘Open before 6:30PM’.
As Sawant and the rest of the team started to cordon the area and initiate a detailed search, some instinct made Dilip pause and open the envelope first. Two pieces of paper fell out.
The first was a yellowed paper clipping which was dated that same day and had a picture of Dilip in his uniform, with the headline, ‘Cop dies trying to save civilians’. In shock, Dilip read the article. It said:
A 12 year veteran of the MAP-U was on his way to his wife’s doctor appointment, when a driver lost control of his hover-rail. Inspector Joshi jumped in the path of car trying to save 3 people, and died on the spot.
Dilip’s knees were shaking, as he sat down and opened the other piece of paper in the envelope. It said:
I have never met you, and whichever way this goes, I am so glad I got the opportunity to. If my calculations hold true, this letter and the newspaper clipping will auto destruct at 6:30, precisely 12 hours after I was found on the beach.
12 hours was all the time I managed to wrangle out of the machine. I hope this rather crude attempt manages to ward off the freak accident, and that we are able to meet again, and soon. Even if it doesn’t, I would have risked it all over and over again for this time with you.
I love you, dad.
This story was written based on a prompt given by Rashmi Bansal, to members of the Writers Gym.