Chapter one: The crime


Someday in July 2010: I woke up to a dull evening, at my home in my hometown. Gloomy sky, wet porch covered with twigs, waterlocked roads and a thick veil of water in the air hinted it had rained all afternoon. Having spent almost my entire childhood on the banks of a river, has its own perks. You grow immune to humidity. What made the evening dull was the strange tension in the room. My mother(Maa) and my little sister (Ada), were frantically searching for something with tied lips. This silence, shared a lot of similarity with the Silence treatment I have received from Maa over the years for all major mistakes: Such as, the time I was so passionately humming a song, that I forgot my bicycle and came home walking from school.

Ada's guilt-filled eyes added to the suspense.

"What are you guys looking for?", I asked.

"I do not seem to find my phone. The ring goes through when we call, but I think I had kept it on silent", said my sister in a feeble voice.

Ahh, the perennial conflicts of the wonderful evil, mobile phones. The tug of war between the kids and their parents to reduce time on phone, often makes kids put their phone on silent. A sort of win-win we can say.

"Did you take it to your classes? Do you remember bringing it back?", I asked.

With her do-you-have-to-ask-this-in-front-of-Maa look she replies ,"I do not remember exactly.".

She was devastated by the incident and I took care to hurt her no more with prolonged questioning.

Facts of the case were these:

A black Samsung phone, on silent, had been reported missing since the afternoon. It was last spotted in the 2nd floor bedroom of NH residency, when the owner, one Ada, age 17, woke up for classes and checked the time on phone (6 am). Foul play was not ruled out. Since, calls are connecting to the phone, and it was raining heavily throughout the afternoon, we could safely assume, it was still switched on and had not been damaged in rain. This further ruled out it being dropped on the road, and left all the rooms in NH residency as the prime suspects.


Chapter two: The first move


After our initial questioning, we narrowed down the list of suspects to be five mid to large sized rooms. To hide their identities, let's refer to them as Violet, Purple, Pink, Beetroot and Eggplant where the first three were on first floor and the rest were on the floor above. For the time, we ignored the faint possibility of some place outside the house being a suspect.  The peculiar nature of the suspects tightened our hands because we could neither question nor play “Good cop Bad cop” with them. However, the certainty of them not flying away was in our favor.

First words of my mouth after birth, took 2 long years. While that had kept my parents and my grandparents worried about me the entire time, I have grown to believe that I was gifted with some special hearing ability as a compensation. I could hear a few extra notes when a bird chirps on our window. I could hear the train entering the station two seconds earlier than others. I could even fill a bottle in the dark because I know exactly when water is about to touch its brim. Not enough powerful to make it to the comic books, but could it be enough to hear the vibration from the ringing phone and help locate it?

With the tension rising in the room every second, we decided to put on our detective hats. The crime scene was contaminated even before we started our investigation. Even the immovables had been moved; the pole star sofa had been moved to reveal the original shine of the marble floor beneath it, bed had been rotated to reveal the key chain lost for two years. But this did not stop us from interrogating the suspects with the hope they slip a clue. I asked Ada to call her phone while I stick one of my ears on the floor of the first room, Violet. I was waiting to feel the vibration of the phone when I could see Maa looking with curiosity, switching to disgust and then switching back to curiosity. Fans switched off and tv muted, we waited for the vibration to be sensed. Anyone who knows my Maa, knows her as a lovely and lively person. I bet they did not dare interrupt her favorite TV show. The pressure to find some answers had risen beyond a bearable limit, phone had rung for beyond a minute then and we had to give up. We decided to move on to second, third and subsequent rooms. With every failed hearing test we started questioning our methods. May be the assumptions we made were all wrong. May be it was lost outside the house.

We reached Eggplant, the final room, which also happened to be my humble abode. We certainly had several questions surrounding us, but this felt like the guy. I looked at Ada, hinting to begin the call. The silence before the first ring felt like the longest. My ear on the floor could hear my heart thumping with anxiety. I got lost in the visions of finding the phone and I telling the victory story to every person I meet for years to come: Red carpets, royal dinner and a thick canopy of photographers. Suddenly, Ada shook me and I woke out of the dream to find we had failed. I must have lost touch.

Hearing tests failed and with the rains not even slowing down, we had to try every option to search within the house. We had to do something real fast, because the chances of locating and safely retrieving the victim declined every passing minute. With every call, the cell inside the mobile phone was dying. A random research reveals, the probability of finding a missing is half after the first twenty four hours and becomes zero in seventy two.

In a desperate attempt, we tried scanning for nearby bluetooth devices, no result. She usually keeps the bluetooth ON all the time, but chooses to switch it OFF today. Every random thought, seemed like an idea worth trying. I looked at her, could it be her the whole time? To think of it, she has slipped herself into the investigating team and strategically positioned herself for covering her tracks. What would be the motive, I asked myself. To add to my doubts, she was rightly cutting an apple with an awfully big shiny knife. Wait..what! An overdose of thriller movies, I suppose.


Chapter three: The endgame


With all hopes lost, we sat down to do what all Indians do in such a situation: have tea, preferably with cookies. It had been our ritual to have tea and biscuit while watching Tom & Jerry on Cartoon Network every evening. Tom running after Jerry, like every day; Tom finding an imaginative way of catching, cooking and eating Jerry, and Jerry finding an equally ridiculous way of getting out. It started to sink in, such fantasies do not happen in real life, hence the name, fantasy. One thought leading to another, and I was almost indefinitely falling in a kaleidoscopic louvre like Alice, when Maa's phone rang.

When you are watching television with all the intensity in the world, no matter how lame the show is, you want no distraction. Every person and object in the room is expected to respect the decorum. And when Tom is about to pull the string of the contraption he had been building for the past five minutes, the television speaker goes Tuuuuunn, tu tuduu, tu tuduu, tu tuduu..

Incoming call on my mother’s phone interfered with television speakers to give out a weird sound, as though it choked on a fly. This is a normal phenomenon, however, if we could somehow harness such interference, we might be able to locate the victim. We needed a device dealing with frequency which should also be portable enough to be carried around to every corner of the suspects.

My uncle is a huge music lover, classical Hindi being his favorite. He would listen to the regional radio stations on our big ancestral analog FM Tuner, humming each song to write his research papers. Other family members would join the hum, few would even start singing with their creative lyrics as though forming a choir. However, things started to get a little quieter, with the untimely demise of our favorite Tuner. Opinions were taken from even the second and the third experts in the next town, before my uncle decided to move on and bought a Philips radio. It was tough for the new member, filling in the shoes, literally four to five times bigger. Everyone in the house could not help but compare her with her predecessor; reception not strong, voice not clear, even the dim yellow backlight was unpleasant. Little did anyone know, she had a bigger destiny to fulfill.

I had no doubt that she was the one, the old Philips AM/FM radio running on batteries. She was our Neo and our Frodo, who was destined to solve this mystery. While she was not convinced of anything we said, she was flattered by the blind faith we had in her and decided to join us in the questioning area. This was our moment, we had to show her what we meant. Ada placed my phone next to her, while I tried calling from Maa's.

She had spent many years of her life facing everyone's raised eyebrows, judging her every note. She could not afford to cough even for a voltage fluctuation. All those years, however, my uncle never stopped believing in her. He would sing along, patiently listen to every news, weather report or a farmer story she had to say; not a single complain. In the absence of faith, she had understood the real meaning of faith. How could she not have faith in us now?

Meanwhile, my phone starts ringing next to her, and..and she recited the same interference we heard from the television. Voila! The plan seemed to had worked. Life was not too far from fantasies after all. But, we decided to save the congratulations and accolades till we have solved the case.

We started taking her to each subject and tried calling Ada's phone. Violet, Purple and Pink turned out to be clean; no signs of interference nor her phone. Statistics had turned out to be no different than our previous method, but she made all the difference. Like Morpheus, we were so convinced she was the one, we never really thought what if she was not. We proceeded to Beetroot, the bedroom it was last seen, which also turned out to be clean. The final suspect, Eggplant, my room, was in front of us and we started sweeping. We dialed out for the one last time, hoping for some luck.

Buried below the buzz of the fluorescent lights, we started hearing the faint sound of the interference and tried to move towards the source. This way perhaps, well not actually, may be that way, a little to the left, may be a little down. The trace brought us closer to a heap made up of clothes, electronics and books. Interference was at its peak. Such heaps are very common in rooms of youngsters where discipline and cleanliness take a backseat, laziness drives the show. One of us started digging through the heap with excitement, while the other kept the phone connected. We could not believe, we were right all along; Eggplant was the one. For the record, Ada and I always hated Eggplant dishes.

Every piece of cloth or book or cable, dug from the heap, was being thrown to some random corner of the room, creating multiple smaller heaps of their own. In no time, we reached the bottom of the heap and the digging stopped. But, but..where is the phone?

It did not make any sense. We suspected to have thrown it along with the pieces of the heap, but the signal still originated from the same spot. Our emotions had been on a roller coaster the entire evening. We were on the verge of starting our endless fall from the mountain of confidence, but something did not add up. How can the radio interference be so strong at that point without any source around it. A fourth dimension, perhaps?

Do not talk to strangers. Ride slow. Even slower if it rains. No matter how old you grow, parents will always be worried about you and would have a thing or two about everything you do, or the way you do it. Our dad (Baba) was particularly worried we would damage our eyes or ears someday watching television in dark or listening to loud music. It was just another paradox of the universe: movies are best enjoyed in theatre mode, music beats are best felt with loud volume. Thus, me and Ada used to watch movies on the desktop computer in my room, only after Baba went to sleep. After few failed attempts we had learnt the exact volume which is never too high to cross the walls and wake him up in the next room. Yes, Baba, Maa and Ada used the bedroom next to my room, Beetroot. Well, if sound waves can travel beyond the wall, could interferences too?

Not all hope was lost. I and Ada rushed to the adjacent bedroom, Beetroot, and started sweeping again. We diverted all our attention to the common wall and the edge of the bed right next to it. We had skipped the tight spot during our initial sweep. Interferences grew louder. We moved the bed aside to see the faint light saying "Calling bhai (Brother)" on the fallen bed sheet. It all made sense now and the final piece of the puzzle was found. The phone was exactly where it was last seen, well, may be a feet below. Time seemed to had frozen and our happiness seemed to had crossed all known boundaries. Both of us hugged each other and started jumping in excitement. Shouting at the peak of our voices, the scene seemed to fade-to-black and zoom out at the same time.

After seven days, when I look back at the event, the excitement has certainly mellowed down. But every time my sister and I remember the days, we share a good laugh.

I have learnt a lot from the incident. People may have affinity for art, some for sports and then some for science. Some choose their movie and reading by genre, most choose their courses and line of work. But, I believe a hint of everything is part of our life. A hint of technology is part of everyone's life. Spend some time reliving your own scifi story. Couldn't remember one? May be its on its way. :)

One might ask, why I wrote this about nine years later than it actually happened. Well, I wrote it the next week on my phone. But, what happened to my phone, is a story for another day.. :D