Anshuman was kept in a dark cell, where only a small window almost touching the ceiling, allowed faint light from the street lamp. The police headquarters located in the central part of Karachi had four such cells. All were full of criminals nabbed for different crimes.
Thankfully, Anshuman was not kept with any other culprit. He was kept separately. And was in the direct scrutiny of the ACP who had brought him to the headquarters.
The row of officials reporting to the ACP, called him one after the other with all the details he had asked for.
The ACP— (I’ve always had his face in my mind, when I am writing about the ACP. I’ve been a big fan of Humayun Saeed)
The ACP opened the lockup and asked Anshuman to accompany him.
“Where are we going?” Anshuman asked, feeling suspicious when asked to accompany him towards outside.
“To the hospital! The doctor feels that for the full body check-up, you should be at the hospital.”
He clutched his wrists in steel handcuffs. Anshuman sighed deeply and said, “I won’t run away.”
“We can’t take any risk.”
Anshuman had a irked, sly smile on his lips, when he asked, “Where will I go without a passport or any documents?”
The ACP smirked but didn’t reply to his question. Obviously, he wasn’t going to tell Anshuman how people crossed borders without any visa or passport. Not every visitor was a friendly one who arrived through an official route of procuring legal documents. According to him, if Anshuman was a spy, he would already know about that route. If he was not, he didn’t need to know.
They reached the Government Hospital. The HOD of the General Medicine department examined Anshuman and talked to him about his injuries in medical lingo. He talked to him about his work and Anshuman spoke about everything honestly, in detail, about his posting in army, and then at PBB.
An orthopaedic surgeon was called to examine his knee and his ankle. Another row of tests were conducted for his blood group, infective phase of deadly diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis C and then, he was sent for radiography and CT scan.
Finally, the doctor wrote the findings in his detailed report. Giving his report to the ACP, he said, “I strongly feel that he is a genuine case of lost documents. He is a doctor, there is no doubt about that. He works for PBB since almost five years, now. It isn’t easy to work selflessly for an organisation like PBB. Also, it is true that he might be in the army previously but he is speaking the truth – he was severely injured and hence relieved from the army.”
“Thank you, doctor!” The ACP took a leave and joined Anshuman who was waiting in the doctor’s room.
“Let’s go!” The ACP said.
Anshuman stood up and accompanied the ACP towards his jeep. Feeling dejected and losing hope, with every passing moment. The more they investigated about him, talked to senior officials, managed to take him tearing across suspicious eyes, and the crowd of media around the hospital or the police HQ, the more he drowned in despair. He had so many stories of people caught as spies, never to be released, caught in legal battles lasting years, that he saw himself in that situation, already.
When he locked him again, the ACP asked, “You look famished. What will you eat? Any preferences?”
Anshuman looked at him as if he was talking in Greek. When his look was responded by an eyebrow lift, Anshuman asked, “Really? You asking me about food preferences when I can barely breathe in this cell.”
“Why? Is it suffocating?” The ACP asked.
“Trust me, I have been trapped in rabbit-hole bunkers for hours. The size is not an issue. It’s the situation that I am in. Right now.”
“I understand.” The ACP said. “But we have been ordered from the higher authorities to take care of you. What do you eat?”
“Anything.” Anshuman shrugged.
“Nothing specific? I’ve heard Indians have all sorts of food fuss.” He smirked.
Anshuman rolled his eyes, absolutely rejecting his mockery, “I agree that we have a big population who is vegetarian, and a lot of non-vegetarians have strict choices. But that doesn’t give you any right to mock us.”
“As if you guys don’t!” The ACP turned away to order food for Anshuman.
Anshuman knew that there was no point in fighting for this issue. They were not friends. And they were not in an equal position. One was in captivity of the other. An argument would only lead to bitterness. So he stayed quiet after that.
He had been in several countries for his humanitarian work. He had treated his patients similarly, no matter where they belonged to.
And for him, borders didn’t exist.
Manasvi met the older lady who had arrived at her sister’s house when her grandson informed her that a girl had arrived to consult her.
The older woman corrected her spectacles over her long pretty nose. Her sharp eyes, her complexion, her smooth skin said that she must be gorgeous in her haydays. Even now, at the age of sixty-five years, she looked beaming beautiful.
Looking at Anshuman’s picture when he was around eleven years old, she held it closely and keenly. After a long moment, she asked, “Was this boy kidnapped?”
“Yes! Yes!!” Manasvi held her hand and asked, “Do you know him?”
“Can’t say for sure. But if he is the boy that I am thinking he is… then, I knew him very well. I took care of him when he was very young… around 5 years of age.”
“Then, how did you recognise him?”
“He looks quite similar to his father – Dr. Dinesh Sankhla. Do you have any picture of him of how he looks now?” The lady asked.
“Yes.” Manasvi scrolled her phone for Anshuman’s pictures that she had clicked in Jalalabad camp, secretively, at times when she had found him quietly examining patients, giving them instructions, even operating.
The older woman couldn’t stop her tears, “He is Anshuman, right? Mashallah, he has grown up to be so handsome and so tall… he looks exactly like his father.”
“You remember something about him or his family?”
“Everything! I remember everything. I was the nurse when his mother delivered him. I was the first one to take him in my arms. How can I forget him? I took care of him when he was too young… almost till he was 5 years of age. Then, one day his parents were killed in an attack on their hospital…”
“Yes. Both of them, his mother and father, were doctors in a polyclinic of the neighbourhood.”
“They were killed?”
“Yes. I heard the news on TV and from people that it was a brutal attack. I was on leave during those days. I was not keeping well. I just remember that doctor ma’am and sir were killed and their son Anshuman kidnapped.”
“That is why he remembered his name?” Manasvi wondered aloud, “He was old enough.”
“Was he brought up by the extremists? They must have been very cruel?” The lady asked with tears in her eyes.
Manasvi nodded, “Yes, but he was rescued by an Indian officer who was posted here. At that time, he didn’t remember anything about his parents or family. So, he facilitated his travel to India and was adopted by an army officer in India.”
“Thank God! I keep feeling guilty that I wasn’t with him that day so he had gone to the hospital with his mother and was kidnapped from there. I keep cursing myself that I was responsible.”
“Please stop feeling like that. It was none of your fault. And you will be happy to know that he is a doctor now. He works across different countries to help people facing disasters.”
“May God bless him. Where is he?” The lady asked, wiping her eyes with her white dupatta, “Can I meet him?”
Manasvi was reminded of Anshuman and that he was in a terrible state, right now. She wished she could tell him that she had found a link to his childhood. But first she had to ensure that he was freed from the problem that he had gotten himself into, for her.
“I have no idea how to thank you!” Manasvi thanked the woman and stood up. Something about this lady tugged at her heart. She wished she had someone who had been with her in her childhood, so that she could hug her and revisit the shadowed memories of her childhood and her lost parents. She asked, “Can I hug you?”
The older woman pulled her in a hug and blessed her. When she separated, she held her hand and squeezed it, requesting Manasvi, “Can you bring Anshuman here? For once? I want to meet him.”
Manasvi nodded, barely able to contain her tears, “Yes, I would.”
“How do you know him? And why are you searching links about him?”
“I am his wife. I will tell you more about him on my next visit. I need you. But right now, I have to go. Anshuman is in trouble.”
“May God bless you both. And do come back. I live in the lane behind this house.”
Manasvi thanked both the females who had been more like her own grandparents. Their relatives came out from inside. A son and a daughter-in-law with their kids. They offered food and tea to Manasvi. She refused as she had to leave but she promised them that she will return soon.
There was so much that she had to know and she knew that she was on the right track.
Anshuman was served food and coffee in the cell. While the ACP sat in his chair and observed him keenly.
Anshuman felt awkward eating alone. He asked, “Won’t you eat?”
The ACP smiled, “That’s not a luxury an officer on duty can afford.”
“I know!” Anshuman smiled too, “Reminds me of emergency surgeries, back to back. There is not even a thought of food in that time.”
“You know, once I was injured while chasing a criminal a few years back. I had hurt my spine badly. Only after 6 surgeries, I was able to walk. I will always be thankful to my orthopaedic surgeon for he gave me my life back. I deeply respect your profession.”
“Thank you! Very few people do that.”
“Because a few people of your profession tarnish the reputation for everyone else.”
Anshuman nodded, and added, “The same can be said about people in your profession!”
The ACP shrugged, “It happens everywhere, I guess. Good people are always more in number than the filthy ones, but suffer more because of their dirty counterparts. Probably because they are quietly doing their work while the ugly ones are creating all the noise.”
Anshuman looked at him seriously and said, “I think you are right, ACP.”
“You can call me Junaid Khan.”
“Tell me, one thing ACP Khan, if you don’t mind…”
“Do you believe me when I say that I am innocent and I was not spying?”
Junaid Khan shrugged nonchalantly and said, “It really doesn’t matter what I believe in. You will be evaluated according to facts, data, and proofs for and against you. We are thoroughly investigating your case!”
“Then, I have another question… Can I expect fairness in the trial?”
“Yes! That I can promise you. I don’t believe in vilifying people for no fault of their’s.”
“In all fairness, we are humans only. Even God helps those who are honest.”