Updated: 3 days ago
The Master Copy
A professor is missing along with the master copy of a question paper for an upcoming exam. Though uninvited, Govind is fascinated to get involved and help as much as possible for personal reasons & for his colleagues too.
“The Master Copy” is the first case of Detective Govindam that shows the bond between Ankitha, Govindam & Sharma while revealing how the young detective wasn’t always successful in concluding the cases.
8th March 2001
“Pfft… the Professor feels my hypothesis is non-existent. How can he decide that? In the question, he asked about my opinion and not what would happen,” said Govind after reading the answer sheet while we were at the University garden analysing our papers.
It was exam season. Everyone was immersed in books. The photocopy shop had long queues. The pressure on each student could be felt in the whole college. The atmosphere was dense and in the middle of all this pressure was Govind giving the exam, maybe, for the fourth time. He was way past the point of exam pressure and was reviewing a paper he had given two years back. I don’t know how but I feel he has figured it all out. I am sure that by the end of this semester, he will clear all the subjects. That is what his confidence and face said to me.
For years, Govind told everyone he wrote realistic solutions for his questionnaires, but the university was concerned more about the theoretical write-up than anything else, especially the evaluators. Often, I told him, “Well, you need to write a hypothesis that could be a reality, not jot down your wildest fantasies.”
“Yeah… everybody, please listen to this topper beside me! The answer I wrote is the reality and not what this law book in our hand says,” he replied, this time mocking an announcement scenario.
“First of all, you have been completing your third year since the last two years in this institution. So, I think it’s better if you stick to the reality that the professors expect. Next, I bet I can tell you where you are going wrong in your cases yet to come. Wanna bet, Govindam?”
Although everyone calls him Govind, I got used to calling him Govindam. And he likes it too. We have this thing where he always tries to introduce himself as Detective Govindam. And I add a tag, “Cases yet to come.”
Meanwhile, a peon of our faculty was walking by & I wished, “A very good morning Bhai… would you like some tea?” & he gave him a warm smile.
Raju was one of the oldest peons in our college, and almost everyone respected him more than the principal. Govind was fond of him because he rented Raju’s place for the time being. Raju knew Govind was a rusty detective, but he believed in him because of Govind’s walk-the-talk attitude.
"I have no time, Ankitha. Professor Upadhyay is missing, and the master copy of his exam paper is nowhere to be seen. We have informed the Police already, but it’s huge chaos up there,” he said in an anxious tone.
“Raju Bhai, why didn’t you come to me when you realised the papers went missing? This is the kind of case I have been looking for until now. Let’s go to his cabin and understand what has happened.” exclaimed Govind.
“I think it is too risky for you to get involved in Govindam,” I said.
“Raju Bhai, don’t listen to her. This is my chance to rise and shine. Let’s go anyway; if I solve this case, Ankitha will be bearing my expenses for the next month according to our bet,” said Govind.
Raju Bhai considered the proposal for a few moments before saying, “Okay, let’s go; I think I can sneak you in. But you have less time to do whatever you want as the Police will be here anytime soon.”
“Ankitha… Sometimes, this educational establishment needs my help in developing the future of bright students like you,” Govindam mused, dusting off the dirt from his pants and his bag.
“The management suspects that the Professor has leaked the papers. But he is missing. We have called his family, and they have no clue where he is. Before the Police arrive for the investigation, I would like you to have a look at the office and try to find something. This will help us all & most importantly, the college.” said Raju while they were ascending the stairs to the administrative building.
“Get ready to treat me at the Cafe, Ankitha. The case is exciting,” said Govindam, to which I just smiled. “But Bhai, if the papers were leaked, I would have knowledge about it. How come no one told me? Damn! I missed the chance of topping the exams.”
“No... wait... I never said the papers were circulated. The master copy is missing, but the photocopy which the thief planned to distribute is still out there.” said Raju.
Unlocking the Professor’s office, Raju let us in & immediately closed the door behind us. He warned, “No one should know about it.”
“That’s strange. Why does no one have a copy of the leaked paper?” I asked, catching my breath.
“No idea. We have already checked the CCTV footage, and as expected, last night’s recordings were tampered with,” replied Raju.
My heartbeat raced as he said that. But Govind was going around the cabin as calm as a Buddhist monk. After a brief pause, he said, “Okay, lots of puzzles to solve. Let’s start with a demo of the sequence of what might have happened.”
Glancing at the entrance, he continued, “If I were the Professor, I would have entered through the door since I must have the keys, and since it’s exam time, even the watchmen would have allowed me in… Bhai, did you ask the night watchman as to what might have happened? I am sure he must have seen something and the CCTV office is just near the security cabin, so how could anyone tamper with it?”
Raju Bhai could only nod, indicating no and said nothing else.
Pointing his hand now towards me, Govind continued, “Please make a point that we need to talk to the night watchman later... Then the Professor entered the room, opened the drawer, reached for the master copy, and might have started printing photocopies from the machine.”
Going towards the copy machine, Govinda picked up the photocopies before saying, “He was sweating but did not stop. Was it too hot here? No, the AC is always on, and it didn’t rain yesterday. Does that mean… he was afraid? Or…”
I interrupted him to ask, “Wait… wait… wait… how do you know he might be afraid?”
He explained, “The top papers have dried water stains, and the spots are a bit yellow, making them dirt marks. And since the Professor is borderline ethical, he must have been threatened. Note this point as well, Ankitha.”
Annoyed by his commanding tone, I demanded, “Mr So-called detective! I am not your assistant! So, stop giving me orders.”
“No Ankitha, not at all. I am just trying to take help from your memory power. And if I need to remind you, you are the one who agreed to be my assistant.”
All I could do was nod and pen down those points in my notebook. He was right, and I was the one who was excited to be a part of his cases.
“Now, coming back to the professor who was standing there regretting the vulnerable situation and all of a sudden, he is on the floor.”
Govind falls flat on his back on the floor, startling us and gets up immediately to point us towards the carpet. He said, “The Professor was dragged by someone, a man with a heavy build...”
“Again, hypothesis, how can you say a man with a heavy build?” I inquired.
“Uff... Please work on your observations, Ankitha. Take a look here; the carpet has been pressed a bit more than usual, and this pressed fur has a trail to the door. That could only mean that the Professor was dragged here and then got lifted because we didn’t see any dragging marks in the lobby. So this means the person is heavily built to pick up the Professor easily. A fainted professor, to be specific.”
“Professor fainted? How can you say that?”, my curiosity kept on increasing.
And all of a sudden, the cabin doors opened, and the Inspector was standing with his subordinates and our Dean. Gawking at Govind, he exclaimed, “Nice theory kid, but I think aloof you should be charged for the disappearance of Professor Upadhyay.”
“Hello Inspector, Good morning Dean. Well, according to our glorious Indian Penal code, anyone who is found on a crime scene after 8 hours of the crime cannot be called an accomplice of the crime. However, they can be punished for contaminating the crime scene. However, in this case, we haven’t touched anything yet that can be proved after forensics are done with dusting the place and submitting their analysis.’ claimed Govind.
“Ah... Govindam, you might have touched the question papers,” I whispered, but it was loud enough to get heard by everyone.
Our Dean was furious and bursting with anger. Govind calmly took out a visiting card from his shirt pocket, gave it to the Inspector, and introduced himself. I was getting chills, and Raju Bhai froze like he saw a ghost. No matter what, Govind jollily talked to the Inspector and our Dean. After a few minutes, to my surprise, I saw they were shaking hands, and Govind smilingly turned towards me and said, “Ankitha, Raju Bhai meet Inspector Sharma. He has allowed me to investigate the case.”
We had no clue what was going on and how did that happen.
“Continue your theory, Detective Govindam”, said Inspector Sharma.
“Now, where was I… Oh yes. How will you lift a man who is awake and trying to hit? Or look at the papers, the photocopy papers are still here, but the master copy is missing; why? Maybe it was taken by the attacker, or it was thrown somewhere. Or it was delivered to the students directly, which is highly unlikely. I think these are the questions which we need to answer,” said Govind.
Turning to the Inspector, he asked, “While I enquire about the leaked paper, can you guys investigate about the professor’s missing?”
“Well, don’t teach us our job, Govindam. We know what we have to do, so if you are kind enough, leave this place immediately,” said Inspector Sharma.
The Police lingered around for a while and did some preliminary investigations. They took statements from Raju Bhai and me. Later, Govind & I reached the cafeteria, and before I could say anything, I saw him lighting a cigarette and talking to the kiosk owner.
I asked him, “Grab a few coffee bites for me, Govindam”, & he gave a grim look at me as if I had asked for his life. He then picked the jars from the assortments of jars on the kiosk’s front table before taking a handful of coffee bites. He pointed his finger towards me and signalled the kiosk guy to write under my tab. He even included his damn cigarettes too.
That evening, Govind pleaded, “Ankitha, I am tired. Went back home to sleep. Could you please find out the developments from the Police and report to me in the evening?”
“Go by yourself, and for your kind information, I have to study for tomorrow’s exam. So, leave me alone.” I said, knowing that he would have reasons to make me do this, and there he drops that one thing I cannot deny.
“Yeah! Okay… I was just trying to involve you in the case. Anyway, I will go on my own and have a nice bun maska at the Good Luck cafe on the way.”
“Yeah, totally fine by me! Bye!” I said while controlling all my cravings and love for the most famous thing in Pune. Before he spoke another word, I started walking toward the Bus stop, but he was still looking at me as he knew I would return.
Walking a few steps away, I took a turn to run toward him. I hate this guy; he knows all my nerves, and the case also ticks my curiosity.
He just laughed, rejoicing in his victory, and we started walking toward the Police vehicles. In Police’s investigation, they found that the watchman had seen the Professor’s entry with a woman and didn’t know his exit time as he had gone to the washroom when his car left the campus. I assumed he might have brought his wife to the campus, but Govind was sure it was not his wife. After gaining that information, we headed directly towards Good Luck cafe.
“How did you convince the Dean and that inspector to involve you in the case?” I asked him, astounded by the recent events.
“Yes. Sometimes you just need to be smart enough and may need to beg for mercy… By the way, you owe me ₹ 100/-. My hypothesis was correct back there.”
Trying to tone down his enthusiasm, I replied, “Nothing has been proved yet… so hold your horses. I will give it to you once the case is solved.”
After that day, I was busy with our exams while Govind still held onto the case focusing on the developments from the Police department. Strangely, I used to find him chatting with a few notorious groups of the college daily. One fine evening, the Police found the Professor’s car in the lake almost on the outskirts of the city. The Professor’s body was found; they had found the master copy too! They were about to close the case and declare it as suicide, but neither Govind nor I was not convinced about it.
So Govind wanted to take a deeper look into the car. Pleading Sharma, he somehow sneaked into the car for a deeper investigation. The fingerprints were washed off because of water; the forensics had already swept it clean, and he couldn’t find anything significant.
With whatever he found, Govind needed the resources at the station to have a deeper look. He went to the police station to ask for details from Inspector Sharma. Since the case was closed, the evidence was shifted to headquarters. To access the room, a person should know the case number and should register his entry and exit in the register.
Inspector Sharma refused to give him access as the issue was resolved, and Govind would be booked under evidence tampering if he tried to access it on his own. But Govindam’s motivation and curiosity never bothered him from such hurdles. He borrowed a constable dress from a costume guy and entered the headquarters, showcasing his utmost confidence.
The police headquarters had a complicated layout. The building was more confusing than our college & that was saying something. However, Govind found the evidence room in the corner of the building. The room was no different from a typical bureaucratic structure. Caged counters. Huge piles of files all around the tables. A constable was sitting on a table whom no one could find unless called, and even he was as dusty as those files around him. Govind signed the register, after which the constable fetched the evidence box for the case.
He went through the contents of the box. On top were the forensic reports and a few other papers. The forensics had found a lipstick. It seemed like a costly one. The master copy was in the car but it was totally washed down due to water. There was a brown shoe which Govindam recognised, and he knew it belonged to the Professor. Govindam couldn’t add up the contents found and what might have occurred. But he was sure the Professor was with a woman or a girl before he went missing. There was no sign of the Professor nor his whereabouts.
The next day, Govind told me what happened back in college. Since it was already the end of the semester, there was no one on campus. The news that one of their Professors died circulated, but none of them knew the truth, as to what happened or how. Govind headed directly towards the old hostel buildings where the notorious group was celebrating the end of exams, and all were drunk.
Govind walked into the building as if he knew where he was supposed to be headed. The building had a foul smell, and the moss had taken over the walls. The building was constructed with stones and cement; thus, there were no cracks, but one of the side walls had fallen, due to which it was emptied years back. Now it was only habitable for big rats, insects and a few birds. Sometimes, it was used by students to drink.
Heading towards the warden’s room, Govind found those students that he suspected were involved in robbing the master copy. They were wasted. He picked one of those guys and slapped him as hard as he could. The boy was startled for a moment but soon returned to his numb state and had no reaction to the beating.
Fed up, Govind asked furiously, “What did you guys know about the professor?”
“That dean was supposed to give us the papers… but he ran away without delivering it… and now probably he is dead,” said the boy in a slurry voice.
“Tell me clearly, what did you guys do?”
“We had some photographs of his affair. We threatened him, but he didn’t budge, but his lover did. However, she didn’t deliver.”
“Why did you guys kill the Professor then? Where are the photos of the affair?”
“The photographs are here,” he said, waving his hand haphazardly around the place. “And we didn’t kill him. He was supposed to be kidnapped by his lover & we were supposed to get the master copy for the photos, but we never heard after the abduction,” said another gang member.
I started to look around the place and found a few photographs. Govind grabbed one from my hand and looked closely at it, “Who is she? Did you see her face?” he asked, holding the collar of another student.
“We never got to see her,” came the reply.
Govind had lost his mind and was outraged. We had no idea what was going on. What has been happening?
This short story is available in paperback & ebook.