“Please come home early today,” said Sriram with eyes half mischievous and half pleading.
“Yes, yes. I’ve cancelled all my meetings today. But then, why are you so specific about today, surprise ideya yenadru?” Any surprises, smiled Kriti, as she finished eating her breakfast.
“No, no. Yenu illa,” he winked.
It was their first wedding anniversary and she knew very well where he had planned to take her later that evening for the ‘surprise’. Sriram had always been bad at arranging these little things but she liked to see him try.
“So, all set for your lecture today?” she asked.
“Kriti, you know how much I hate these public lectures! I’d happily teach a class of physics students, but not a generic audience. Theoretical physics is not as glossy as the movies or novels show you. It’s working on equations for many years together to see a fraction of truth about our physical world and then passing it on to the others who will slog further. Nature shows us its beauty one layer at a time and we are trying to peel out as much as we can to see what lies at its heart. Most of the people coming to the session today would want to know about how we can go back or forth in time or when the world will end. I know what to expect,” he stopped somewhere between disdain and disgust.
“If that is the case, why don’t you say no to the organizers?”
“I do this for the kids in the audience. If any of the schoolkids or teenagers present there would go on to pursue physics because of the lecture I am going to deliver, it would be worth all the pain”
“Saaku. Don’t lie to me. I know you accept these offers just so you can sit on the stage and bask in the applause you receive,” teased Kriti, picking her purse and the keys.
He was laughing as both of them left after locking the front door shut.
“In conclusion, the Einstein-Rosen bridge, popularly known as a ‘Wormhole’, can connect two points that are far away in space, or in time. Any questions?” concluded Sriram, dreading there would be questions about how Matthew McConaughey survived a wormhole in Interstellar.
A hand shot up.
“What do you mean by connect two points?” asked an enthusiastic young adult in the crowd.
“That’s a very good question,” he was glad that someone has asked this. Taking a queue from the same movie, he reached for a sheet of paper and a pencil. He drew two big dots on the ends of the same side of the sheet and explained, “The distance between the two points is traversed when we draw a line between them,” said Sriram while he joined the dots.
“In the case of a wormhole, imagine that the sheet of paper curves such that the two points are adjacent to each other,” he showed this by bringing both the edges of the paper together demonstrating the curvature. With a prick of the pencil, he could now make a hole through both the dots. “The paper is representative of space or of time. And that is how a wormhole would work, if they actually do exist in the universe”. The teen was satisfied with the demo.
Another hand shot up.
“Will we be able to travel back and forth in time during the course of next 50 years?” This was man in his 40s. It was a very platonic manner, how he had asked the question.
“It’s not that easy a question. We are still asking if time travel is even possible. Wormholes may be our best bet for this, but not a single one has been observed in our universe. I wish we would figure things out faster, but to answer your question, time travel is highly improbable even 50 years down the line,” he finished his session to a thunderous applause.
Sriram headed to the lunch table with the rest of the members from his department after he had finished speaking.
“Such lovely articulation. Well done, Dr.Sriram,” said Dr.Vanitha, the Head of the Department of Physics, under whom Sriram worked.
“Stop being sarcastic, now. This is the same routine, every single time. You can do this better than me, Vanitha”
“I couldn’t, even if I tried,” she winked. “Now, why don’t you take us all through the mechanics of a Chronosynclastic Infundibulum”
Most of the people on the lunch table gave out a hearty laugh, including Sriram, as they proceeded to have desserts. He took out his phone and sent Kriti a message to make sure she got home early that evening.
“Cheers” both of them said, clinking their glasses. They were on the terrace of a plush restaurant in one of the newer neighbourhoods of Bangalore. The candle light dinner and the restaurant were exactly as Kriti had guessed.
“I knew you’d bring me here for the surprise”
“How did you know that?”
“I know you all too well now”
“So you think”
“I know so”
He smiled. “To many more years, together,” he raised the glass and took a sip. She followed suit.
Sriram’s phone rang just then. It was from a number he couldn’t recognize.
“Hello,” came the reply. The voice of the other side was slightly gruff, but probably belonged to a young man.
“Yaaru? Who’s this?” asked Sriram as he could not put a face to the voice
There was a sense of urgency in the voice.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Sriram asked with clarity.
“I don’t know who I am. I am stuck in my house with the door locked from outside,” the voice answered.
“See, I think you have called the wrong number. I am busy right now…”
“No. This is the right number. I have a piece of paper with your number with a note below. The note reads: VERY IMPORTANT- CALL ME FOR HELP.” interrupted the voice. “Please don’t hang up. I have been trying to reach you all day and I was able to connect only now”
The voice was gruff, yet feeble. There was a sense of honesty to it.
“I can’t remember anything, Sir. I don’t know who I am or what I do. All I can say is I am in my house right now and I have this note with your number on it. Please help me,” pleaded the voice on the phone.
“What help do you want if you are already in your house? Just go back to sleep until the others come back,” said Sriram, trying to end the call as soon as possible.
“No one comes back once they leave,” prophesied the voice.
“If this is some sort of a prank, I will report you to the police. It’s not going to end well. You better hang up”
“I need help. Please get me out of here,” the plea was earnest. Sriram felt a pang of pity for the voice. He held the call on mute and told Kriti about the man calling for help. What if he had a bad mental condition, both of them mused. Kriti felt it was worth a few more minutes.
“Ok. Tell me the address of your house and who is in your family. I’ll inform the police and they can help you.”
“I don’t know”
“Tell me what you know. Try hard to remember and tell me what you recollect?”
“I remember my childhood. My mother, my…”
“No, not those things!” Sriram said irritably. “Tell me something that I can use to find where or who you are. Like, look outside the window and tell me what you see. Any shops or signboards?” Childhood memories were the last things he wanted to listen to that evening.
As the voice on the phone proceeded to check this, Sriram said to his wife, “This person seems to be in a bad state. He has lost all memory. I guess we should help him through this”. She nodded in reply.
“What do you see from your window?” Sriram prodded
“I can see a hotel. It’s named Shanti Sagar”
“What else do you see?” Every street in Bangalore had a Shanti Sagar.
“There is a shop selling sweets right across it”
“That’s better, go on. What’s the signboard on the sweet shop?” asked Sriram, opening maps on his wife’s phone to search for this combination.
“It’s called Arun Sweets”
That was a revelation! The hotel and the shop were right across Sriram’s house. Kriti was also party to the conversation now. “Is he Shalini’s cousin or something? She had mentioned that her relatives were coming home this week,” she added. Shalini was their next door neighbour.
“Are you related to Shalini? Do you know the names of anyone in your family?” Sriram asked the voice.
“I can’t remember”
“Hold on while I call for help”
He prodded Kriti to call the police. She was unmoved. “I think we should only go there and resolve it, rather than calling the police. Anyway, I don’t think we can enjoy the evening until I know that the poor fellow is safe. Yenantiya?”. What do you think, she had asked him. He knew that the night was ruined, so they might as well help someone out. “Sari, Ok, let’s go”
“My wife and I stay just around where you are. We’ll be there in half an hour to help you out,” consoled Sriram
“Thank you! But don’t hang up. I am very scared”
“There is nothing to be scared of. We’ll be there soon,” said Sriram, empathetically.
“Don’t cut the call, please”
He decided to give a piece of his mind to Shalini for leaving his number behind in the note.
“Ok. I’ll be on the line”
The couple headed down to the car and Kriti took the wheel and they started.
Sriram wonders, till date, why he asked the following question to the man on the phone.
“What all can you remember from your life?”
“There are a lot of memories, but I can only recollect a few fragments of it. It’s like watching random still frames from a movie. I don’t know the order, I don’t know the characters. But, I remember my childhood vividly. It plays like how a movie does. I remember my mother’s face very well. I can recognize my wife’s face too, sometimes.”
Sriram now felt for him. The voice on the phone, after all, did have an endearing charm.
“I remember going to ISKCON with my parents. I remember studying in Indian Institute of Science, playing cricket in the grounds there, my time in America, but all of these are just still frames. I married the most beautiful girl and brought her home. I remember only the highlights, nothing more.”
“I studied in IISc too! I did my PhD in the US too, coincidentally! Which department were you in, if you can recollect,” quipped Sriram, now with a smile on his face
“Physics, I think”
The resemblance was uncanny. All the incidents matched perfectly. Sriram got a little serious now.
“Where are your parents now?”
“They died long ago,” said the voice
“In a road accident, when I was younger”
“Are you playing games with me?” Sriram was now furious. “What sort of a stupid prank is this? Who are you… What’s your name?”
Sriram’s parents had died in a road accident when he was a teenager.
“I can’t recollect my name, however much I try. I recollect only so much as I am telling you. This is not a prank”
Sriram calmed down a bit. There was a sense of honesty that he could feel in the other man’s voice.
“Do you remember the only time when your father had beaten you up?” Sriram felt the only way to understand more was to ask him questions
“When I had stolen money from his purse” said the voice
“What for had you stolen the money?”
“I don’t remember” said the voice
“Try to recollect”
“It had to do something with a game of cricket”
“What is your best memory from school?”
“I remember getting a prize for a science contest”
Sriram was confused. All his rational mental processes stalled for a moment. These instances from his childhood were extremely personal and no one knew about them, not even Krithi. But the voice knew them with decent precision.
They reached Shalini’s place to find that her cousins had not yet come to Bangalore. Sriram got back to questioning the voice on the phone.
“Describe the insides of the house you are in”
As soon as the voice started the description, Sriram recognized it was his own house that the stranger was locked in. He rushed to his house with Kriti following him.
Not a soul in the house. They searched all the rooms, twice over.
Standing in the living room, he reached for the cabinet.
“Open the cabinet in the living room” He said to the voice “How many shelves do you see?”
“Six.” Perfect match.
“Head to the bedroom. Open the cupboard, reach for my passport and read the number aloud”
The voice on the phone read the alphanumeric identifier. Perfect match.
Sriram’s head was spinning now. The voice knew all that he knew. The voice was in the same place as him. How could a person knowing all that he knew and being in the same place as him not be him?
“Turn to the last page in the passport. Look into the mirror, is it your face?” asked Sriram as a last search for clues.
The voice gasped softly. There was no answer this time.
Sriram was now trying to calm down. In a moment of sudden clarity, realization struck him like a shot from a 12 gauge shotgun. He had been asking the voice where he was again and again. That was the wrong question all along.
“When are you calling from. What is the time and date?” asked Sriram this time, more earnest than ever.
The phone had gone dead.