'My sketches are 60 per cent accurate'

My first sketch was almost at gunpoint,” 47 year-old Nitin Yadav, a sketch artist for the Mumbai Police for the past 20 years tells me in a hoarse voice when I visit him on a hot Tuesday afternoon. I am sitting at his home in Sable Chawl in Kurla.

 Sunlight and a warm breeze fill the airy rectangular room, which has a mantle dedicated to trophies of all sizes. A four-feet painting of Shivaji adorns the wall behind me, and I turn around to take a closer look.

Nitin Yadav with his drawing book that comprises  30 different sketches of skull shapes, 75 hairstyles, 22 shapes of nose and 21 side profiles. This book comes in handy for him when the witnesses or victims are unable to describe the accused accurately. 
PICs/ Sayed Sameer Abedi

“I painted it 10 years ago,” Yadav says. His eyes start twinkling as he begins to narrate his story. He had just returned home after a long day’s work as a drawing teacher when he found two cops from Kurla police station waiting for him at his doorstep. No questions answered, they took him to the chowkie, gave him a crisp sheet of white paper, a pointed pencil, eraser and one command — draw the sketch of a chain snatcher. His eyes fell on a lanky, scared victim who had seen just a glimpse of the robber’s face waiting to give his statement. Twenty-five years on, he has helped the Mumbai Police nab 150 criminals.

The Kurla resident lives with his 65 year-old mother, 36 year-old wife Vaishali and two kids — 17 year-old Pratik and 11 year-old Bhakti. A drawing teacher at Chembur Education Society Primary School and part-time teacher at Comprehensive D-ed College, today the student of JJ School of Arts gets at least three ‘requests’ for a police sketch a day. “I wanted to be a drawing teacher, or a policeman. Now, I consider myself a part-time policeman,” says Yadav, whose favourite subject was psychology.

With an interest in art, his desire to be a cop and his favourite subject as psychology, this seems to be his dream job.

He sits on his chair with a gray-coloured plastic suitcase, which has all the sketches that he has drawn over the last five years. “If I stored my work of 20 years, I would need a cupboard,” says Yadav. One after the other, he produces drawings of local gang members, petty thieves and kidnappers. There is a sketch of an accused in the 2010 German Bakery bomb blast case and the woman who was nabbed for stealing babies in March this year, among others. There is also a drawing of the courtroom scene of the Ajmal Qasab trial. “In 2008, when photographers were not allowed inside the courtroom, I drew this for a local newspaper. The journalist described the entire scene and I translated it on paper.

All the while, his wife sits in a corner, alert to notice that the coffee has gone cold, and promptly dashes to the kitchen to heat it. More than once she ends a sentence that Yadav has begun as he gives her a knowing nod. She almost blushes with pride when he pulls out the recognition certificate that the Mumbai Police has awarded him.

Yadav begins every portrait with a silent prayer to Swami Samartha Maharaj and Sai Baba. “I don’t sketch anything. It just comes naturally to me,” he says. Over the last two decades, Yadav has never accepted any money for his service. “In the past five years, the police officials have been forcibly giving me a lumpsum amount, which I tell them to put in the donation box in a temple at the chawl,” he adds.

Testing times
I decided it was time to put him to test. I was carrying my colleague’s photograph in a file. I asked him to draw her sketch based on my description. “Is this an exam? I usually never draw for the fun of it,” he says, timidly nervous, as he opens his Pandora’s box once again, this time to remove an empty sheet. He also removes two drawing books and hands them to me. “I can get a sketch out of a dumb person,” he announces, flipping open the book that contains at least 30 different sketches of skull shapes, 75 hair styles, 22 shapes of nose and 21 side profiles. “Many a times, I do not understand the language of the victims. That’s when these books come in handy. I ask the witnesses to visualise the accused. Then I draw a sketch using the permutation and combination method wherein I use the witness’ description as well as refer to the books,” he adds removing a bunch of pencils — of different leads — tied in a red elastic rubber band. He cannot find the eraser. He turns to his daughter Bhakti and asks her to give him one from her compass box. She frowns. “All of us are artists, so we share our tools,” he smiles, as he wipes the beads of sweat that have formed on his forehead. Is it a result of the heat, or the anticipation of scoring well in his test, I wonder?

The protocol is clear. He asks me a set of questions in order — age, shape of the face, skin tone, ‘tabiyat’ (health), eye shape and colour, cheeks, hair colour and shape, jewellery and accessories. By now, I realise, that the tables have turned and it’s my turn to give a test. His questions get more specific. ‘Are her eyes sad or happy? Tej hai (Are they

I match a face cut from his book, now and then referring to the picture. Sometimes it takes him three hours to finish a sketch, and most of them are 60 per cent accurate, he claims.

I wonder why he is not sketching, but he only listens. After I have answered the initial questions, he takes a deep breath and begins to draw. The tip of the pencil only gently touches the paper leaving a light trace.

Slowly, I see the face coming to life. I point out that the cheekbones are high, and needs more roundness. He uses his fingers to give them a fuller effect.
More questions follow: “What type of clothes does she wear? Her t-shirt has a round neck or collar? Does she tie her hair? Where does her hair part?

When I mutter descriptions in monosyllables, he says, “Bol nahi sakte toh mimicry karo — kaise chalti hai (how does she walk), do her shoulders
droop etc?”

Explaining why he needs these details, he says, “I have developed this skill over the years with practice. My questions are more detailed than those that the cops ask. I ask about the colour and design on the clothes, whether the person had oiled his hair, if yes, how did it smell. What phone was he using, did he wear any specific accessory? These are things that help the cops nab an accused.”

By the end of our 20-minute marathon sketch, I show him the original photograph. He frowns, “Arre, I asked you if her mouth was set deep. See, then I would have taken the cheeks higher. Thankfully, the cops don’t have to find her,” he laughs it off.  

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