At a police station in the western suburbs, a constable encourages a nervous nine-year-old to describe the man who shot at and tried to kill his neighbour. On a bench nearby, his parents sit fidgeting.
As the child talks, police sketch artist Dipti Kamble makes brisk strokes on a sheet of paper with her soft lead pencil, and a face begins to take shape.
“That kid is braver than his parents,” she says, half an hour later, handing over her sketch to the constable.
Sometimes it’s frightened witnesses and traumatised victims, other times it’s blurry footage from security cameras. As the designated freelance police sketch artist for 80 police stations, 30-year-old Kamble spends about eight hours a week piecing together detailed descriptions as she tries to put faces to crimes.
Over seven years, the art teacher has submitted 300 sketches, which have helped identify and apprehend 250 miscreants, from petty thieves to murderers and rapists.“It is an impressive number. The police are proud of me,” she says, grinning.
Kamble did her first sketch for the Mhada police station in Mulund (East) in 2005, at the request of her neighbour, a constable. Two years later, she applied to the Mumbai police commissionerate for the post of designated sketch artist.
After a rigorous three-day interview that involved drawing five or six sketches a day, she got the assignment.
“It’s not a fixed post. They call me whenever they need me, and tell
me which police station to come to,” says Kamble, who has a Master’s degree in visual art and earns Rs 400 per sketch.
The daughter of a retired dock worker, Kamble’s primary source of income is her job as a secondary school art teacher, which pays Rs 8,000 a month. With parents and a younger sibling to support, the additional Rs 1,200 or so she earns each month from her police work is a welcome addition.
“I buy second-hand brushes and paints to keep costs down, but I still spend about Rs 4,500 every month on art material,” she says, frowning.
Kamble starts her day at 4 am, with a quick bath in the two-room Mulund flat she shares with her parents and two sisters. After a breakfast of tea and two chapatis, she leaves at 5.15 am, walking to the station and then taking a train to Sandhurst Road, 50 minutes away, where she must clock in at Safa English School by 6.45.
Lunch is in the 15-minute morning recess, at 9.45 am, when Kamble hurriedly gobbles the home-cooked roti-sabzi packed for her by her mother.
Her classes done by 1.30 pm, Kamble hopes for a call from the police, telling her that there is an assignment for which she will be paid. If there is, she must then travel to the police station concerned, which could be anywhere between Churchgate and Dahisar in the western suburbs and CST and Thane in the east. “Sometimes I get calls at night, or in the wee hours,” she says. “It’s tiring, but I’m used to it now.”
Usually home by 10.30pm, Kamble eats a light dinner of dal and rice, spends some time with her family and turns in at midnight.
Sketching even on her days off, if there are assignments to be had, Kamble laughingly describes herself as a workaholic. “I’m saving up to do my PhD in fine art,” she says. “I actually like the fact that my hobby is my work. And using my skill to help the police adds meaning to my work.”
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