Each time her phone rings, Urmila Devi rushes towards it, and says a prayer before pressing the answer button. This could be Shubham, her eldest son, who she has not seen in the past three months.
This has been a ritual in the Bind family, ever since 16-year-old Shubham went missing from near his house, behind Mangatram petrol pump in Bhandup (West) on January 16.
On that day, Shubham, with some of his friends, had been caught copying during the school exams and been reprimanded by teachers and the principal. The principal also spoke to his father, Rishikumar, 41, about the episode.
After he returned from school, Urmila handed him the house keys before rushing to a bank nearby. On her return, a neighbour gave her the keys, saying Shubham had said he was going out. When he did not return till evening, Urmila Devi started asking neighbours, who also joined the search.
“We searched his hangouts,” said Rishikumar. Around midnight, he lodged a complaint with the Bhandup police.
The family’s one-room tenement in Shiv Darshan society, a chawl, has articles associated with Shubham’s memory – a broken cricket bat, a couple of gloves. “I can’t stop crying every time I see these things,” said Urmila Devi. “Now that he is not around, I am guarding his treasure.”
The loss of a family member has cast its shadow on everyone, more so on his brothers Shivam, 6, and Suman, 12. “For many days after Shubham’s disappearance, Suman did not speak,” said Rishikumar. “Earlier, Shivam would be playing all the time outside the building. After the incident, he keeps to himself in the house,” Urmila Devi said.
In the days since Shubham went missing, two calls from strangers were received on Urmila’s phone. The first call came on January 10. Kusum, Shubham’s 17-year-old sister, answered the call. “It was a woman who wanted to speak to my mother about Shubham. When I told her she was not at home, she hung up,” said Kusum.
Two days later, a call came from the same number around midnight. “It was a boy who told me he and Shubham were in trouble. I asked if they were with the police. He said no, adding they were in a strange place. He immediately hung up.”
Rishikumar rushed to the police station and gave the cops the caller’s number. The next day, the caller’s location was traced to Bhiwandi, and it was later learnt the SIM card had been obtained with forged documents. The trail ended there.
“Our team has been trying to trace the boy. From what we have gathered from his friends, it seems the boy fled to Gujarat for work as he was not interested in his studies,” said PR Chavan, senior inspector, Bhandup police station.