FACE OFF

Naresh Korde drew his own kismet in becoming a sketch artist tech-guru for India’s police force, notes Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Sachin Haralkar

Naresh Korde, making faces...

Naresh Korde, at work


The first face that Naresh Korde drew for the Ghatkopar police station, at age 14, was that of a corpse. “I had to reproduce the ‘original’ of a face beaten beyond recognition and left in a gutter with the rest of the body,” he explains. “It was through that sketch that the body was identified, and an investigation begun.” Now 24, Korde spent last night listening to a nine-year-old’s description of delinquents who had committed a robbery in Shahunagar and imaging their faces on the Shahunagar police station computer screen, courtesy a computer program he’s evolved. This program helped the police track down the perpetrators of the
Ghatkopar bomb blast and is being used by national and state police to trace those behind blasts at Ayodhya, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Hyderabad and Mumbai 7/11. The Hyderabad police, in view of the city’s current crises, has offered to buy the software, but Korde has refused: “Selling it will be like killing my golden goose. Once I’ve sold the software and trained people in its use, no one will give me work.” There is one other reason for him keeping this secret close to his heart: “The software, to be of any help, must be used by a skilled police sketcher like myself. That is its peculiarity.”
A barber’s son, Korde’s only connection to crime before he began sketching criminals was that he loved the television serial CID. “My ability to sketch has to be a gift from God,” he laughs. “Because I know of no
one in my family who’s even remotely artistically inclined.” His early earnings from this gift came by recreating family portraits from faded photographs for people who had nothing else to remember their loved ones by. “Then a group of migrant construction workers who’d just arrived from UP lost one of their companions at the station,” Korde recounts. “And obviously no one in the group had a photograph of his.” After futile attempts at trying to trace him through the police, one construction worker heard of Korde and approached him. “My sketch found them the man,” Korde smiles. And when they narrated the incident to an inspector at the Ghatkopar police station, it found Korde a proper source of income.
If his love for a TV series led him to dive headlong into sketching visages of accused cads in robbery, kidnapping and murder cases, his technological breakthrough in the same field was prompted by a Hollywood thriller. “I don’t remember the name of the film but it was a spy movie,” he tries to recall. “There were these two or three scenes
focused on an identification program employed by the CIA.” Next to Korde’s father’s salon in Ghatkopar was a computer software workshop. “I sauntered in from time to time, made friends with them, and asked them to teach me some basics,” he says. But most of what he learnt about computer software and the net was on his own, thanks to the countless hours professionals in the workshop allowed him to “sit and fool around on their computer”. Many downloads and selftaught lessons later, Korde’s instinctive wizardry was ready to tackle terrorism with a crudely assembled identification tool, just in time for the Ghatkopar blast of 2003.
Unlike other i d e n t i f i c a t i o n programs which begin with a
standard face and then switch features such as eyes, nose and mouth for the witness to identify, Korde’s software presents to the witness a face that is a likeness to begin with. “This is because I have created many prototypes drawing from my experience in the field,” says Korde. “But to identify which prototype would suit a witness’s description requires a sketch artist’s instinct and memory.” Korde then modifies a picture that in 80 % of the cases is already a likeness, to create a perfect fit for what the witness saw. “There are loopholes as well,” he defends. “Every human being has at least four others who look exactly like him.” So Korde’s artistry, while trying to recreate a suspect’s features, has led to images that bear an uncanny resemblance to filmstars, politicians, policemen, journalists and on an occasion—himself. An added bonus for those who summon Korde and his baby is that his “experience in this field” enables him to tell when a witness is lying: “There is too much indecisiveness. I can also make out by the way in which a witness changes his or her description. But this too, is mostly instinctive. There is no fixed methodology.”
“I’ve received hundreds of threats from suspects on the phone, especially in terrorism cases,” he says brimming with confidence. “But no one comes in front of me.” The reason, he explains, is that with his memory for faces he will reproduce for the police a sketch of the person that would be far more accurate than a multiple-angle photograph, and nobody would
want to risk that. To demonstrate, he takes one look at a bystander on the road and reproduces a rough sketch of his face within seconds: “When I look at a face, I figure out the skull shape and size first. Then I use factors like skin and hair to tell me about the person’s age. By the time I’m done memorizing a face, I can tell you not only about a person’s appearance but also his character.” When asked about the secret of his success at such a young age in such an unusual field, he pulls out a picture of a saintly figure. “Akkalkoth Shri Swami Samartha Maharaj,” he says. A devoted follower, Korde donates 75 per cent of his earnings from this trade towards the building of a temple in the sage’s name, near his own hometown at Ahmadnagar.
“I wanted to do something to prove myself. To show the world I’m worth something,” emphasises Korde. “The fact that I receive calls from joint commissioners of police to come and help them—from even as far as Varanasi and Hyderabad—is a cause of great pride to me and my family.” Despite modest leanings in maximum
city, Korde is glad he stuck to the right side of the law, and yet fulfilled his larger-than-life fantasy. “Now, I want to save enough money to finish the temple near my hometown,” he smiles. “And then I’ll ‘retire’ and devote the rest of my life to Shri Swami Samarth Maharaj.” He feels he’s fulfilled his “worldly karma” and wants to take to the spiritual soon. But you’re only 24, we ask. Why not try out a career in, ahem, tabloid journalism, or work with an intelligence agency? “Maybe,” he weighs his options. Maybe there’s some karma left. Maybe the temple can wait.

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/tufj

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