My Daredevil Doppelgänger


My Daredevil Doppelgänger

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Last year, I surfaced on a very hot day at the peak of Delhi summer, all ready to conquer Monday morning blues because I was sure I’d done a great job on a report that weekend. Little did I know that my doppelgänger was about to ruin it all.

When I breezed into office, my boss threw me a stormy look, and held his phone up with a single, raised eyebrow. It was a WhatsApp thread, and it was short. There were three frantic messages from him telling me he couldn’t open a WinZip file (big-time Luddite), and asking when I could fix and send it back please? And then the reply from my phone number: “Hiee old man!”

I had a lot of explaining to do. But where to begin?

It had actually all started the previous month with a call from an unknown number. “Tanaya ji?” said a rather gruff voice on the line. “Haan ji,” I said, assuming he’d said “Tanya” and I’d misheard because of all the honking around me. “Ma’am, I’m calling from Bajaj. When will you pay your ₹7 lakh loan, ma’am? Due date is passed. We will take over your assets by the end of the month.” I nearly fell out of the auto.

It turned out that the “brand new” SIM card I’d got (or so Vodafone had said) in April that year, used to belong to another woman before me. She also had almost the same name. And it turned out that she led a rather colourful – unhinged – life.

Over the next few days, and many such calls later, I gauged that the person my SIM belonged to had an array of bank and card loans – RBI, Axis Bank, HDFC, ICICI. Attempts to get Vodafone to do something about the mix-up were hopeless. At first I was hopping mad, always on edge when an unknown number popped up. But eventually, going against everything my neurotic grandmother taught me about steering clear of dodgy folks, it started to feel absolutely normal, and even a little bit daredevil to be privy to someone’s inner life and secrets.

I tuned into the rhythm of indignant bank clerks calling me every day, asking aggressively when I planned to pay back my ₹10 lakh loan. And warn that I was facing bankruptcy and possibly even eviction. It was a bit like having a dangerous crackpot doppelgänger from a parallel universe, someone who clearly doesn’t play nice like I do. What was she like in person?

It was like sometimes you get a window into someone’s life, and with no intention of eavesdropping, you get caught up in – and hugely entertained by – your alter ego’s antics.

Remember how Monica from Friends meets a fraudster with the same name who turns out to be amazing at tap dancing and graffiti and teaches Monica to loosen up?

But this, alas, was real life, not an American sitcom. I caught on that my doppelgänger also had a bunch of questionable friendships and hostile lovers. “Chodh ke dikhaoonga,” was one charming SMS I got in the middle of the night. Another, suspiciously early in the morning, went “Pata hai peechhe se zyada maza aata hai tere ko” (I know you like it better in the ass). From a fascination for her antics, I now began to feel for her as I witnessed this steady stream of vitriol.

Bizarre as it sounds, I realised I was capable of genuine empathy for someone I’d never met, a solidarity of sorts based on rage against the straight-up shitty abuse women have to deal with from disgruntled exes or spurned lovers.

I get the feeling she felt the same. Because, bless her soul, I realised Tanaya was also getting questionable messages from my friends who were texting her on the WhatsApp number that she still held (since I hadn’t bothered to change my number on it). I was meant to go camping with a group of hilarious, but desperately single PhD students, who called themselves “The Lonely Guys’ Express”. And of course, they messaged Tanaya to say they’d pick her up at 7 pm. When she replied seeming to have no clue about the plan, they told her that “the lonely guys are coming to get you!” In reply, she sent them a Wikipedia entry about the Lonely Hearts Killers, a duo of serial murderers in America.

Whatever else my doppelgänger was, she was obviously a feminist – with bad luck in men. It was like sometimes you get a window into someone’s life, and with no intention of eavesdropping, you get caught up in – and hugely entertained by – your alter ego’s antics.

Shortly after the hiccup with the boss, though, there was the very annoying time that she accepted an invitation to a party on my behalf. Naturally, no one bothered to remind me, and I missed it. “We WhatsApped you yaar! And you said ‘Yaas pakka’!” was my friends’ defence. (How I wish my friends knew me a little better. I would never say “Yaas”.) This doppelgänger situation was becoming too much trouble. Ready to sacrifice my source of daily feminist solidarity, I decided to end it all with a firm complaint to Vodafone, and finally switched my WhatsApp to the one linked to my SIM card.

Except, I’d now barged into doppelgänger territory, full-throttle. After a day’s lull, the inundation began. I got pop quizzes about vibrator preferences (let’s just say I now know that Rampant Rabbit sex toys are worth the extra money). I even got a rather sweet, forgiving message from someone she had clearly dumped (“Sweetie, I will always love you. Gd lk in yr life”).

The barrage of messages dwindled over time, though I still get the odd message at the odd hour that ranges from the benign to the ridiculous. Thankfully, no dick pics.

I guess I now know that the golden advice to be wary of strangers is blown way out of proportion. Unexpected connections, at least with other women, aren’t always bad or dangerous. They can just give you a wake-up call about how universal and regular the shit you face as a woman really is. Despite all the headaches, it still felt more like a fellowship than an intrusion.

But if I do ever meet my doppelgänger, I’ll be sure to tell her to at least pay her goddamn credit card bill.