Scientists say there is no life on the moon. But Senior Inspector Matadeen of the Indian Police – known in the department as “MD sa’ab” – says, “The scientists are lying. There are men on the moon, just like us, but they are on the other side of the moon.”

Science always loses out to Inspector Matadeen. Even if experts go hoarse arguing that the fingerprints on the dagger do not match those of the accused, Inspector Matadeen will still manage to put his man behind bars.

“These scientists,” he says, “they never investigate a case thoroughly. Just because they can see the bright side of the moon they claim there’s no life on it. I’ve been to its dark side. There are men living there.”

It has to be true, for when it comes to dark sides, Inspector Matadeen is an acknowledged expert. Now you might wonder, why he went to the moon in the first place. Did he go as a tourist? Was it to catch some fugitive from law?

No, none of that. He went there under the Cultural Exchange Scheme to represent India. The Government of the Moon wrote to the Government of India, “We are an advanced civilisation, but our police force is not good enough. They often fail to catch and punish criminals. We understand you have established Ram Rajya in your country. Please send us one of your police officers to give our men proper training.”

The home minister ordered the home secretary to send one of the inspectors general.

“Sir, we cannot send an IG,” the secretary remonstrated. “It’s a matter of protocol. The moon is merely a small satellite of the earth. We cannot send someone of too high a rank there. Let me depute some senior inspector.”

And so, they decided upon Senior Inspector Matadeen, the investigating officer of a thousand and one criminal cases, and asked the moon government to send an earth-ship to fetch him.

Meanwhile, the home minister sent for Inspector Matadeen and told him, “You are going there to represent the glorious traditions of the Indian Police. Make sure you do a good job. Make the entire universe applaud our department so that even the prime minister hears about us.”

On the appointed day, an earth-ship arrived from the moon, and Inspector Matadeen bade goodbye to his colleagues. As he walked towards the spacecraft, he kept muttering under his breath a chaupayi from Tulsidas’s epic poem:

Pravisi nagara kijai sab kaja, hridaya rakhi kausalpur raja…

On reaching the ship, Inspector Matadeen suddenly called out for his clerk, “Munshi!”

Munshi Abdul Ghafoor came running, clicked his heels, saluted, and said, “Yes, Pect-sab.”

“Did you remember to pack some FIR forms?”

“Yes, Pect-sab.”

“And a blank copy of the daily register?”

“Yes, Pect-sab.”

Inspector Matadeen then sent for Havildar Balabhaddar and said to him, “When it’s time for delivery in our house, send your bed to lend a hand.”

Balabhaddar replied, “Yes, Pect-sab.”

“You needn’t worry, Pect-sab,” Abdul Ghafoor added, “I’ll send my house too.”

Inspector Matadeen then turned to the pilot. “You have your driver’s licence?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your headlights work?”

“Yes, sir.”

“They’d better,” growled Inspector Matadeen to his men, “otherwise I’ll challan the bastard mid-space.”

The pilot overheard him. “In our country,” he said, “we don’t talk to people in that manner.”

“I know, I know,” Inspector Matadeen sneered. “No wonder your police are so weak-kneed. But I’ll kick them into shape soon enough.”

He had placed one foot inside the earth-ship’s door when Havildar Ram Sanjivan came running. “Pect-sab,” he said, “the house of the SP sa’ab asks you to bring her a heel-scrubbing stone from the moon.”

Inspector Matadeen was delighted. “Tell Bai sa’ab I’ll definitely bring her one.” He then climbed in and took his seat, and the ship took off.

It had barely left the earth’s atmosphere when Inspector Matadeen shouted to the pilot, “Abe, why aren’t you honking the horn?”

“But there’s nothing here for millions of miles,” the pilot protested.

“A rule is a rule,” Inspector Matadeen snarled. “Keep your thumb pressed on the horn.”

The pilot sounded the horn, and kept it up all the way to their destination.

Senior Moon Police officers had come to receive Inspector Matadeen. As he swaggered out of the earth-ship he ran an eye over their shoulder patches. None had a star, or even a ribbon. Inspector Matadeen decided it was not necessary for him to click his heels or throw a salute. He also thought, “After all, I’m a special adviser now, not just an inspector.”

The welcoming party took him to the local police lines, and put him up in a fine bungalow.

After a day’s rest, Inspector Matadeen decided to start working. First, he went out and inspected the lines. Later that evening, he expressed his surprise to the host inspector general. “There’s no Hanuman temple in your police lines! In our Ram Rajya, every police line has its Hanuman-ji.”

The IG asked, “Who is Hanuman? We’ve never heard of him.”

Inspector Matadeen patiently explained, “Every policeman must have a daily darshan of Hanuman-ji. He was, you see, in the Special Branch in Sugriva’s administration. It was he who discovered where Ma Sita was being held forcibly. It was a case of abduction, you know – Section 362 IPC. Lord Hanuman punished Ravana right on the spot – set fire to his entire property. The police must have that kind of authority. They should be able to punish a criminal as soon as they catch him. No need to get bogged down in the courts. But sad to say, we have yet to achieve that in our own Ram Rajya.”

“Anyway, Bhagwan Ram was highly pleased. He took Hanuman-ji to Ayodhya and assigned him the city beat. That same Hanuman-ji is our patron deity. Here, I brought along this photograph. Use it to get some figures cast, then have them installed in all the lines.”

A few days later, a statue of Hanuman-ji was enshrined in each and every police line on the moon.

Meanwhile, Inspector Matadeen began to study how the local police worked. It seemed to him that the force was careless and lacked enthusiasm, that they showed little concern for crime. The reason for that attitude, however, was not apparent.

Suddenly a thought occurred to Inspector Matadeen. He sent for the salary register. One glance at it and everything became clear to him. Now he knew why the Moon Police behaved the way they did.

That evening, Inspector Matadeen reported to the police minister, “Now I know why your men are so lackadaisical – you pay them large salaries, that’s why. Five hundred to a constable, seven hundred to a havildar, and a thousand to a thanedar! What sort foolishness is this? Why should your police try to catch any criminal? In our country, we give the constables just one hundred, and the inspectors two. That’s why you see them running around catching criminals. You must reduce all salaries immediately.”

“But that would be most unfair,” the police minister protested. “Why at all would they work if they were not given good salaries?”

“There’s nothing unfair about it,” Inspector Matadeen replied patiently. “In fact, you’ll see a revolutionary change in your men’s attitude as soon as the first reduced pay cheques are sent out.”

Excerpted with permission from “Inspector Matadeen on the Moon”, by Harishankar Parsai, translated by CM Naim, from The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, edited by Tarun K Saint, Hachette.