I always loved the morning rain," said Hari. The sky was overcast that morning and began to drizzle.
Mani and Hari parted from Charu and decided to take a detour through a leafy route to the lecture hall on the insistence of Hari.
You know I am very happy now, perhaps I would not be sad even if I die now.
“How is your roommate Sam?" asked Mani.
“I don’t see him much these days. I think he is staying mostly with his friend Aditya outside the campus," said Hari.
“You know last night you came in my dream," said Hari and smiled. “I was falling backwards inside a well. It was getting darker gradually. I felt like I was floating gently on a cloud. But you know what? It did not seem like I was afraid like in the past. I had a beaming toothy smile all the while. I was falling and my body became lighter. I could smell the water from below; I could hear the sounds of the ripples and waves. My eyes were open and looking above. The sky was blue, but not a hot sunny sky; a cool happy blue. I looked happy. And I closed my eyes. Guess what I saw?" asked Hari.
Mani looked at him affectionately.
“I saw the idiot that I love," said Hari and stared lovingly into Mani’s eyes.
“You know I am very happy now, perhaps I would not be sad even if I die now," Hari said but quickly added, “alright don’t overanalyse what I said. I am not depressed or feeling suicidal. Just feeling on top of the world," said Hari and held Mani’s hands tightly.
“Have I mentioned that I am in love with you?"
“Sam! Celebrating indoors? Not going to college today?" asked Aditya, who had stepped into his house for lunch.
“I did go in the morning, but a stupid girl messed up my head. You know I was so petrified of what we are doing to Charu," replied Sam anxiously.
“Why, what happened?" asked Aditya.
“A commie NGO type girl spoke about how a tigress was brutally skinned alive and later killed for its skin. But the way she narrated the whole incident, I somehow felt that she was warning me about our snooping actions on Charu. And to add to the misery, Charu appeared suddenly in front of me just when she finished her narration," said Sam.
“Shoot! That’s random," exclaimed Aditya.
“I was so messed up that I was in no mood for any lectures. I had to really shoot some bastards to get back my cool. By the way the TV needs some servicing I think, it suddenly blanks out for a couple of seconds. Very frustrating in the middle of a game," said Sam.
“Okay. So what did Charu come for?" asked Aditya.
“Ya, she came to me to ask my help to find me," Sam laughed out loud. “She came and showed me her mobile and wanted my help to find her bully. Ironic isn’t it?"
“What did you say?" asked Aditya.
“I said I was busy."
“But, give me a high five," said Sam with a jubilant smile.
Aditya reciprocated with a confused expression.
“While I was browsing her mobile, I activated a Trojan virus. It seems like she was delivered on a platter to me by God, perhaps Satan," and Sam laughed out loud again, “it would have been impossible for me to send the latest update remotely."
“Wow, so what happens now?" asked Aditya.
“With this update I can make her phone’s front and rear camera record video and I can view it live, real-time from my computer. How cool is that?" said Sam.
“Definitely devious!" replied Aditya, “but tell me something, why did you feel guilty and scared after the tigress story?"
“I did not feel guilty, but the way she unraveled the story and took turns to emphasize how the tigress was being butchered, I thought she was warning me. At some points she even made eye contact. Everything looks so bizarre now if I think about it. And the overwhelming support from everyone in the cafeteria, the commotion, shouting and anger against the poachers; I became petrified."
“I was consumed by fear," said Sam.
“Then why are you doing this?" asked Aditya.
“Actually, when I saw Charu this morning, I did feel guilty that what we are doing is hugely disproportionate to what she had done," replied Sam.
“So, are you doing all this for revenge or is this your way of staying in touch and perhaps hoping that she would come back to you some day?" enquired Aditya.
She observed that none of the men and women in the pictures were smiling but staring right at her, judging her, mocking her, lauding her, pitying her.
Sam did not reply.
After a while he typed the website address that he had specially created for his Jarvis app on his computer. He clicked on a video player, “I think I see something, it’s all cloudy white, is it a wall? I think it is her room. I have been there. What is she doing in the room? She always gave me lectures on why I should not bunk classes. Hypocrite!" said Sam.
“Hey, Charu, Charu," shouted Aditya in excitement. “Wow, she is really beautiful. Her face is really glowing and why is she facing the phone? Is she taking a selfie? But only her face is visible, sweetheart can you take two steps back?"
“Hello, can you control yourself?" Sam intervened, “I used to date this girl before."
“So? It’s all in the past, she is public property now anyone can ogle at her," replied Aditya.
Charu took a few steps backwards as if she had overheard Aditya’s request.
She wore a pink silk cotton saree matched with a shimmery orange blouse that barely held on to her shoulders revealing her neck and chest while the translucent saree with a greenish gold border mischievously concealed her cleavage. Her ravishing smile took the attention away from her beautiful face which was spotless even with minimal make-up. She was getting ready to leave for somewhere.
Both Sam and Aditya were awestruck by her beauty and were fixated on the screen.
“I have never seen her in a saree before," Sam sighed.
“Hey, there is a call coming in on her phone, can you listen in?" asked Aditya, who looked disappointed with her sudden disappearance from the computer screen.
“Charu? Alex here, Meet me at the ‘Chamiers Cafe’ in an hour from now. Alright? And drop everything at home when you come, got it?" said Alex to Charu.
Charu nodded with a sheepish smile.
“Bloody bitch, see, this is why she was all dressed up, and you were asking me all stupid questions and making me feel guilty. If this is not a good enough reason to take revenge and humiliate her, then nothing is," said Sam. His eyes had turned red.
Charu reached Chamiers café ahead of time, an old bungalow that had been tastefully converted into a boutique and café. As soon as she entered, the white walls with beautiful mural paintings caught her attention. She carefully examined the characters sketched on the walls as she took the flight of stairs that led to the café.The stairs opened into a cozy café with neatly spaced out tables and chairs. The café had an old world charm to it but was suspiciously calm for the number of people who were inside, in various colours and shapes; engrossed in their conversations. Charu searched for Alex but could not find him; perhaps he had not arrived yet. She found a table next to a wall that displayed photo frames of random people and families from bygone eras; she took time to observe the black and white portraits that had turned yellow with time.
She observed that none of the men and women in the pictures were smiling but staring right at her, judging her, mocking her, lauding her, pitying her. She became unaware of her surroundings, totally obsessed with the two dimensional people posing before studio props.
“Hey Charu, what happened?" Alex gently tapped her shoulder and his eyes enquired with concern. Charu smiled back in assurance.
“Charu this is Anwar, Anwar this is Charu," Alex introduced each other. “Anwar used to work with the IB, Intelligence Bureau but now he is an independent consultant in information security and helps police especially on cyber-crime. I thought he could help you with the next course of action," said Alex.
Charu found it arduous to focus when Alex spoke and not grin at the same time.
“First things first, did you leave your mobile phone back at the hostel?" asked Anwar. Charu nodded in agreement.
“Based on what Alex had mentioned, it is a clear case of cyber theft and hacking. I will see your mobile in the next meeting. I am familiar with how the hacker could have infected your smart phone and your other digital identities, like email accounts, Facebook ID, etc. And one doesn’t have to be an expert to do these anymore. The tools and software are available freely off the web for even an amateur geek to put it together," said Anwar.
“Scary," said Alex.
“It is. The business of hacking is bigger than what we assume. There are people who will hack into any of our data; credit card, bank deposits, income tax records, passport information, email and phone actually anything for a fee. They work by the hour. They will work both for the good and bad guys. So, what they can hack and how is the easiest to figure, but why is one doing something like this requires patience and old world human intelligence," said Anwar.
“As a first step, buy a new sim card and a basic phone, use that phone for mostly everything, but do not discontinue your current mobile connection yet. Listen to me very carefully now. It is important to treat the cyber bully like any other stalker; this approach helps us understand why one is doing it. It will help us predict what he or she might do next," Anwar continued.
“I would strongly advise against going to the police now, because they will make it a big scene, scare the stalker and close this window of opportunity where he thinks he has an upper hand. We should make the stalker believe that he is in control, snare him and then apprehend him. In the mean while I will also track the hacker through his digital footprint," said Anwar.
He had already made a good impression on Charu and being Alex’s recommendation, she was doubly convinced.
“Do you suspect anyone? Alex told me about this boy, Sam. Do you think he is doing it?" asked Anwar.
“I am not sure. Sam can be possessive, in fact that’s the reason I moved away from him but I don’t think he is criminal minded," said Charu, “but he suspects that Alex sir and me are having an affair," she laughed out loud and stared into Alex’s eyes for his response. Alex avoided her glance, but Anwar registered the exchange.
“See, I did my homework before coming to this meeting. I read your Facebook post and Sam’s twitter and blog entries. If I were him and if I was a tech guru as he claims to be in his blog, I would have done this. Actually some of his ideas and code that he has published in his blog are indeed impressive. So we cannot rule him out," said Anwar.
“It is important to understand what could be his motivation. In ninety percentage of cases, it is just plain revenge and a sadistic pleasure in humiliating the victim. However, we cannot rule out the psychotic ones whose motivations might be more complicated," said Anwar.
“My reading is that by now, he should have hacked into all the input/output devices of your smart phone; which means he will now be able to read all your messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp messages; view your photos videos; listen to your calls; perhaps even take pictures and videos using your own phone. The reason I had asked you to not bring your phone for today’s meeting is that he could listen in to our conversation."
“Now you are scaring me," interjected Charu.
“I am sorry but this is possible today and very real," said Anwar and continued. “So, this is my suggestion. I want you to engage him, maybe even flirt with him a bit and if he was someone who was a past possessive lover, he will flirt back. This will lower his guard and might help us trap him."
“After some initial harmless flirting, which I am not going to advise how," Anwar smiled and continued, “ask him to meet you at a common place, perhaps a coffee place and we could nab him. How about we set the trap this Saturday evening?" said Anwar and looked at both of them.
Charu was flummoxed by Anwar’s to do list. She looked at Alex anxiously for his advice.
“Not a bad idea Charu, Anwar knows what he is talking about and you can trust him," said Alex.
Charu looked downwards and remained silent for brief moment.
“Alright, I am game. Let’s catch the bastard. Saturday is the D day."