It was about 7 PM in the evening. I was sitting in my room, deep in thought, when the phone rang.
An unknown number.
Who would it be?
I picked up.
The other person (Let’s call it ‘Op’ in short): Hello! Am I talking to Mr. Ashmur?
A girl voice! Strange ‘cause very few people, that too only my close friends, call me that. Who is this then?
Me: Yes. Tell me! Who’s this?
Op: Never mind who I am. I wanted to talk to you.
Me: Sorry? Talk to me? About what? And why should I talk to someone who I do not know?
I felt strange. A sweet girl voice. An unknown number. Not revealing their identity. Must be some friend of mine who’s playing with me.
Op: About something important. Please listen to me. And if it’s important, my name is Lavanya.
Lavanya? I only know of 2 Lavanyas and I could confidently say that it was neither.
Me: Lavanya? Which Lavanya? Stop playing with me. Tell me who is this and what do you want?
Op: I told you. My name is Lavanya. I know you from your blog. I follow it. And I do know things about you that no one else would know.
Me: Like what?
Op: Like you just watched the Nirbhaya documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ and you are disturbed because of that – especially the graphic reconstruction of the horrific event.
I was taken aback. How did she know that? Did I write about it somewhere? Oh yeah, I tweeted about it. Must be following me on Twitter too. But I don’t recollect any Lavanya following me on Twitter. And how did she get my number? By now, I was convinced that it was a friend who was trying to play a prank on me.
Me: You must be following me on Twitter. But tell me, who are you? Who gave you my number? Stop playing with me. I don’t have time for this. I am cutting the call if you don’t reveal your identity.
Op: Stop! No. Don’t cut the call. I’m serious. I’m not any prankster. You do not know me, but I know you. Beyond Twitter & blog too. I know you because I have seen you. I’m a journalist. But that’s what the world thinks I do. I moonlight for the intelligence bureau.
Me: What? Enough of this kidding. Tell me who this is. Or I’m cutting the call now.
Op: I know you won’t believe me. I’ll tell you something about you that no one else in this world would know. You’d probably believe me then.
She told me. I was stunned.
Op: Hope you believe me now. Just listen to me. The reason I picked you to make this call is because I felt that you are the most responsible of the 3 persons I had in my list. Now, I want you to do as I say.
By now, I was numb. Is it for real? What’s happening? Whatever she told me, stunned me to say the least. How could she know? Like she said, no one in the world knows.
Me: I dunno what to say. Please tell me.
Op: I am recording this conversation. I’ll send you the audio file once we end this call. I’ll send it via mail. You are to write about this phone call in your blog within the next 3 days. Please quote me verbatim in the conversation.
Me: What purpose will that serve?
Op: It holds a cryptic message to what we are doing. I’m involved in an assignment with the IB. We are tracking down some cyber attacks. In that fight, we post such messages in some random blogs. That’s all I can say for now.
Me: What you say is scary! What if you are just lying? What if I’m being used as a pawn here? What if you don’t belong to the IB but some terror network?
Op: Even if that were the case, do you have a choice?
Now, that was really frightening.
Me: What do you mean?
Op: I mean to say that you’ll write it anyway, irrespective of whether you believe me or not.
Op: Yes, you will. Open your mail now. Your personal mail, not your institute id.
I hurriedly opened my mail in my laptop, while the call was still on. There was a mail from someone called Lavanya. I opened it.
It was nice talking to you on the phone. PFA the audio file recording of the call.
And there was an audio file attached.
I was a little shocked. I got back to the call.
Op: Got the mail? Fine! Let me assure you that there’s nothing for you to worry. This is a routine intelligence exercise. Just write the blog post and that’s all.
Me: O...O... Okay!
Op: Now Ashmur, enough of my business. Let’s talk something else.
Op: A word of advice. Do not worry about the days ahead! I know you are evaluating 3 choices in your mind. Go for the second one. That’s the best for you.
Me: WHAT? HOW DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE CHOICES?
Op: I told you I know more about you than probably you yourself do.
Me: But... But this?
Op: Ha ha ha!
She laughed loudly
Op: Don’t worry about it! All your info is safe with the IB. Now, I’ll end the call. Don’t try to trace the number for you won’t find such number anywhere in the world! We use a cryptic app for calling. Also, you won’t find the mail id anywhere. So do not worry about it! Plus the mail will self-destroy itself in an hour. So download the audio file before that! Do not try to take any screenshot of the mail! It won’t work. We have fed a worm into your system that will disable the action. Again, do not worry! The worm will kill itself once the mail destroys itself. And that’s not all. The worm will destroy the audio file and all traces of it too.
Me: A well laid out plan?
Op: Ofcourse! It’s time for me to go. Just listen to the audio soon and blog about this whole conversation within 3 days. Your job is done. We won’t bother you again.
Me: But there’s hardly anything in this conversation that sounds secretive. It’s as plain as anything else.
Op: Well, that’s the beauty of it. It appears plain to everyone. But not to cryptologists like us. Just do what I say.
Me: O…O… Okay!
Op: Fine then! Nice talking to you, Ashmur! Looking forward to your blog. Keep writing! Bye!
With that she cut the call. It took me 5 minutes to regain my senses.
I opened the mail again and checked the id. It said Lavanya <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I tried to take a screen shot. It was not functioning. My snipping tool was also not functioning. I took my phone and tried to take a pic. All that came in the pic were some blurred lines. Looks like the worm had taken care of this too. The screen resonance was at its highest, that hardly anything was visible in the phone cam. I downloaded the audio file and listened to it. It was for 7 mins. Once I was done listening, the ‘blue screen of death’ appeared and the system restarted.
When I logged in again, the saved audio file was not to be seen. The mail was also gone and no trace of it remained. I checked my phone. The number was also not to be seen in the call records.
What kind of sorcery is this?
I went to sleep thinking about it.
When I woke up the next morning, I once again checked everywhere. No traces were to be found. Was this all a nightmare?
Must be! I forgot about it for two days and carried on normally until today afternoon when I got a message from an unknown number.
Hi Ashmur, hope you are posting that blog. Today is the third day. Wanted to remind you. By the way, your phone will restart in another 30 seconds.
As soon as I closed the message, the phone mysteriously restarted. When it started again, the message was not to be seen.
I was now convinced that I had to write the blog. And hence this post.
PS: Lavanya, here's your post. I know that can't be your name. But, I've kept my promise. So don't bother me again.
PPS: Truth is stranger than fiction.
PPPS: Nothing stops you from thinking that this is just a fiction. I'd love to think so too. But what if it's real?