One Nerdy Hero, One Dashing Villain, One Interfering Auntie…
Life’s complicated for Seema Rawat, cyberspy.
From the files of the Intelligence Bureau:
Name: Seema Rawat
Job: Child pickpocket-turned-cyberspy
Mission: Infiltrate the suspect’s place of work and extract information from his computer.
Target: Adhith Verma, son of India’s finance minister. Handsome, charming, well-dressed.
Threat: Vikram Joshi, suspect’s boss and BFF, cybersecurity prodigy hot on the trail of the spy in their systems. Always says the wrong thing at the wrong time but has pecs and abs which can send Seema’s hormones into a Bollywood group dance.
Complication: Seema’s auntie who is determined to protect her virtue from both men.
Operation: ONE MONSOON IN MUMBAI.
Take the romance and comedy with the social commentary from There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, add the comical suspense of Pink Panther, throw in a dash of Bollywood: you’ll have One Monsoon in Mumbai.
Can’t wait to meet Seema, Vikram, and Adhith? Purchase now to start reading!
Targeted Age Group:: 16-99
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was in the process of writing a mythology adaptation which is kind of dark in tone. It gets to you after a while. So I decided to do some lighter reading and chanced on a book with clearly plagiarized lines. The bigger shock was that it was picked up by one the well-known publishers. My thought was surely I could do something which at least didn't copy/paste from another work. 6 months later, I typed "The End" on One Monsoon in Mumbai.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted all STEM characters. I wanted a nerd, a responsible type who was completely likeable.
Mumbai, a puzzle of a city, put together with jagged pieces of wildly fruitful dreams and shattered hopes. Here, some gambled for fame and fortune, some looted, some cut throats. They called it business. The successful crooks coveted an address along Queen’s Necklace—the C-shaped Marine Drive extending between the magnificent houses on Malabar Hill and the gleaming office towers of Nariman Point.
From the backseat of the speeding taxi, Seema Rawat grinned at the urchins jumping along the black tetrapod rocks which protected the boulevard from the tidal waves of the Arabian Sea. High-rises lined the road on the other side. A warm breeze whistled in through the partially open window of the cab, ruffling Seema’s curls.
“We’re here,” announced the driver, pulling in front of the building housing Imperium Technologies’ Indian office on its twenty-first floor. Speaking in coarse Hindi, he added, “Fifty rupees. Hurry up, madam. Lunchtime is peak time. I don’t want to miss another fare.”
Seema dug into her large, black tote for cash, but a volley of barks had her looking up. The tan stray dog she’d often seen walking this block was right outside. With playful leaps at the passenger window, he obstructed her way.
“Open the door,” suggested the driver, impatiently. “Once it thwacks him in the head, he’ll move.”
Rewarding the man with a glare, Seema exited through the door on the driver’s side. She counted out the fare and glanced briefly towards the small crowd at the entrance of the building. “Oh, crap,” she muttered. In the centre of the group was just the fellow she didn’t want to see.
With the shrill blast of an air horn, a Bullet bike tore down the road, perilously close to the parked taxi. The thug riding pillion hollered, “Hey, hey. Hot piece of ass.”
Barely avoiding having her foot run over, Seema squeaked and jumped closer to the taxi. She lost balance and fell on her bottom. “Bastar—” She had to swallow the rest of the curse. If she could, she would’ve chased after the bike and shoved her elbow into the thug’s puny chest. Unfortunately, she needed to stay put and stay silent or risk blowing her cover.
She crouched on the road and squinted through the windows of the taxi at the office building, trying not to breathe in the exhaust fumes from the succession of vehicles cruising down the road. The heat radiating from the asphalt had her drenched in sweat within seconds.
“Aey,” exclaimed the driver. “Are you crazy or what? You can’t sit on the street. Some poor fool will hit you and have his licence taken away. Get up, please. And gimme my money.”
“In a minute,” Seema muttered. The crook she was supposed to be covertly investigating was at the entrance. If she paid now, the taxi would take off, leaving her exposed.
“I told you it’s lunchtime—that’s it. You now owe me two hundred.”
Seema hissed. “Son of a—”
“Madam,” said the driver, shaking a finger. “Watch your language.”
Heaving in an angry breath, Seema said, “Fine. If you’re charging me extra to wait, I’m waiting inside.”
Without delay, she tugged open the passenger door and scrambled back in. The dog was still there, barking at her taxi. The silver-haired man in the white kurta-pyjama—the knee-length tunic and skinny pants favoured by Indian politicians—was also in his spot at the entrance. The nation’s finance minister. The target of Seema’s investigation.
He was conversing with the tall, leanly muscled man in the light-blue shirt and red power tie. Adhith Verma, the minister’s only son and Seema’s supposed boyfriend. Adhith was the assistant manager at the office where she was currently assigned. She’d been sent to Imperium Technologies to investigate the father-son duo for looting crores from the taxpayers.
Thank God she’d decided to go out for lunch, or she’d have had no excuses to avoid meeting the minister. She had to wait in the cab until he left. If Adhith introduced her as his girlfriend, the old man would run background checks on her. The whole plan could fall apart.
Someone in the politician’s entourage twisted around to glance in the direction of the barking dog. Seema ducked. Damn. She hoped the noisy animal didn’t give her away.
Dusting the dirt from her denim leggings, she asked, “Can you at least turn on the AC?” Two hundred rupees entitled her to some degree of comfort.
The driver peered at the crowd. “Is the old man your boss or something?” He hadn’t bothered to keep up with the who’s who of Indian politics, it seemed.
“No, my father-in-law,” Seema snapped. “What is it to you?”
“Oh, your father-in-law,” said the driver as if missing her sarcasm. “No wonder you’re hiding.” He twisted around and ogled her chest.
The sweat trickling down her cleavage had made the polyester tunic cling to her boobs. The outline of her best bra was visible through the navy-blue fabric. “Hey, keep your eyes in front.” Seema clutched her purse to her breasts. “Or my cousin will pay you a visit.”
“Your cousin?” jeered the driver. “Is he the police commissioner or what?”
Head swivelling one way and the other, Seema leaned forwards. “He’s with the underworld,” she lied, smiling beatifically.
The leer on the driver’s face vanished. “Get out of here.”
“Bhai is best friends with the don,” she insisted, prepared to elaborate on her non-existent cousin who worked for the imaginary mafia boss.
“I meant, gimme my money and get out of my taxi. Your father-in-law is gone.”
After a quick look at the entrance to make sure the driver wasn’t lying, Seema threw the cash into his extended hand and jumped out. When she raced into the blessedly cool lobby, the lift doors were closing. “Wait for me,” she screamed, galloping over. With a muttered apology, she squeezed herself in. She’d make it before Adhith. He had a habit of jogging up the stairs all the way to the twenty-first floor.
Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the metal plate where the buttons were lit, she scowled. She’d better make it before him. Her curls always got mad frizzy in humid weather, and with the mascara smeared around her light brown eyes, she closely resembled a feral cat. There were damp patches on the carefully selected tunic. If Adhith saw her in this shape, all her hard work of the last two months would go to waste.
By the time he sauntered in through the swinging glass doors, she was walking out of the staff bathroom, long curls clipped back into a neat ponytail and eyeliner once again crisp. Closing the door on the sharp smell of disinfectant, she tossed a shy smile at him.
“The men in your town must’ve been crazy,” Adhith said, his warm voice holding a teasing note. “Or they’d have never let a cutie like you leave.”
God, the cheesy line! It was enough to make a girl barf. Seema somehow managed to keep the coy smile on her face, batting her eyelashes for good measure. Until the mission was successfully completed, she’d have to maintain the village belle persona. Seema Rawat, former urchin from the slums of Mumbai, would have to remain the innocent from the hills of Himachal Pradesh, arrived in the big, bad city a few years back.
A shrill sound interrupted her thoughts. Digging into her tote, she found her phone. Before the caller could utter a word, she hissed, “I’m with my boss.”
“Heh?” asked an annoyed female voice.
“You know,” Seema whispered. “My boss. The assistant manager at Imperium.”
Adhith looked on, the expression on his face amused. With his clean-cut appearance, he was what they called a chikna munda—someone boyishly handsome. Seema had never been able to figure out the appeal of such men.
“Well, get rid of him and call me back,” snapped the voice from the other end. “I need an update.” Before Seema could say another word, the line cut off.
“Problem?” asked Adhith.
“My auntie,” explained Seema, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
Her auntie, otherwise known as The Woman Who’d Hauled Her Niece out of Her Drunk Father’s Home. The Mumbai director of The Income Tax Criminal Investigation Department. Seema’s actual boss.
The digital clock on the wall flashed 2:00 PM. Lunchtime was done. A hundred-odd people swarmed in through the doors, entering the cubicle maze. There was no opportunity for more chitchat with Adhith.
As soon as she sat at her tiny desk, the phone rang a second time. Turning off the ringer, she muttered to herself, “I’m twenty-friggin’-four. Can you please trust me to know what I’m doing?”
If Seema had actually said it to her auntie, she’d have been subjected to such looks of immense disappointment words wouldn’t be needed to remind her of every bad deed she’d ever committed. Thanks to some do-gooder women, her auntie had escaped the slums along Grant Road at the age of fourteen, and after making something of herself, she’d shown up to snatch her drunk brother’s only child from him. She had a court order, and there was nothing the drunk could do.
Twelve-year-old Seema had not been grateful. She’d been on the roof of the two-room shed she called home in the middle of a deluge when her auntie came wading through the grey-green water flooding the narrow lane, clad in a dark raincoat. She was accompanied by a couple of government-type men.
Shuddering violently from the needles of cold rain stinging her back through the torn cotton chemise, Seema was trying to weigh down the plastic sheet covering the hole in the asbestos roof with a couple of bricks. She could barely see the visitors through the torrent and the wet tendrils of hair hanging in front of her eyes.
“Crazy people,” she muttered, not sparing the group more than a quick glance. Only the insane would venture outside in this thunderstorm. Thousands of men, women, and children were crammed into the dilapidated buildings lining both sides of the street, but with lightning crackling across the darkened sky every other minute, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen even on the balconies circling the upper storeys.
When the group bellowed her name, curiosity had her leaping from the roof to the top of the plastic water tank two feet away. From there, it was an easy scramble to the flooded street where she listened to the woman shout over the downpour to introduce herself.
Back inside the two-room shed, Seema tossed out the dead rat which had floated in with the dirty rainwater. The woman who claimed to be Seema’s auntie wrinkled her nose at the putrid odour.
Rubbing herself dry with an old shirt of her loser father’s, Seema tried telling the visitors she was happy with her life, thank you very much! Going to school only when she felt like it, stealing coins from the temple collection box, smoking dope with the other kids from the colony… her mother had eloped with a lover the year before, and her father was usually too drunk to care what she got up to, but Seema had her bhai log—her peeps. They’d kept Seema out of the redlight part of the slums, where girls either died young or grew up to be madams.
The neighbourhood gang had admitted Seema as an apprentice pickpocket. The boss, whom the members called Usthaad—their teacher—fed her most days and personally supervised her education in lockpicking and key casting. There were tears in the one eye he had—the other having been incinerated in an unfortunate accident with a propane torch—when he announced he’d at last found a worthy heir.
The cops from the local station had caught Seema a couple of times, but the judges at the children’s court always let her go with warnings. Her large eyes and trembling lower lip served her well. Her principal warned her she’d end up in reform school, but Seema didn’t care.
A frozen expression on her face, the woman listened for a while before reaching out to twist Seema’s ear as hard as she could. Seema was dragged through the dirty water in the streets all the way to the waiting taxi. The government men on either side made sure she couldn’t jump out until they got to her auntie’s two-bedroom prison/flat in Panvel.
Seema tried every trick to escape the prison. Smashing dishes, kicking, biting, scratching… unfortunately, the woman possessed a belt of some colour or other in karate. Seema also ended up sporting a few colours. On her backside. She tried a hunger strike, but her spirit wasn’t strong enough to resist the aroma of butter chicken and basmati rice. Abetted by her loser father, she ran away twice. There was no third time. Seema spotted the pimp the loser had waiting for her and escaped in the nick of time. When she got back to safety, her auntie arranged for the loser to be beaten to a pulp.
Finally, Seema and her auntie shook hands over a peace deal. Seema would stay and follow all the rules. Once she got herself a college degree, she could leave. If she wanted.
What followed was sheer torture. Seema was kept at home for a year, being taught how to read and write, how to bathe, how to dress, how to keep her nails clean. How to defend herself.
When she was finally allowed to attend school, she’d been strictly warned not to mention her background to anyone. Seema marched in, determined to flout the warning. She wasn’t ashamed of who she was, by God.
At the end of her first week at the all-girls institution, one of her classmates lost her silver anklet, and a giant search was organised. The principal called Seema into the office and told her if she returned it right away, there would be no consequences. Seema’s vehement denials were not believed. At lunch, Seema eyed the cliques hanging out together, whispering behind their hands. She squared her shoulders and stared into the distance, pretending to be unaware of the tears rolling down her cheeks. Before the end of the school day, the anklet was found in the craft room—the one place Seema had not been to. She loathed basket making.
It took one week for Seema’s auntie to enrol her in another school.
“You have only two options,” said the auntie. “Give them a plausible story and fit in or mind your own business. You don’t have to lie, but you don’t need to tell them anything, either.”
Seema breezily lied, cooking up the story of a childhood in Himachal and how after the death of her entire family in a landslide, her auntie adopted her. Picking her up on the dot at last bell, her auntie dutifully corroborated all the falsehoods, but there had been disappointment in her eyes.
Her auntie didn’t think she knew how to stay out of trouble, so Seema wasn’t allowed to hang out with the other girls after school. When her friends chattered excitedly about going shopping together or attending a wedding, all Seema could do was glumly decline. She’d agreed to stick by rules, and she’d do it. Even if she totally died of boredom.
It wasn’t all bad. Sandwiched between school and self-defence lessons were the Sundays she and her auntie spent at the movie theatre. When they chose to stay home, they danced madly to Hindi songs from the black-and-white era. Seema preferred the more modern songs they could flop around to. But hey, whatever. Slowly, “the woman” turned to “family.” Still, every minute of Seema’s day needed to be accounted for.
Unexpectedly, she discovered a love of numbers, something else she shared with her auntie. Patterns fascinated her. A degree in mathematics from Mumbai University was the outcome, followed by four years at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata doing two master’s degrees—first in math and then in cryptology and security.
In both cities, Seema had been excited to live in the hostel with the rest of the students. The first time she stayed past curfew, her auntie dragged her out of the Santa Cruz campus of MU, telling her she could commute to classes from home. Seema’s group of friends explained to the French girl who was there to study yoga how young Indian women were always expected to toe the line. Thwarting the unwritten rules of society would bring heaping doses of condemnation on the culprits and their families.
The Kolkata episode when Seema was completing her postgraduation had been worse. Before she could even think of committing an infraction, her auntie got herself transferred to the city, and they were back to sharing a flat.
No matter. The day Seema got her spanking new degree in cryptology and security, she planned to declare independence. Unfortunately, employers who seemed so excited at recruiting events sent polite rejection letters after background checks. Juvenile records were supposed to be sealed, but Seema was convinced her early years in the slums prompted more in-depth searches than usual. Six months of futile job-hunting later, she accepted a position with her auntie—now back in Mumbai—working to expose tax fraud.
While Seema considered herself to have matured, her auntie didn’t agree. Even at work, Seema was watched with an eagle eye. Whenever there was a murmur about nepotism, she ended up assigned to the most mind-numbing of projects. Which in an income tax office could get excruciating!
When the Verma investigation came up, Seema pushed her way into this undercover assignment in the middle of the meeting to discuss it. With their superior from Delhi watching, there had been nothing her auntie could do to stop her without endangering both their jobs—except, of course, call twenty times a day, demanding “updates.”
Forget all aunties, Seema scolded herself. She threw a glance at the far end of the large hall, where the manager and assistant manager had their own rooms. Oh, yeah. Adhith Verma and his thief of a father were going down, down, down. This cryptanalyst was going to destroy them. She was going to prove herself to the world, to her auntie, to whomever was remotely interested. Then, she’d proudly proclaim herself a free woman.
It was another couple of hours before Seema found the time to return her auntie’s call, but she needed a spot where she wouldn’t be overheard. The chaiwalla was making his afternoon rounds, selling little glass tumblers of sweetened tea and chilli pakorey, the deep-fried green pepper poppers. Seema scanned the hall holding the hundred-plus employees of the cybersecurity firm’s Mumbai division. Leaving the office before the end of the business day was out of the question. The security guard at the entrance would snitch. The staff bathroom next to the front door had no privacy, whatsoever.
For as long as Seema had been in the office, the manager’s room had been empty. The holder of the title had been in San Jose for the last six months, training for higher and better things. Adhith served as manager as well as assistant in the interim, but his boss was expected back in Mumbai the following week.
Seema hadn’t yet met the man. She had previously made acquaintance of his room with its nice, clean loo. The first time she used it, she’d found the office accountant waiting outside, telling her the room was out of bounds. After the rebuke, Seema sauntered all the way to the entrance to the office and used the space between the last row of cubicles and the wall to get to the room without drawing attention. The door remained unlocked. Apparently, the accountant trusted the employees of Imperium to do what they were told. Not that there was anything there to steal besides furniture. Anyway, Seema was only interested in the privacy she’d get in the loo.
This time, she found the chaiwalla barring the door, a thin towel wrapped turban-style around his moustachioed head. “Hold on,” he said. “You’re not allowed in the manager’s office.”
As though he were the CEO! “I need to use the bathroom in there,” she pleaded. “The staff latrine stinks.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said the chaiwalla, heartlessly.
Eyes darting in both directions, Seema leaned forwards to whisper, “Lady troubles.”
The chaiwalla flushed. “Maybe, this once,” he mumbled. “Be careful to leave everything as it is. If Vikram saar finds out, he won’t like it.” As far as Seema knew, the chaiwalla had been delivering snacks to their office for years, but he still used “saar”—the South Indian version of “sir”—instead of “saab,” the Mumbai version.
“Vikram saab is in San Jose,” said Seema.
“I know.” The chaiwalla preened. “My wife’s cousin lives there.” Face turning stern, he admonished, “Go quickly and get back to your seat before anyone sees you.”
The Directorate of Income Tax (Intelligence and Criminal Investigation) had been aware of certain companies making sizable contributions to a couple of charities—all perfectly legal and tax-exempt. The finance minister ended up purchasing properties for a pittance from the board members of said charities. Companies which made the original charitable contributions got their projects through the finance ministry without much fuss.
While auditing the companies, the DCI recognised the pattern for the bribery it was, but the courts would demand solid proof. Weeks of diligent research by the department’s brightest cryptanalysts yielded no evidence of online criminality.
“Off-grid transactions,” said the team leader. The other possibility was that the digital security was so good the department’s cryptanalysts had been tricked into thinking there was nothing to see. The prime suspect was the minister’s son, Adhith Verma, graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai and the assistant manager in the India division of Imperium Technologies, one of the world’s largest cybersecurity firms.
The team requested a warrant to seize Adhith Verma’s personal and work devices, but the minute they approached the judicial system, the minister would shut down the investigation.
“Time to contact the CBI?” the director of the Mumbai division asked the director general from New Delhi. “Unfortunately, they’re going to run into the same problem we did. If they try to get a warrant, the minister and his cronies in the government will find out and force them to cease operations.”
“The Intelligence Bureau can do a lot of things without needing a warrant,” mused the director general. “Some of those so-called charities have been accused of funding terrorist activities. We can make a case for involving IB.”
“No way,” interrupted the leader of the analysts, a sneer on his face. “What’s IB going to do? Have someone steal the data? We can do that ourselves.”
The director rocked back in her leather chair. “Don’t be ridiculous. Covert operations are best left to the cops.”
“I’ll pit any of my men against them,” insisted the team leader. “Any day.”
The director eyed the young people arrayed behind the leader—baby-faced, earnest. “Right,” she said, dryly. “Who’s going to volunteer?”
“I will,” piped up Seema. With everyone in the room turning towards her, she carefully avoided the thunderous gaze of her auntie, the Mumbai director, and focused on the big boss from New Delhi.
Her auntie ground out, “Your enthusiasm is remarkable, but there are legal issues to consider. The income tax department is not allowed to do warrantless searches. We have to hand the case over to IB.”
The director general held up his palm. “Hold on. Miss… Rawat, right? If I’m not mistaken, you’re the one who first alerted the director about the minister’s pattern.”
Squaring her shoulders in pride, Seema nodded.
A middle-aged man with a skinny moustache, the director general smiled. “It’s only fair you get to continue your work on the case, but as our Mumbai director said, there are legal issues. After all the effort, we don’t want our evidence getting tossed out of court. However, I have a solution. I’ll talk to the director of IB and ask them to take you on deputation.”
Enthusiastically, the team leader nodded. “It will work. Seema is the best man for the case.”
The look on her auntie’s face was priceless.
Seema went through several interviews with officers from the white-collar crimes division of IB. There was a battery of tests she had to pass. The officers were surprised to find her skilled in self-defence and adept at handling a gun. The years of torture/training her auntie had put her through in the name of safety paid off. Seema was accepted on deputation and assigned to the team attempting to break into the systems at Adhith Verma’s cybersecurity firm, Imperium Technologies.
By then, IB’s field agents were covertly investigating the charities and businesses that had come to the notice of the income tax department. The bureau even installed a mole in the minister’s office. Adhith Verma’s role was suspected of being limited to electronic security, so the plan was to get him from the safety of cyberspace.
The digital tools available at IB’s disposal nearly made Seema’s eyes pop out of their sockets, but neither technology nor skill helped them penetrate Imperium’s devices or even Adhith Verma’s personal gadgets. Oh, Seema got in, but the information she encountered was so bland and benign she had to be in a decoy server.
“We could force our way in,” Seema ventured. They possessed the digital equivalents of cannonballs in their arsenal. “But they’d know.”
“No,” snapped the SSP—the senior superintendent of police—assigned to the project, pulling her printed hijab more securely over her head. “If it were that easy, we could’ve simply asked Imperium for help. We didn’t because we can’t risk any of them alerting Verma. We’re not breaking in, either. There are field agents deployed, investigating all those charities and businesses connected to the minister. Once he knows there was an infiltration into his son’s stuff, he’d definitely suspect something, and our agents might get outed. The whole mission could fall apart. For another, we’re not talking about some two-bit company. If word gets out the Indian government hacked into Imperium, it will become a PR disaster for the nation. Multinationals will think twice about doing business with us. We can’t tank the economy to get one corrupt bastard.”
Physical break-ins to access Adhith Verma’s devices were also out of the question. The bureau could conduct warrantless surveillance only electronically, but they weren’t beyond faking robberies to get evidence. Still, their current suspect was the goddamned finance minister. He had the money, the political clout, and the media savvy to turn the tables on IB by accusing them of illegal practices. The case would get tossed out of court. IB would also lose to the politician in the court of public opinion. If Verma retained his position, the bureau and its officials would pay for their audacity. Of course, the second they tried to get a warrant to make it all legal, Minister Verma would hear of it and cover his tracks.
Finally, the bureau decided to send Seema undercover as an employee of Imperium, hoping she could get Adhith to grant her access to his devices. The SSP commented, “Rawat is young and presentable enough to attract Adhith Verma’s attention and skilled enough to extract data from his machines.”
Just what every twenty-four-year-old woman loved to hear about her appearance. “Presentable enough.” And skilled enough? She was the best even among the IB team!
“Be careful, Rawat,” warned the SSP. “Don’t do dumb shit. The only reason we’re sending you in is you have an unusual level of talent for breaking into digital systems. It’s all we expect you to do. Nothing more. We have experienced officers handling the rest of it.”
Nevertheless, Seema was thrilled. This was her chance to prove her mettle. If she got evidence implicating Adhith Verma, his father would automatically fall. The proof collected by the “experienced officers” might not even be necessary. Once the bureau presented Seema’s data to the president and the prime minister, there would be nothing the Verma duo could do to slither out of trouble. As Seema later announced to her auntie, she—the former pickpocket—would infiltrate the criminals’ lair and catch them.
IB didn’t even have to squeeze anyone out to create a job opening. With a whitewashed résumé, Seema answered an ad on Naukri.com, and in less than a month, she was hired. The day after, IB issued her a clean phone—a device which could not be tracked—and a brand-new Glock 26, with a couple of options for holsters.
She’d now been at Imperium for two months. During the time, she’d managed to infiltrate not only the digital systems but also the manager’s private loo. A clean space from where she could use the clean phone.
Seema closed the lid on the toilet bowl and sat, biting her tongue to hold back the blue streak of curses hovering at the tip. When in boss mode, the auntie always had that effect on Seema.
“Come home,” came the low, measured voice over the phone. “You’ve had two months.”
It wasn’t enough time. Cybersecurity at Imperium was superlative, almost impossible to breach from the outside. Adhith was not the architect of the digital fortress. The manager—currently in California—had added the modifications protecting Imperium’s systems. The same product established them as the leader in the cybersecurity market. Seema spent some time admiring the manager’s handiwork before getting down to business. Breaking into the internal systems hadn’t been easy even from the inside, but she’d graduated top of her class at the Indian Statistical Institute. Unfortunately, her search yielded zilch. Zero. Nothing.
“You’re not going to find anything you already haven’t,” continued her auntie.
“I can do this,” insisted Seema. “The bureau believes I can. Why won’t you?”
“Because there’s nothing else you can do.”
“What I need is a chance to check Adhith’s personal devices.”
“If he doesn’t trust you—”
“He does. He asked me to his flat a few times.” Where his computer would be. Where she could also sneak a peek at his personal phone.
There was silence from the other end of the phone line for a couple of seconds. “And?”
Seema hesitated, wondering how much she dared divulge. With Adhith, it was never a simple invitation to spend time together. The expectation of sex had been clear. She shuddered. “He… umm… wanted me to stay over.”
“No,” snapped her auntie.
Flippantly, Seema insisted, “He’s young and handsome.” Not to mention fashion-conscious. She’d never seen Adhith Verma less than perfectly groomed. “Why not?”
“Who do you think you are? Some kind of super-spy? Get your backside home. Now. I’ll have the director general talk to IB.”
Heat rushed into Seema’s head. “Don’t. You. Dare.”
“Oh, yeah? You can’t fire me. I’m union.” Glaring at the phone, Seema hung up.
It wasn’t as if she’d been serious about jumping into bed with Adhith. No. She wasn’t going there. The nation could only ask so much of her.
Seema fumed. She couldn’t reveal the conversation to anyone, but she badly needed to vent, or she’d rip the head off the next person she saw.
Unfortunately, her personal phone had been left in her auntie’s flat to minimise chances of being tracked, and the contact list on her clean phone was limited to those she’d met on her mission. Any calls between her and her superiors—including her auntie—were automatically and permanently erased. The company-issued phone listed only Imperium’s numbers on it. I’m a pathetic loser—not a single person to confide in.
With a groan, Seema slumped back. Her head hit the toilet tank. The flush handle, to be precise. Rubbing her sore scalp, she glanced around the spotless bathroom and reluctantly grinned. She couldn’t say this assignment didn’t have its perks.
She had a private loo—at least, until Monday, when the manager, Vikram Joshi, returned from California. And there was the—
Seema brightened. There was someone she could call.
Vikram Joshi was back in Imperium’s Mumbai office. The tap-tap-tap of hundreds of keyboards, the steel labyrinth into which every man and woman disappeared when the clock struck nine, the stink of the dirty latrine on the left…
Home, sweet home, he mused, eyeing the maze from the entrance. Well, office, sweet office, at least. The manager’s room at the far end would be home until he found a new flat to rent.
Before flying back, he’d contacted his former landlord through WhatsApp to see if his old one-bedroom in Andheri were still available. In a response filled with emojis, the wheezy buddha—the old man—said Vikram must be crazy if he expected the flat to be kept vacant when he’d declined to pay rent for the months he was away.
Vikram hadn’t cared. He could always crash on Adhith’s sofa for the weekend—or for the rest of the month. What were best friends for? Especially, when they were employed by the same firm. Except, Adhith hadn’t answered his calls. Hot nights with the new girlfriend, no doubt. Adhith must have talked her into moving in—which meant he wouldn’t want Vikram around.
Desperately needing to throw his luggage somewhere and take a long nap, he finally called his mother from Mumbai airport’s noisy lounge. The five-bedroom duplex in the upscale neighbourhood of Cuffe Parade had enough room. Only, the apple of his parents’ eye was visiting. The son-in-law of their dreams. The super-achiever neurosurgeon. The arrogant dumbass who knew exactly how to put down a mid-level manager at an IT firm.
Nope. Vikram would rather sleep on the footpath than sit through a family dinner with the dumbass brother-in-law.
There was no way Vikram was forking out cash for a hotel. Every extra rupee in his wallet was going towards his dream. Towards the day he’d open his own cyberprotection and cryptanalysis business. He’d both destroy walls and build impenetrable ones. His name would be on the cover of Forbes, whispered with the same reverence afforded men like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The Joshi family would finally have to open their eyes and see their own son. Until then, Vikram refused to be under the same roof as the dumbass.
So he’d come straight to the office. The manager’s room would do until after the weekend when the dumbass left the family home. Fortunately, Vikram’s direct supervisor, who was stationed in Singapore, wouldn’t know what the newly returned manager was up to. Unfortunately, Vikram hadn’t showered in two days and smelled rank. Sweat glued the olive-green T-shirt to his chest, and the jeans had seen better days. Also, he needed a haircut. A shave, too, he mused, scratching the stubble on his jaw.
Hoping to get to the room without encountering any of his subordinates, Vikram hauled his black suitcase and backed in through the glass doors. The security guard dozing on the chair by the entrance woke with a start. Vikram put a finger to his lips.
There was a narrow gap between the wall and the last row of cubicles on the right. The back wheel of the suitcase was squeaky. Cursing profusely in his mind, he lifted it an inch off the floor and squeezed through the space. It wasn’t easy when he was six-foot-two with frame to match. Not to mention the bulk of the luggage he had to manoeuvre.
The thirty-two-kilogram weight of the bag didn’t bother him. If there was one thing even his parents had to acknowledge Vikram possessed more than the dumbass, it was muscle. Otherwise, the super-achiever was movie-star handsome, while Vikram was… well, no one had yet run screaming at the sight of him, but unkempt hair, thick, slashing eyebrows, and a nose broken in two places courtesy of a childhood fight didn’t exactly make him silver screen material.
Phew. Made it. Vikram shut the door behind him. At least, the company hadn’t rented the manager’s room out to someone else simply because he’d been away six months. Thank God it came with an attached bathroom, shower space included. Dropping the suitcase by the door, he sank into the big, leather chair behind the desk and kicked off his sandals. Once the employees left for the day, he could slip out and get something to eat from the South Indian restaurant a few streets down. Soft idlis with spicy sambar… eyes drifting shut, he daydreamed of the rice cakes and sour vegetable stew.
The toilet flushed.
Sweet, cool coconut water. He hadn’t had any in a long time.
A female voice cursed, using words fouler than the ones he’d heard at the men’s hostel in his engineering college days.
Vikram sat up. Someone was using the latrine in the manager’s office? His latrine? Whoever it was would die today.
The door squeaked open. A hankie in one hand, the girl was wiping her face and speaking into the phone—something about her auntie.
Who was this? Vikram couldn’t yet see her face, but he didn’t remember any female underlings with precisely this physicality. Five-foot-five and decent curves. Her black platform sandals and denim leggings showed off long and shapely limbs. The navy-blue kurta featured pink flowers embroidered all over. The faint echo of a soft, floral perfume reached Vikram’s nostrils.
Turning to shut the door, the girl swore to whomever was on the other end of the call, “I’m going to kill her.”
There was an unintelligible squawk from the phone.
“You haven’t met my auntie,” the girl exclaimed, her tone clear and light. “She’s not your average bitch. She’s a criminal bitch—” The girl turned. Her eyes snagged on Vikram. Mouth opening in shock, she froze.
A few dark curls had escaped her loose ponytail, framing even features and enormous, light brown eyes. Vikram finished his cataloguing. Mmhmm, not bad. He especially appreciated the toned calves.
An ear-splitting shriek.
He leapt out of his chair, pulse thundering at his temples. “Stop,” he ordered, and took a step towards her.
Eyes widening, she screamed even louder. There were alarmed noises coming from the phone and shouts from outside the office door. A thud. The unlocked door swung open. A large form rushed in, tripping over Vikram’s suitcase and tumbling to the floor. Following him in were four or five men, all of them Vikram’s subordinates. The one on the floor was the rotund accountant.
The second man in skidded to a stop. “Vikram?” exclaimed Adhith Verma, Vikram’s best friend and assistant manager. “Bro, when did you get here? Why’s Seema screaming?”
“Seema?” echoed Vikram. The foul-mouthed latrine-trespasser, wannabe murderer of criminal aunties, was Seema Rawat, the shy cutie from the small town of Sarkaghat? Adhith’s new girlfriend?
Links to Purchase Print Books
Buy One Monsoon in Mumbai Print Edition at Amazon
Buy One Monsoon in Mumbai Print Edition at Barnes and Noble
Links to Purchase eBooks – Click links for book samples and reviews
Buy One Monsoon in Mumbai On Amazon
Buy One Monsoon in Mumbai on Barnes and Noble/Nook
Have you read this book? Tell us what you thought! All information was provided by the author and not edited by us. This is so you get to know the author better.