"I'm sending you something, a video that I guarantee is going to change your life forever", were his exact words over the phone.
Zombie like, Manoj stared into the rectangular screen that was ablaze with a million psychedelic colours one moment, now gone blank like the Arctic Sea, white as white can ever aspire to be-from choc a bloc with myriad figures, known and unknown, to an eerily still canvas sans any colour, hellish white as a freshly widowed young woman's saree.
His mind a turnstile and all at sea, unsure as to what had just happened, the 39 year investment banker began to furiously jab the computer keyboards in a vain attempt to spring the damn contraption back to life.
All efforts bit the dust!
Despite the airconditiong, all Manoj Sethi, the hot shot financial wizard, who had just been voted the title 'the most powerful financial business leader under 40", could do was wonder what the video could be about, who all were in it, and most worryingly why had Arnab, his college friend, one he hadn't seen in the past 18 years years, surface all of a sudden in a real blast from the past, and say that this video that he had promised (or, threatened?) to send was going to change his life forever!
At that instant as the TV news flashed that all 'social media services including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al had come to a grinding halt thanks to a suspected global hacker attack, Manoj knew that his wait to find out his future had just got extended a wee bit excrutiatingly longer.
The whisky as it flowed down his throat began to sooth his frayed nerves. Still, Manoj was far from normal.
With two empties out bottles and another unopened one sending overtures from the table beside him, Manoj was living his own private hell.
As he dug far deeper into the sofa, his mind did a critical analysis of the ramifocations of the aborted chat that had happened an hour ago.
His battered mind battled itself as it went on a monologue.
So there was a video, right? As per that wily Arnab, who had chosen, rather opportunistically, to crash land into his world, the 20 second clip was life changing.
What could be in that clip that made Arnab sound so portentous?
Was there something very destructive, threatening in that short video? Something incriminating? Something that would render him very, very vulnerable to...
To what? Yes, to what?
Even before the words escaped his lips, Manoj
knew what he was up against.
So, this unscrupulous wolf in sheep's clothing, was planning to blackmail him, extort money out of his childhood friend, one he had known since the two were under three feet high and scampered around in half pants so ultra short that it exposed all but the bare essentials.
The realisation made Manoj sit upright. He pulled out a cigarette. Perhaps, he thought, nicotine would serve as the much needed palliative, and help bring clarity. Blowing concentric circular fumes into the roof, Manoj listed out all his indulgences, no more than harmless piccadiloes of a man, a highly successful Type A, one who prided himself on his matchless machismo and virility.
First, the obvious financial adventures.
Had someone got hold of his illegal dollar stash in St. Kitts, the globally notorious infamous dot in the world map that was the byword for anyone and everyone who had amassed unimaginable wealth beyond their known sources of income?
Or, if not money, then what else but women?
Yes, the video must be of one of innumerable encounters he had had in the course of the past ten years with some of the most beautiful and alluring women, most of whom were wives and girl friends of hot shot industry captains, sports heroes, and quite a few even high ranking politicians, Manoj reminisced.
Had one of his encounters/ dealings, slam ban sessions been recorded and now was being used against him? Quite plausible, Manoj, ever the pragmatic person he was, reasoned.
As he took another drag of Marlboro Red, the soon to be forty year old next pondered who then would be the most likely blackmailer.
His ex-wife Pooja? The thought was a mere blip, just hovered and then in a flash flew off.
No ways would Kanchan, his childhood sweetheart, blessed with a heart of pure gold, one who never carried an evil bone in her heart, stoop go such a despicable low.
Manoj recalled her last parting words: Manoj, you are a good man, right now gone off track. I pray to God he very soon steer you towards the right path.
Pious well meaning words from a woman who not long back was, is, his one and only love, sighed Manoj, his pain at having let go an angel all too apparent in the agony filled contortion that was his face.
With Pooja out of the picture, Manoj wondered who then might the culprit be. Who had the gumption, the gall to take on him, he who the business world knew as not just a highly successful self made entrepreneur but also one who was known to be very philanthropic by nature? Who, Manoj wondered, could ever turn against him and plot such a despicable thing as make a video to be used to extract something from him, blackmailing at its extreme worst.
It was then that the thought hit him, smashing onto his skull, the bone crushing impact no less than one who's just been hit by a roving overloaded highway truck gone berserk.
Madhav. The name slipped out of his lips ala a snake's hiss.
Madhav Solanki. Yes, who else but Madhav Solanki to ever even think of such a vile act.
As the name traversed inside his pallete, Madhav travelled back in time, some seven years back.
...Hotel Century Plaza, Fifth Floor, executive wing, Room No. 509. The hotel door bell rang...He had ordered Chinese. Plus, a bottle of red wine.
He had opened the door for room service.
At the door, instead stood Madhav, his then business partner.
The latter's eyes swept past him, at his wife Manisha who lay on the bed a mere two feet away, her beautiful pure white chiffon saree on the floor.
'Madhav...I...I...I can explain...I'
Madhav had turned his back and left. His parting words were surprisingly not to him but his shell shocked wife:' You slut, you too will pay for this!'
As Manoj recalled the incident, he realised that if anyone was the perfect candidate to turn blackmailer then it had to be his ex-business partner Madhav. Why would he? Well, for starters, he had an affair, however brief it was, with the latter's wife. And if that were not enough, there was one more reason that could heighten his immense hatred for Manoj.
Madhav, just after the incident, had severed all ties, business and personal, with Manoj. Plus, he had begun working the phones, calling up all their mutual acquaintances and clients, warning and cautioning them against doing any business with Manoj termi him as a charatcterless man who was also an alcoholic who couldn't ever be trusted.
As Manoj Seth paced back and forth in his room, he began to believe that he anyone had any strong reason to make a video and resort to blackmail, but had to be Madhav Solanki.
The thought made him break out in cold sweat.
What did he want? What was in that video that he was about to send? Did the short clip contain the two of them-Manoj and Manisha's sex scene? What was Madhav upto? Money! Character assassination? What the hell?
He half screamed out in excruciating agony.
As his shrieks hit the roof and richotted off the walls, he heard another sound. It too a while for him to register what was happening.
It was the regular ping that emanated from his laptop.
Still in a daze, Manoj stumbled his way towards his study. There, as he opened his laptop, the first words that leapt out of the screen were: Hey, just pulled an April 1 on you.
Manoj felt his body twisting and contorting, every muscle sinew as if contracting to disallow the hot rush of blood that was invading through his veins.
As his eyes, blood shot red, threatened to pop out of their sockets, Manoj Sethi wondered who among his legion of friends and acquaintances (or, were it enemies?!) could have planned such a diabolically sick plan.