Payback Time (SwaSan) Episode 15


I made a mental note to get some proper decor, then went to the bed, and for an hour lay there looking at somebody else’s musical heroes, holding expensive guitars with exotic finishes, and letting my thoughts whirl around. Laksh, college, CBI, hacking, Mallik, the prison, Pandey, coffee, and back to Laksh.

Always back to Laksh…..


Unlike other schools I had attended, This one was modern and neat. It had no graffiti, no litter, and no broken windows. Its smart tree-lined paths and clean buildings showed no signs of urban decay.

But it did have the familiar school cliques. Grouped around the courtyard were the sports freaks, the chatroom junkies, the goths, the skaters, the slackers, the headbangers, the no-hopers, and of course the queen bee and her wanna-bees.

Somewhere around would be the latest addition to that list of subcultures: the computer hobbyists and hackers—my people. But they hung out only in cyberspace.

AP had told me to find Mr. Sanjeet, who had been prepared and had agreed to cooperate (the word she used) by slotting me into high school life as quickly as possible. After five minutes of wandering around the administrative complex, I finally found a door marked “Mr. Sanjeet” and knocked on it. I got no reply, and looked at my watch. It was 9:04 a.m.; Sanjeet was late. I sat on a chair outside the door, and for the next few minutes, I watched a member of the staff walk to each office, delivering mail.Across from me, a door with “Mr. Naman” on it opened, and a good-looking, fashionable girl came out. She said good-bye to the office’s occupant, and then strode past me with purposeful steps, and then out into the corridor. I’d had talks with teachers, too, but I was guessing that they were a different sort of discussion.

Teachers were always on me for wasting my potential. My mother had signed ten years of grade cards with must try harder on them.

My grades got even worse when I started hacking seriously, and ditching anything not necessary. The way I figured it, I didn’t need to study subjects like English. I already knew half a dozen languages. Yes, they were all computer languages, but you get my point right. Geography? I chatted over the Internet with hackers in Russia, Sweden, and a dozen other countries. I picked up more information about their lives and countries by talking to them online than I ever could have in a classroom. Home Ec? I didn’t consider that necessary, because I had spent my formative years cooking for myself.

I heard the computer screen in Naman’s office ping as he hit the power button, and then the keyboard’s quiet clickety clack as he typed away. From the other direction, I heard a door slam shut, followed by a rustle, and then Sanjeet came around the corner holding a bunch of papers and a briefcase. He was tall and thin, and was dressed in a light brown suit, with a vest. He looked harassed.

“You must be Sanky Kundra,” he said without smiling.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m Sanjeet. I spoke to your . . . father, DP.”


He put a key in the door, unlocked it, pushed it open, and said, “Come in.”

I followed him in and closed the door behind me. Thankfully, he didn’t bother with small talk, and instead opened his drawer and took out a stack of cards and passes. He sighed.

“These are the items you need.”

He handed over the documents, and a locker key.

” Thank You”

He took out some more papers, looked through them, and then handed them to me.

“Here is your class schedule, and your user account for the computer network. This hall pass will allow you to go where you need to go.”

I stuffed all the documents into my jacket pocket.

Frustration suddenly appeared in Sanjeet’s voice. “I had some difficulty in preparing these. I wish I had been told a little earlier about your arrival,” he said

“Yes,” I said, just to be saying something

He eyed me dubiously, and I got the idea that Daya had railroaded him into complying, and he resented it. That made two of us.

“I’m told you’re bright,” Sanjeet said.

I shrugged.

“Well, then, you’ll be able to understand my position. I expect you to act responsibly and sensibly. I will not have anything going on in this school that threatens the safety of the students or the staff.”

I nodded thoughtfully.

“You already do,” I said, referring to Mallik and his operation, with just enough drama to cut the conversation short. Sanjeet cleared his throat. Daya would have told him not to discuss such things. Sanjeet stood and walked to the door.

“Follow me,” he said bluntly.

We passed another girl outside Naman’s door. Despite the chilly autumn air, she was wearing a T-shirt that didn’t quite fit, showing her midriff. I smiled at her. At school, I used to get pinged by girls to tell me about social events that I never had time for, and never went to. But when Daya had put his plan to me, I decided to become much more sociable. I knew that I’d have to make time for a girlfriend. Using girls wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I knew that they would be good cover. I’d have an excuse whenever I needed to get away from the constant surveillance.

I gave the girl an admiring glance that was genuine and she saw me looking and didn’t look away—but already Sanjeet was ushering me down the corridor.

“You were supposed to have English first lecture, but you’re already late.

Rather than burst in, I’ll show you around, and you can sit in the library until your next class, which is computer studies—something I believe you know a bit about.

He said it a bit sarcastically, but I let it go. I could imagine Daya and Abhijeet sitting in his office, both glaring at him.

We wandered a series of corridors, and eventually stopped at a classroom, which looked like it had been built the week before. “Our new IT suite,” Sanjeet said.

This was more my scene. I looked through the window at rows of shiny new computers that would have impressed every parent in the country. I wondered briefly why high schoolers would need such powerful machines. Even in those days, I could have done a PhD in computer science using a refurbished computer that cost less than ten thousand rupees, combined with free software downloaded from the Internet.

I followed Sanjeet to the library, where he left me. After that, I never saw him again during the whole time I attended the school—not even in the corridor. I did think about sneaking into the staff room, but I never got around to it.

The library was surprisingly small and unsurprisingly badly stocked. The entire computer section consisted of just a dozen books titled “Computers for Beginners” and cheery can-do stuff like that, full of pictures and cartoons. So I spent my spare time gazing out of the window, watching the breeze playing with the leaves.

When the school bell rang, I walked back along the hallway, to the computer room.

I figured Arnav might already be sitting somewhere in the classroom, and I didn’t want to make eye contact just yet. So when I went in, I didn’t look around, but walked straight up to Mr. Lokesh, and introduced myself. He said that he would come to talk to me later, and told me to find an empty seat, which I did. He put a spreadsheet up on the big electronic whiteboard, and started to talk about 22 spreadsheets. I listened for a few minutes, which is the time it takes for my brain to switch off when bored, and then took a quick look at the coursework. Then I turned to my machine.

The computers had been arranged in the classroom so the teacher could see what most of the pupils were doing. But with Lokesh turned toward the board, I would be able to work in unseen spurts. As quietly as possible, I logged onto the machine with the username and password that Sanjeet had handed me. The machine was running Microsoft Windows, an operating system that I had become familiar with over the years.

I did a quick check and found that it had been locked down, to prevent students from tampering with it, either accidentally or deliberately. That meant that with my standard user account, I wouldn’t be able to make any major changes, such as altering the Internet proxy server, so I could surf the Internet without being watched.

I changed my password then logged off. My goal was to upgrade my new user account from a standard user, which wouldn’t allow me to look at anything interesting, to a domain administrator, and I knew a simple way to do it. On Windows machines, passwords are stored locally, in case the network fails. All I needed to do was to get someone to log onto my machine, and then I could use that person’s user ID. That person would be Lokesh, but would his user account be a domain administrator account? If so, then he would have access to every computer on the network.

I reasoned it through. Would a teacher need that access? An English or chemistry teacher wouldn’t, but Lokesh was an IT teacher, meaning that he might have to set up computers and perform administrative tasks. High schools are known by hackers for being understaffed, and regular teachers sometimes have to do the work themselves. In the end, I decided that it was worth a shot.

It had also occurred to me that I could have simply asked Daya for a domain administrator account on the school computer, and he would have probably arranged it for me. But where would the fun be in that? My stay in state prison had kept me out of hacking and cracking for the best part of a year, and I wanted to get my kung-fu working once again of its own accord, like it had once been: an instinct.

I raised my hand, and asked, “Mr. Lokesh?”

“Yes Sanky?”

“I can’t log on.”

“When did you get your username and password?”

“Mr. Sanjeet just gave it to me, but it doesn’t work.

Lokesh frowned a little

“Did you forget the password?”


I held up the slip of paper.

“This is the one they gave me. It’s just ‘password.’ But when I typed it in, it wouldn’t let me log on.”

Lokesh tried logging on with my username. He sighed nasally. He moved to the next machine, and tried again. That didn’t work either.

“Are you sure these details are correct?”

“Mr. Sanjeet just handed them to me. Can you change my password?”

Lokesh logged on to my machine, using his system administrator account, and reset my password. He then logged in using my account, to verify that the new password worked.

“That should take care of it. Let me know if you have any more problems.”


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