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The tale of a troll

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-06-2014 Ashish K. Mishra

Mumbai: Even those who strongly disagree with Aakar Patel’s opinion pieces will concur that some of the comments they elicit can not only be unwarranted but also border on the preposterous, defying any sense of logic, and mostly irrelevant to the debate.

Sample this one, dated 12 April, 2014, on a piece titled “What’s the Gujarat model and who’s seen it?”.

“Oh, how can Aakar Patel question the undoubted genius of Mr.MMMMmmmooOOoo00ooOOoo00di!!! He is the Great White Bearded Hope of so many voters who were either NOT EVEN BORN in 1991 ... or if born, too busy studying/working/producing babies to learn about history. MMMoOo0diiiii will ‘rescue’ India from the clutches of an Italian waitress who is ‘illegally occupying’ something ... nobody voted for UPA or UPA 2.

“People only voted for miracle-worker Vajpayee who built all those roads like MAGIC! Like those breadcrumbs or whatever that turn into wine in Christianity. Yeah. Sleepy dude Vajpayee was the only real *thing.*Nobody voted for Rao. Or for Rajiv before that. Or Indira before Rajiv. Or Nehru. Nehru was a pretender of course ... wrote some books but really who cares. We got ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Bhagwat Gita’ and racists like Vivekananda with their inane rhetoric. Who needs Nehru? So, yes MMmmMMooOOoo00ooOOdddiiiiiii is our Ben Bernanke (he got white beard too, so ...)-cum-Bill Gates-cum-Steve Jobs-cum-Bill Clinton-cum-Ronald Reagan-cum-Patel-cum-Bismark-cum-cum-”

There are so many such comments on the millions of comment threads on millions of stories/research work/blog posts/videos put out daily, that sometimes you are compelled to ask two obvious questions: Who is this person? And is he crazy or what?

This is no bot. Neither is the person some young kid who has been paid to write what he has (above) by either the Modi or Gandhi camp. He is a real living person. A 40-year-old man who has written comments on websites of The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time magazine, The Economist, USA Today, Mint, Hindustan Times, The Times of India, Forbes India magazine, Firstpost.com, IBN7 and Outlook magazine.

According to Disqus, a blog comment hosting service, he has posted more than 2,000 comments, excluding, of course, his random blog posts on random sites.

That’s not all. He’s got a blog of his own, where he claims to be a writer and opines on a whole range of subjects—life, love, god, sex, science, technology, politics and public affairs. On the micro-blogging website, Twitter, our man has more than 33,000 tweets. It took him all of three years to get here. That’s 11,000 tweets a year—more than 30 tweets every day.

This man was there in 2012, when China’s anti-Japan protests over a dispute over a scattering of islands threatened to disturb the peace between the world’s three biggest economies—the US, China and Japan. His comment: “…who said there were no world wars fought in the 21st Century? BRING. IT. ON.”

Then again, a few weeks back, on a piece titled “Why liberalism is turning into a joke in India?”, our man got involved in a very personal, messy fight. He asked his critic to finish his “potty training first before arguing with him.” He called someone else a ragpicker: “I see ragpickers like you outside of my home waiting for when the gurudwara gives out free food.”

Seriously, who is this troll?

Sorry, did you just ask what’s a troll? It’s a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages with the deliberate intent of provoking readers or disrupting normal on topic discussion.

Everybody, meet Sachi Mohanty, 40.

The man himself

Mohanty was waiting for me outside his ground floor apartment in East Delhi. He is dark and tall, 5’11 to be exact, and dressed in a white shirt, black trouser and floaters. A button on his shirt is missing. Fourth from the collar; it helps expose a little bit of his ungainly paunch.

It was a mid-sized lock. He slid the key in the hole to open the door. The red iron door creaked. “Come in, come in,” he insists.

It is dark inside. In the narrow passage leading to the bedroom, there’s a shoe rack, covered in dust with no shoes in it. There’s a pair of shoes lying on the floor, socks still inside them, flopped over, covered in dust. Tied to the door and a nail on the wall facing it is a yellow, nylon rope. Two cloth towels hang from the rope. They’re dry.

On the left is a space that looks like a store room covered by a bed sheet, which isn’t doing a good job of covering what’s inside. It is full of unused, broken wooden furniture and cobwebs. On the right is the bedroom. It is in shambles. There are cobwebs everywhere; hanging from the ceiling, from the edges where the walls meet the ceiling, on the walls. The walls themselves must have seen better days. There’s very little paint and whatever is left of it is peeling off, hanging by the edges.

There’s a television to the left in the bedroom. Covered in dust, it doesn’t work. A year back, Mohanty had an altercation with the cable operator over the number of channels he was paying for. He decided it was best to call off the arrangement. Anyway, TV wasn’t adding any real value to his life. Under the TV, there’s a copy of Overdrive magazine. It hasn’t been read; the plastic cover in which it was delivered or bought is still intact, covered in dust. Around it and under it, there are more papers and dust.

But there’s a fairly clean bottle of Bacardi white rum, which has been put to good, regular use.

Opposite the TV stand, sits a wooden dressing table. The mirror is cracked, covered in dust. On the table, there are two watches (neither works), four empty packets of Gold Flake cigarettes, Cinthol talcum powder, a deodorant, a plastic computer mouse cover, an orange strip of Amlopres AT tablet, from which four tablets are missing, Ponds night cream and lots of papers, documents strewn carelessly all over the place—everything is covered in a thick layer of dust.

To the left of the dressing table is a green, Samsonite suitcase, covered in dust. Alphabets, in the form of stickers, have been stuck on the suitcase to suggest the owner’s name. They do little but suggest; the letters A and C in SACHI are missing. A couple of bags and boxes surround the suitcase. They are all covered in dust.

Sitting proudly, gleaming atop one of the boxes is a colourful box which has a picture of red and yellow plastic wickets—the three stumps used in the game of cricket. It belongs to Mohanty’s sister’s son. About six months back, she had visited Mohanty and the family went out and bought this for the kid. They left the empty box behind. Mohanty has not found the time to dispose of it.

Next to the suitcase is a single, iron bed. There’s another bed, similar to this one, right opposite it. The mattresses on both these beds are soiled and torn. Three soiled, yellow pillows sleep idly on one bed. This bed doesn’t have a bed sheet. The one which does is soiled and dirty.

Next to the bed, closer to the dressing table is a chair. The red cushions are dirty red. Or whatever colour they used to be. He sits on this chair, stooped over a little with one hand holding the handle and the other thrown casually over his thigh.

Right behind him is a musical instrument that looks like a guitar. Covered in dust, it doesn’t stand pretty, resting against the wall and another black bag, covered in dust. It doesn’t play any music either. Mohanty bought the guitar, somewhere near Parliament Street, when he moved to Delhi about eight years back. He hardly used it. Rot set in and the wood needed to be replaced. Mohanty has neither had the time or the money to fix it. Of course, this hasn’t put a stop to his love for music. Every once in a while, Mohanty browses videos on YouTube of random people playing the guitar. Sometimes he wishes if he could do too, that he should have worked harder on his music. But then he rationalizes; what’s the value of a guitar player in India? Zero.

Right next to Mohanty is the only other thing in the room, except for the bottle of rum, which is clean, of value and seems to have been put to good use. It is a desktop computer.

I take a seat, on a plastic chair, facing him. His eyes are bloodshot. He can’t see very well—a childhood accident, while playing cricket, has left him with very little vision in his right eye. He usually wears spectacles but today he has decided to give it a pass because he isn’t hoping to stare into his computer for twelve straight hours. Something he does every day, 365 days a year.

Not an easy way to make a living

Something he has been doing for the last three years. Ever since the day he quit his full-time job as a technical writer with an insurance systems firm called OneShield India Pvt. Ltd in Gurgaon. He was sure he would find a better job. A better paying job, surrounded by better colleagues, but as the months passed by, hope turned into despair and then desperation. He sold his Maruti Alto and settled for a Bajaj Pulsar, changed houses, cancelled the TV connection, cut down costs and began searching for freelance work.

It has not been easy. There’s not much work to do. Most of his day is spent in reading, commenting and tweeting. If he really likes something, he posts it on his blog. That stuff doesn’t pay. For actual work, Mohanty says he writes a ghost blog for a CEO in Mumbai. He also writes search engine optimization (SEO) articles for two websites, one in Mumbai and Delhi. And stock market briefs of US companies for some brokerage house in Gujarat. He earns just about enough to make ends meet.

There’s never any extra money but there’s a crunch, every once in a while.

It is 10:30 am. Mohanty’s been up since 6’o clock. He started his day by reading an obituary on The New York Times website. David W. Burke, the closest aide of Senator Kennedy and a few other powerful men in the US, passed away at the age of 78. The piece had a correction: “An earlier version of this obituary misspelled the given name of one of Mr. Burke’s sons. He is Terence, not Terrence.” Somehow, Mohanty found that interesting, a bit funny so he immediately tweeted: “Terence not Terrence…”

He’s been on his computer since morning but he doesn’t remember much of what else he has read. “Right now, you can see there are just 15 tabs open,” he says. “But usually I have 100 tabs open and then it crashes and I have to start again.”

We begin discussing why people use offensive language on the Internet.

“I don’t mind getting abusive. I first abuse them and, then, block. There is no point being a gentleman. You should not pretend to be so far above the fray so to say, after all humans, their real history is that when push comes to shove, they will kill each other,” he says.

What do you mean?, I ask.

“By being above the fray, that’s how Hitler managed to come to power in Germany. A small portion of Germans, the fanatics would have enabled the rise of Hitler and killing of Jews. And here in India also, if all the nice Hindus keep quiet, the fringe elements will take over and they won’t mind if India becomes a Hindu Rashtra or any kind of thing. You have to take a stance and be out there. I do. People say soldiers are very patriotic and they are out there. I say come on that’s their job.”

I was not sure if I wanted to discuss soldiers. By then, I was not even sure how relevant was it to my original question. But Mohanty keeps talking—about soldiers who come from very poor families but in the United States, soldiers are mostly Blacks and poor people from the South. How the US army is very good because soldiers get to travel around the world because the army has 800 bases but really these soldiers are not very educated men.

Makes sense?

“What do you need to be a Jawan? Not much, just 10 (th) pass. That is true of every society. But there is no need to say that these soldiers have descended from heaven and military dictatorship is going to solve all of India’s ills.”

By now I’m lost—Hold on a second. Did you just say military dictatorship? Where did that come from?

Mohanty does not stop.

“That experiment has been done with in 1975. Oh India needs a strong leader, who are the good guys in India. In Delhi, everyone is corrupt. Buying, selling houses and making money.”

Abuse on the Net

But why do people use offensive language on the Internet?, I repeat my question to Mohanty.

Mohanty repeats the question aloud and maybe something clicks. He says it has something to do with anonymity. “I can understand they are people from the IT industry, everybody in India is in the IT industry. It gives them an opportunity to be free to a certain extent, it won’t have been there if they posted on their own name.”

I ask him why he, at times, gets very personal on posts.

“I only get abusive if somebody gets abusive, depends on my mood. I do believe there are many holy cows and I take an anti-position. For example, (journalist-author-historian) Khushwant Singh died recently. And there is no one who has negative opinion about him. But I do. I don’t abuse but I do. Newspapers don’t even want to report that. There is so much of eulogizing and all that.”

What do you have negative on Khushwant Singh, I ask.

“I have posted them and it is something which is not very well known but I happen to know. I am friends with Dr. Aroup Chatterjee in London. He has written a book about basically exposing Mother Teresa and how she was doing all the bad parts of Catholicism, religious stuff which is very unscientific. She did a very good job of marketing herself, not giving good, scientific modern care to people who she was supposed to take care of. You know what her approach actually was?”

“No,” I insist.

“Suffering of the poor. She would say the more you suffer, the closer to Christ you will get. Don’t take pain medication. Suffer. Dr. Chatterjee from Calcutta and now in London did an investigation and wrote a book. And then he informed Christopher Hitchens about it and then Hitchens also wrote Missionary Position which has become very famous. People know Hitchens as a critic of Mother Teresa but not Dr. Aroup Chatterjee and that is sad.

So he wrote this book and one of the reviewers was Khushwant Singh. You know who the admirers of Mother Teresa in India are?”

“No,” I said.

“People like Navin Chawla who again has a very black history. He was right hand man of Sanjay Gandhi during Emergency. You are transferring your guilt you know. Oh that old lady is really doing something. Have you gone into the detail if she is really doing something…”

“Sure Sachi, but what about Khuswant Singh?”, I asked.

“Yes that is the reason I am against him. Why the hell are you criticizing someone who is against Mother Teresa. Indians are very sloppy that way. Even today you will find that 99% in the public life say oh ‘he is such a saint’, they don’t bother to do research. In other respects I like to think that Khushwant Singh got the big things wrong in his life.”

Okay, I sigh.

“Yes. He was a good writer, editor and all. Okay it is good, you publish women’s photos and readership of Illustrated Weekly goes up. Fair enough...This is what Sun does in UK and (Rupert) Murdoch who became a billionaire. So I don’t know how much credit should go to him. And he was a supporter of Sanjay Gandhi. So how dumb can you get? This is very much public. What is the big deal? Your dad was a big builder in Delhi and you start with that kind of advantage in life and go to study in London, so what is the big thing?”

It is interesting to see how deeply affected he is by something that he hasn’t been able to say in exact detail—what really happened between Aroup Chatterjee and Khushwant Singh?

What happened was a bit messy. In a review dated 17 February, 2003, Khushwant Singh called Aroup Chatterjee’s book (The Final Verdict), “garbage”. The book review, published in Outlook magazine, ended thus: “Reading Chatterjee’s final verdict on Mother Teresa will leave a very bad taste in the mouth. He should know that if anyone spits at the sky, it’s his face that gets spat down upon.”

Not a watch fan

Of course, Mohanty is still talking. After about 10 minutes, I finally get the opportunity to ask a question.

I point out that he has two watches, both of which look like they have not been used in a while.

“Yes. Watches have become unnecessary. Right? It is very strange how quickly things become completely useless. Sometimes I think I should donate it to the poor but then they will also have to use batteries you know and that is an expense. I know Sidin (Sidin Vadukut, who is a journalist at this newspaper) is a watch fan and he likes it a lot but the only purpose of watches now is of a luxury item or accessory. Like how gold or diamond jewellery is for women, if you are a man of a certain class, you wear a watch. Obviously if you are President or Prime Minister, you have to wear a watch. You can’t use a cell phone to see the time (laughs)…”

Mohanty speaks for another 30 seconds and then somehow, out of nowhere, starts talking about cancer—how a relative in his village died of cancer, how half of the people in the US die of cancer and then he shuts up.

I grab the opportunity.

I ask him why his house is so dirty.

“That is because I don’t believe in the traditional system of having a maid. I think it is kind of morally problematic.”

Morally problematic?

“(Laughs) Yeah clearly you have someone else’s wife in the house (laughs). Or do it yourself. Or maybe when my mom is here, she will do some cleaning. I do what I can. But again, keeping the house clean is not one of my top priorities. Reading and writing, so those are my priorities.”

But this place looks like it hasn’t been cleaned for months.

“Well, in Delhi, on the ground floor in summer the house tends to get very dirty. And I live by myself...I don’t get any visitors.”

Early life

Mohanty was born in Rourkela, a city famous for its steel plant in the state of Odisha. His father was deputy manager at the fertilizer plant situated on the outskirts of the steel plant. Every steel plant has a by-product, a high-value nitrogen fertilizer, similar to urea but a bit more expensive. So everything about the place where Mohanty grew up was about fertilizer. The town was called fertilizer town, where all the employees stayed. The school he went to was called Fertilizer High School.

“I know, no imagination but it seemed completely normal to us back then,” says Mohanty. As a kid, Mohanty says he wasn’t very bright but he liked science. Specially physics and biology. So when he moved to Government College, he started preparing for an engineering degree and got through for the engineering course in college. He picked up the instrumentation and electronics stream. But after a year, he quit.

Switching streams

“I could not deal with it. I got very bad scores in first semester and it didn’t really make sense to me, what are we studying, first, second semester for,” says Mohanty. “I didn’t like the way the courses were formulated. So some old people in India have decided there should be first and second and third semester, it’s a common curriculum and doesn’t matter what field you have chosen. It is okay. I don’t think about it anymore.”

With the engineering dream over, he opted for something more creative. A Bachelors in arts degree from Sambalpur University. That went just about fine. Mohanty says he doesn’t remember much about his college days. Nobody has ever asked him about it and now that so much time has passed, he can’t remember. Life was pretty mundane. Post his graduation, he picked up a teaching assignment in a local coaching centre. “I started teaching because you know I could hold my own in English. It was a small institute like NIIT and all that but not a branded one,” he says.

Mohanty does remember though that life changed when his dad took voluntary retirement from his job. The family left Rourkela and moved to Bhubaneswar. Mohanty found work as a medical transcriptionist.

“I realized that somehow I was able to get English accents easily,” he says. But he wanted to do something big. Thanks to his father’s VRS payout, there was some money at home. So he borrowed a lakh or so rupees to start a medical transcription training centre in Bhubaneswar. With the money, he rented a place, bought three computers and put out advertisements in newspapers. “I remember going to offices of newspapers to get the rates and all,” he says.

But this, too, didn’t turn out the way Mohanty had hoped. The students never came. Expenses piled up. In about six months, he shut shop. “It was a big flop,” he says. With that dream over, he went back to his medical transcription job.

He wasn’t comfortable being in Bhubaneswar anymore and wanted to get out. Be on his own. He decided that his best bet was Delhi. So he hopped on to a train and landed in Delhi on a cold Wednesday morning. “I remember it was a very cold morning. I was looking at the advertisements and I saw a job opening for a company in Janpath. So I went. And it was so unusual because I got a job on the first day itself. Imagine that for a guy from Odisha in a big city like Delhi roaming around.”

Three years into the job and Mohanty started feeling restless. He quit and joined another company (he doesn’t remember the name, just the name of the guy who started it called Sanjay Gupta) in Faridabad. “I worked there for a year or so. But then I got a good offer at OneShield and I moved to Gurgaon,” he says.

Why did he leave OneShield?

“I was not enjoying it. I guess I reached the limit of what do I say…basically I wanted to move to some other company but it is tough to find a full-time technical writer job after a certain age. The salary tends to be low and my salary was already too high. I thought it would be easy. But nothing worked out. I quit.”

Online life

Never thought of getting married? I ask.

(Lights a cigarette) “I haven’t found anyone. There are not good enough, smart enough girls out there. My latest story in terms of females is that I was in very good terms with a girl in Lahore.”

Met her online? “Yes. How else would I have met her?”

It didn’t work out “because people are not willing to put their parents in shame. Her mom died during the period I knew her. I knew her for one year, oh see how time passes. She was more up to date with the latest Hollywood movie and Game of Thrones. Can you imagine watching that in Lahore? She is a teacher in an English kids’ school, one of the top schools in Lahore. So we also had an English thing. You know that is also the minimum commonality that has to be there.”

The affair lasted a year.

“Are you still in touch with her?”, I ask.

“She asked ultimately to entirely break off all communication because she accepted the guy who was after her. This guy is 35-year-old and has parental wealth or whatever. You know it is so much like India. I learnt a lot about the Pakistani society, you know parents putting pressure and asking you to get married to some idiot...”

Are you happy the way life has turned out for you?, I ask.

“It is possible to have a kind of offline life which 99% of Indians have but, then, why should everyone be same. Obviously there is less of human interaction but I don’t enjoy the kind of interaction normal people have. Also, I don’t want to take all the responsibilities of bringing up a kid and all...It is a long term responsibility. Have they thought about that? I have seen an unchanging world. People moving in circles. People are pretending if it is the 19th century or 14th century.”

“What do you mean?”, I ask.

“Like I can talk about sex you know. Other people find it uncomfortable but I am fine...If you watch a Hitchens interview on YouTube…of Salman Rushdie interviewing Hitchens and at the very end, Hitchens is taking audience questions....The very last question is, what do you regret? Typical, life big picture question. Hitchens gives a light hearted answer, “I wish I had more sex.” So Rushdie ends by saying that go out and get your books signed by Hitchens and also give him your number since he is concerned with quantity and not quality. That’s a good enough answer for Hitchens and also for me (laughs).”

Is it worth being a Troll?

It is past 4 pm Mohanty and I have been chatting for hours now. It is 40 degrees Celsius outside and the Delhi heat is making its presence felt in the room.

The room, too, could have done with less smoke, the ashtray is full. Yet, Mohanty is animated. He is constantly scratching his left ear with his left hand (I can see a fresh wound under his earlobe but Mohanty doesn’t remember how he hurt himself) and every once in a while he rests his head on his right hand, and starts playing with his hair.

He is obviously rattled because we are debating a few subjects he feels very strongly about; people who believe in religion are dumb, Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t deserve the money he makes, cricket has spoiled this country and the lives of countless kids, extra-marital sex should be a perfectly normal option for couples and India has no future in the next 100 years.

“If you are educated, it is important to develop rational perspective in life. And Indians are dumb. They believe in gods and all that. There is no proof that god exists. If you are educated and you believe in God then you know you are stupid.”

Everybody is entitled to their belief, I insist.

“Why? People should know about science. There is one scientific principle across the world but why are there so many religions. Read Richard Dawkins. Read about evolution. Read Hitchens. It is our duty to educate ourselves. And you know forget about movie stars and cricketers. They simply don’t deserve our respect.”

Have you read all those books?, I ask.

“No I have not but there are videos you can watch on YouTube. You owe it yourself. But people are busy drinking wine and going to malls...I have never gone to a mall except when somebody else is paying, someone you know who has come from outside and wants to see the city. Anyway, I think what we are doing is escapism. And people like Dhoni and Sachin and Bollywood people don’t deserve the wealth they have. Can you imagine Sachin has Rs. 500 crore?”

Where did he get that number from?

“It is there, everybody knows.”

I insist that they deserve the money because they work hard.

“Do you know how much hard work it takes to become a cardiac surgeon or neuro surgeon? Funny thing is there are many people who do hard work. Why are they not paid.”

I counter that it is just those 11 people who make money in cricket.

You know the thing is that, why are there no hockey players like Sachin…My point is people should go beyond watching cricket. And movie stars. Once you do that they won’t be earning any outlandish amounts. People should have bigger heroes than Bollywood stars and cricketers. You know there are millions of people who want to become professional cricketers and in the process spoil their entire lives. You understand that? Because I have seen that. It forces people in the wrong direction, chasing useless dreams.”

But it is the same thing with cracking the IIT JEE or CAT.

“Yes but here you are learning something. In cricket, you are just wasting time.”

Ah! But one can also learn a lot from playing a sport.

“Nothing very useful in life. All the youngsters or whatever mostly spend time watching cricket. IPL and all that. You know it is okay if you are 25 and take interest in cricket. I also did once upon a time but then I moved on.”

Do you watch any sport at all?, I ask.

“No. Nothing. My point is that they don’t deserve it in any way. It is randomness...The way Wall Street people have made money like created hedge fund billionaires. They are doing high frequency trading. Are they really deserving that wealth? You know that is what is being talked about by people like Piketty and all. Does America have any real democracy? Wealth is concentrated in the hands of 300,000 people out of 30 crore. It is not a Democracy anymore. It is a Plutocracy.”

Moving to other things

“What do you think is the fundamental point made by Thomas Piketty?”, I ask.

“From what I have read so far, he has done an analysis spanning over centuries of how in 19th century France, most of the wealth was owned by very few people in traditional ways. Like zamindars in India and wealth was passed on from father to son. Which is what Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are not doing but Indian billionaires are probably doing.”

Mohanty goes on and on—something about the fall of the middle class in America, how we should follow Japanese CEOs and that we should not keep our mouth shut because some people are making billions and they deserve it.

In Mohanty’s view, India is destined to make the mistakes made by the US and Wall Street. To avoid that, India should go for a European or Japanese way. Otherwise India has no future. He suggests that Indians need to shed their irrational views and traditional mindset.

For instance, the belief that if you have pre-marital or extra-marital sex then you are morally corrupt and god will punish you. “Hundreds of years back people have got over these beliefs but Indians are hypocrites.”

You do say a lot of things on the Internet. Why do you care to write?

“I am a writer. I am giving my perspective. To share my ideas. Like all writers do. I would like to think that the same thing propels me which propelled Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not as good or creative as him. I know that my views are not mainstream in India but I am nowhere as oppressed in India as let’s say gays might be. For atheists like us, we realize how rare life is. I am not willing to accept whatever someone has told me because it is our culture and heritage and all.”

It’s 5.30 pm. We call it a day. “Mohanty walks me out and offers to drop me to the nearest Metro station. I decline. It is a hot, summer evening but I could do with some time alone.

As I walk down to the Metro station, making my way through the narrow, crowded lanes, I mull—what makes a troll? Life does. Or what you make of it.

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