The confessions of a serial offender.
How I was a terrible rogue with Seema, Supriya, Wamika and Pooja.
I look at a question in my inbox that comes from a journalist for HerStory, part of the YourStory group. Verbatim, it says:
“Besides, Pooja and Wamika, there was another similar case by Supriya Sahoo where she alleged you had propositioned her. Many are terming thing as a serial offense? Your comment?”
Wow. I’m being called a serial offender. Comment please. The judge, jury and executioner have decided already. But, hey, comment please.
And there’s another email from Asian Age basically saying, yes, it’s 9pm on February 20 and we’re giving you 15 minutes to answer these allegations from Wamika Iyer in writing, else the story is going into print without your response. There goes my dinner guest, and I rush to type out what I can in the little time I have, and try scramble around to take screen shots on my phone and attach them to the email.
At which point I decide I have no idea what these two places might carry, though in my naivete I hope for the best, and I decide I must write a piece myself and confess to my long history as a ‘proclaimed offender’.
First, and I do want to say this. I have never met any of the three ladies in person, ever. In fact, I believe one of them wasn’t even a real person. So read on to hear of my infamous criminal tendencies in the online world.
This piece will not just cover the tales of Pooja, Wamika and Supriya as demanded by HerStory / YourStory, but also that of Seema who some of you may remember was my first ‘offence’ over 10 years ago.
Oh, and to make it more interesting for all of you folks, I’ll add in a few more bits about some other ladies who volunteered “I was harassed too” to doubters in the last day or two.
And then I’ll perhaps try answer the question someone asked me “Why you, and why now?” Given that these things happened between 2 months and 10 years ago but are seeing coordinated light of day at this moment, might it just be co-incidence? Or might it not? Well, heaven above and the BJP IT cell above that might know better, but we’ll come to that in a bit.
But this is a long read, so settle down and please bear with me. And, as cliches go, we’ll start at the beginning.
And as another cliche may inform you, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Seema: Or, may milord direct me to give her a child.
It started in 2006 or 2007: Seedfund had just started. And I was on the precursor of today’s Facebook, a social network called Ryze. At one of the get-togethers when I visited Pune I was asked to speak of “what venture capital was”. It was that new then.
I did that to a crowd and sure enough there were interested folks and I met a few of them at a coffee shop the next day. One of them, a lady lawyer named Seema straight out said she wanted 2 crores for a project. I heard her out — it was a legal BPO of sorts and I explained why it didn’t fit our mandate and hence we would probably not be interested. She then said 10 lakhs is also OK. I said, it doesn’t work that way. She looked at me, said she was close with Shiv Sena people and she knew “seedhi ungli se ghee nahin nikalti”. It was a crazy threat to come from a near-stranger, and I ignored it.
The months and years that followed were even crazier.
I was married then — and my then-wife’s bosses at her firm got emails from Seema saying my spouse was a whore and that I was her pimp. My school alumni group got infiltrated and she claimed there, to my surprised classmates, that she was my wife. She found my brother’s address in Bangalore and wrote to him, demanding she now be called his “bhabhi”. When he didn’t respond, she even wrote to his HR head and complained about him. She then wrote a blog post where she announced that she had “deemed” that she was my wife and was now changing her name to “Seema Murthy”.
And then the demands came. A legal notice demand for funding her BPO. Then “I want a Maruti car, here’s the brochure.” Then “actually 20 lakhs of funding is better.” None of these demands were met.
My then-spouse and I went to the then-nascent cybercrime cell and complained. She was summoned, confessed in writing, swore she wouldn’t do it again. Silence for a couple of years. And she started again.
She now claimed to have invented venture capital, and that I stole the concept from her and set up Seedfund.
She claimed to have invented instant messaging too, and that I stole that concept from her too, and gave it to Geodesic, my then-investee company, who turned around and sold it to Business Standard as “BSbuddy”. She sends legal notices to Geodesic and their clients, and they counter-sue her.
Then came the demand “2 crore de do, yeh sab band kar doongi”.
Again a complaint by me. Again a summons from the Cybercrime cell. For whatever reason, they don’t want to act against a woman. So, again, a written confession and a promise not to do it again, all on file with the police. By now, for completely unrelated reasons, my then-wife and I had split up.
But she continues. This time, she claims part-ownership of Seedfund by virtue of having invented the concept of VC.
And part-ownership of Pinstorm was hers too by virtue of inventing digital marketing. In fact, she sneaks in one weekend and paints on the floor leading to the office, apart from writing on the compound walls that employees are prohibited from entering and that we are IPR thieves.
We call the regular cops when she turns up and they throw her out. My entire contact with her has been at a Barista and then at the Cybercrime cell. Soon it’ll be in court. But for now, there is silence again.
She then writes to tell me why it’s astrologically a good idea for us to marry. I ignore it. She calls my son a bastard and me a rapist on her blogs. I ignore that too.
Then, abruptly, in 2014 I get a summons from court. It seems I’m charged in a domestic violence case by said Ms. Seema. She now claims that she was married to me since 2004, she picks a date that I wasn’t in India as the date it happened and some temple I haven’t been to as the place it happened.
She says that she has no pictures or record of the event, but her brother will of course attest that it happened. In the complaint, she says she lived with me in Bandra for a few years, but she’s not sure where, in which locality, or in which building or on which floor. She’s forgotten. But she does remember clearly that I had thrown her out of whatever place in 2006, and she now wanted me to “settle her” by buying her a flat anywhere in the same suburb. And if I did so, she would drop the said charges against me.
A Domestic Violence or DV case makes things serious, and this time I hire a lawyer. We go to court. Her colleague, another lawyer calls me aside, tells me, “chhodo na, thoda paisa de do, chali jaayegi, doosron ko bhi phasaaya isne”. I tell him I might have to spend a crore defending myself but I won’t pay her a pie. He looks disappointed.
In court, we discover she had filed another case against me 2 weeks earlier, which was thrown out by the judge. In that case, she had pleaded “she was a divorcee and desirous of marrying me and she had tried multiple times to get in touch with me. But I had not returned her calls or messages. And that she was getting on in age, and wanted children by me, and may the judge please direct me to give her a child.” By now I can’t believe what’s happening. You can’t make this stuff up.
My lawyer and I then hold up the two contrasting submissions to the judge, each made two weeks apart: one saying she wants to marry me, the other saying she married me 10 years ago. And we request the lady judge to not just throw her case out — but we also accuse Seema of perjury and ask the judge to get her debarred from the bar council. Seema is a lawyer, after all.
At which point the judge throws her case out. We then file applications with the Bar Council which go nowhere. But it’s been two years and I haven’t heard from the lady since. We’ll all wait till she pings again.
That was the first of my serial ‘offences’. Then came Supriya.
Supriya: bored Barbie in Bangalore.
This blew up some time ago, in May 2016. The story is interesting in a different way.
In November 2015 I get a business plan for some b2b business called A2Zee.co, founded by two gentlemen, Shibam Sarbswa and Abhishek Srivastava. It doesn’t mean much to me, as Seedfund had stopped making new investments by then, and it didn’t appeal to me as an angel investor. So I didn’t respond. But I did vaguely take note of the name “A2Zee”.
6 months after the plan is mailed and not acted upon, a lady called Supriya Sahoo from the same A2Zee starts chatting with me on Facebook.
I notice a few weird things about her profile. First, it has a Barbie doll as her DP.
(P.S. It’s still the same even now.)
I do a quick check — there is another profile for another Supriya Sahoo also from A2Zee, but that one is a married woman.
In fact, in the weeks to come, the other profile, let’s call it the real Supriya, goes on to talk on her page of her baby and why people should give him a vote in a beautiful baby contest.
While the only post by this ‘fake’ Supriya Sahoo profile will be my “notorious” conversation with “her”.
Anyway, this particular Supriya Sahoo says she’s single.
Her profile has only one post on it.
Stupid me, I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.
She assures me she’s real etc. Even more stupid me.
Then one late evening, she starts the now famous conversation that has been posted elsewhere, saying “I’m bored here in Bangalore”.
I don’t take the conversation seriously and engage in silly late night banter with this lady who is chatting me up.
“Come to Bombay”, I say. For what “she” asks. “Beer and more” I answer. Just a silly quip. Referring to the microbrewery I’ve invested in.
Then an attempt is made to ask if I want to talk about investing in A2Zee.
I say I don’t. I realise later there was a threat here that I ignored.
And next thing I know, the conversation, with the lady’s name redacted, is up on Facebook telling the world how evil I was.
And it went viral-ing around the internet.
I respond by reproducing the entire conversation, with the lady’s name intact, and saying it it was consensual, between two adults, and not at all business-related.
When that happens, and the conversation slows, the promoters of A2Zee put up an entirely fabricated story about me on a site, you guessed it, Richest Corner.in
Where they talk of some lady’s startup with great vision that I had apparently trodden all over.
Declining, of course, to mention it was their company not hers. Oh and also saying I paid off media in big cheques.
Well if that was so, I wasn’t paying enough, and hence am going through this trial-by-blog right now.
The story is still up there, in fact.
In retrospect I believe the real Ms Sahoo probably had very little to do with the entire thing. Her tone of voice as she writes on her site is different from that of the person who chatted with me on the fake profile.
In all likelihood, her bosses created an account in her name, and one of them tried to get me in a Barbie honeytrap. It worked.
I fell in, and tried to pull myself out of it. Guess I’m still in the process of doing so.
Now we come to the as yet un-told story.
Wamika and Vishal: the angry founders.
This too started a while ago — with one plan being sent to me by this team of Wamika Iyer and Vishal Nadar.
They started mailing this plan to me in Aug 2014 and repeatedly sent it to me for a year, till July 2015.
Ms Iyer told me her founder Vishal had traits “just like me”.
By the way, if you wonder why some of these stories have to do with business plans, I don’t know for sure — but I’ve been getting some 200–300 plans a month for many years now. So there is a reasonable probability of some bad eggs in the 2,000 or 3,000 that one gets to see in every year. Or of some of the eggs believing they’re entitled to funding, no matter what. Anyway.
I looked at it, it was for a grocery business called Dukaandaar.
I believed it was flawed. And anyway, by now, Seedfund had finished its investments and wasn’t looking for fresh ones.
I told the lady so.
Usually late at night, and we spoke at length about what I felt the issue with her plan was. We did so a couple of times.
She disagreed with my diagnosis. Everyone has a right to do so.
I told her we were not investing as a fund any more. She asked if I would angel invest. I said no. Because I didn’t believe in the plan.
And we ended all discussions about the potential for investing politely and cordially. (Adding this on Feb 22: The lady has claimed elsewhere that she sought mentorship from me. She never did. Given that I had told her I didn’t believe in their plan, I couldn’t have mentored her on anything anyway.)
This was, I believe, some time in late 2015 or early 2016.
Then she asked if we could keep in touch. I said sure.
She did keep in touch.
Apparently I had then given a speech someplace where she was in the audience.
She acknowledged again our earlier conclusion that her business wasn’t investment-ready.
Then the conversation moved to other topics.
How I managed social media.
When there was so much going on at the companies.
How did I manage to be so active online.
How I liked to travel.
And where I liked to travel to.
That I dropped out of college.
And said so on my profile.
And so on.
And once again, no mention of ever needing mentorship or guidance of any sort.
You can see that from her questions here.
Then because LinkedIn doesn’t quite have great notifications, we moved the conversation to WhatsApp.
Where we continued chatting, and not about business either.
And not about any mentoring either.
By now I got the sense we had moved far from a business conversation, and we were more like two adults talking about anything under the sun.
And then it seemed to me that there was no business connect, but rather there was a personal connect.
And perhaps I was wrong here, in retrospect.
And in one of those WhatsApp conversations the lady posted elsewhere, she told me, for the first time, that she did not appreciate personal comments.
I accepted it at her word. And ended that right away, on the spot.
There was no other conversation thereafter.
Until something strange happened in May 2016.
I noticed that her partner / boss Vishal Nadar, who had been quiet so far, suddenly started posting messages to, of all the people, Seema, who is mentioned earlier, and who had, about 7 years earlier, left messages at various places around the internet claiming to be my wife.
Here he claimed, entirely falsely that his colleague “Went in to pitch a startup” at the firm and “I was making sexually harassing her”.
To repeat, I’ve never met either of the team in person. They’ve never come to pitch to me in person at any time, anywhere.
And I don’t believe (of course, you might judge differently) that I harassed her or her partner in any way.
Yes, I was perhaps over-casual or over-familiar, by her estimation, once. On chat. And I stopped it the very first time she told me it wasn’t welcome.
That was when all the conversation on this front ended. Till yesterday. When, a year after it happened, it flared up again.
But before yesterday, let’s talk about the day before. Just a little more, bear with me. And you’ve been valiant to trudge with me this far.
Pooja: of the mass-mailed greetings.
This last case is again an interesting delayed reaction. The Wamika incident happened in March 2016, the fake Supriya thing in May 2016 and the Pooja thing in December 2016, — and it is strange they should get highlighted from between 2 months to 12 months later, all on one day in February 2017. My pet theory on that later.
Anyway, first to the incident. Rather than inundate you with details, I’ll provide my Facebook post here.
And I should tell you that if you don’t find this post on Facebook, it’s not because it’s deleted.
It’s because, at the request of a few friends, I made the visibility of this particular post friends-only.
Because it was attracting a lot of spam, and because it quickly became an avenue for prolonged fights between various people in the comments section.
I won’t go into it other than to say there was no “founder-investor” thing here, and again, that I’ve never met the person.
And yes, it was about a mass-mailed Christmas greeting that was objected to 2 months after it was sent, received and replied to. Not by telling me, mind you, but by doing a public post about it.
And once I realised that the lady was objecting to something she received mid-conversation 2 months ago, I apologised right away, she accepted it, and we moved on.
The internet didn’t move on.
Which is why we are still here, I imagine.
Coming to the final point or two.
Why does it happen to just me?
Frankly, I have no idea.
I don’t even know if it just happens to me or others too are beneficiaries of this rare “serial offender” status.
So what could it be?
Maybe I am a terrible person, and I deserve this. It is a likely option.
Maybe things that stick out get stomped back in. And I stick out of the background when opinions get expressed loudly. Maybe I need to be “hammered back in” to where I should belong, meek and mouse-like.
Or maybe those that live by the sword should prepare to face one. I certainly express my opinions freely and should probably get the brunt of how others feel about me.
Or maybe there’s a large group of people — over 500,000 at last count, that follow me and everything I say gets unnaturally amplified.
Maybe there are a bunch of people who don’t like me, or whatever I stand for.
Maybe my political affiliations, my philosophical ones, whatever, need to be squashed.
Maybe some of the above, all of the above. Who knows? I really don’t.
But Mahesh, there are other complaints.
My friends tell me this, as they name a few people who were apparently wronged in conversations with me.
Again, all of them had one thing in common, they’d never met me.
So I fish out my phone and show my friends the entire conversation with the person concerned.
And in each case they say: this isn’t harassment.
It’s flirtation, maybe. And it’s perhaps inappropriate in some cases, from an outsider’s point of view. And though the conversation seems mutually acceptable to both people participating in it, they tell me I shouldn’t have done it as I am apparently a powerful person. And even though there’s no business, or work, or funding or employment involved, it can come off as wrong and as some sort of a power play.
This is a new thing to me. It takes me a while for it to sink in. Maybe I’ve thought of myself as some kid from the streets and I need to re-think how people see me. That’s a realisation.
And why did it all happen yesterday?
This is more interesting, because I’ve been thinking a bit about this and I might have an idea or two here.
A person I know was recently very upset that their Muslim-hating friend, who we both knew, was banned from one social medium.
I should have kept quiet. Instead I said something like “People have a right to extreme opinions, but when those opinions conflict with the terms and conditions of a social medium, then that medium has a right to ban them.”
The answer was something like “Just you wait, I have some stories about you”
Not just that, a portal, with whose investor I coincidentally had a public spat has written a hatchet piece ignoring every bit of evidence I offered rebutting their claims, including most things I’ve said here.
And, voila, three stories that span a year come out on one day.
Again, these ideas of mine might be wrong. It might all just be cosmic coincidence. Or cosmic comeuppance.
That apart, there seems to be some strange thing happening when people get together to talk of someone else, in this case, me. To put it mildly, exaggeration happens.
One lady, let’s call her N, commented on Wamika Iyer’s post to a doubter saying that “It happened to me too with Mahesh so Wamika must be right”.
Now I didn’t have a clear memory at all of who this lady was.
I went through my apps, and here is the entire conversation I’ve ever had with her, across all of any media.
Yes, that’s it.
But N was not alone.
Another lady, and let’s call her M, had a large number of arguments with people on my timeline, saying she had a right to do so because she was also a victim of my advances, and that I had apparently psycho-analysed her and been critical of her divorce and relationships etc.
Now this was confusing, because I didn’t recall any such conversations and I vaguely remembered helping M out when she wanted something and she had seemed thankful.
And then I went and looked on our chat history.
There was a record.
And here is the entire record of that conversation I’ve had with M, right till I asked her what her issue was yesterday. When she said my attitude was dismissive. I’ve tried to figure out from our conversation what she refers to — but I have no idea.
I don’t think I said anything even borderline problematic here.
And once again, I’ve never met either N or M in person.
I’m sure there must be some scientific name for this syndrome.
Whatever it is — eagerly seeking the recognition of peers in shared victimhood?
Misremembering something? Imagining something that wasn’t there?
I don’t mean to be offensive or to belittle anyone.
But something wrong is happening here.
This stuff is tough for someone to handle. To be judged in the court of shared social media forwards with justice declared in whispered closed groups. I wonder whose side the law is on, here.
I’m not being sexist. I’m sure men do it too, all the time. Ganging up and boasting about their experience on a particular topic while stretching the truth quite handily.
Not sure what it is. But it’s not good for me.
Or maybe it is cementing my reputation as Serial Offender #1.
See, now you know the story. And you’ve read all the conversations.
Thank you for coming this far, and for reading all this with me.
I’m not sure what they’ll throw at me tomorrow.
But I’ll try to be ready.
Thank you once again.
I think I’ll go off the net for a while now. We both need a break from each other.