Your-Money-or-Your-Wife

I enjoy visiting India. The colours, the constant buzz of activity and people on the move make it a vibrant place with a fascinating history. Unfortunately India doesn’t always seem to like me.

It had been a busy few days of travelling through Asia with a further six days in India starting with Delhi and finishing in Mumbai. Finally, I was heading to the airport on a damp Mumbai morning. Rain streaked across the window as I got a last view of the Haji Ali Dargh as we speed through the empty streets to catch the early morning flight.

Flying out of India is never easy and with numerous nuances and procedures that can result in being sent to the back of the line if you don’t have everything in order. It can be an intimidating place.

Feeling rather lethargic that morning with a trace of Delhi belly more through the time spent on the road than any particular meal, I shuffled with baggage having cleared Customs to the final security hurdle. The airport was rather empty at that time of the morning and our flight was clearly not fully booked. My fellow passengers were predominantly locals with one other westerner also travelling alone.

Only a short walk from clearing security scanners to airside lounges coffee and breakfast, and all that stood in my way was a single Customs officer splendidly attired in his all white uniform, watching the slow procession of passengers.

“You there” boomed the Customs Official pointing to me, “How many Indian Rupees are you taking out of the country?”

Immediately alert to what was going on I quickly assessed my surroundings. The Customs officer had been standing next to a group of four security personnel decked out in their green uniforms and berets and brandishing 1915 vintage .303 rifles.  They now started to take an interest in me and the conversation with the Customs officer.

“You know it’s illegal to take Indian Rupees out of the country, how much have you got?”

Looking around I noticed and elderly Indian couple walking through but apart from that I was fairly isolated now, any thoughts of ignoring him and just walking through pretending I hadn’t heard or understood or assumed the question was not directed at me had passed.

“I’ve got no idea, whatever’s in my pockets” I responded.

“Wait here.”

Here I stood under the watchful gaze of our friendly security guards who I assessed had a low understanding of English but a full comprehension of what was going on and, I perceived, fully functional trigger fingers.

Back came my tormentor and with a quick “Follow me” we headed off to an interview room, office or perhaps to introduce me to his superiors?

Oh no, how wrong I was. I was lead into what can only be described as the cleaner’s cupboard, with mops, brooms, a broken white plastic chair and some mats.

“How much do you have? You cannot take any money out of the country” he stated again, sounding as convincing as you possibly can whilst standing in a broom cupboard.

“I have this” I said, holding a number of crumpled Indian bank notes.

“You cannot take it out of the country” he mumbled, obviously having an internal moral fight with himself and not able to bring himself to say “Give me the money.”

I interjected. “I tell you what, why don’t I just place all the notes here on this broken plastic chair and you can do what you need to with it”.

“Yes, yes that’s right very good” he said and with a final utterance that totally destroyed his own story and credibility he blurted out “its okay, you can keep the hundreds.”

And with that I left the cleaners cupboard and arrived airside to find that my couple of hundred rupees he had generously allowed me to retain were just enough to buy me a coffee.

Going over the whole incident on the flight home I looked to see why I had been targeted and were there any options I had overlooked.

The airport was quiet at that time of the morning and the offending Customs officer was alone with none of his peers or superiors around. The security guards probably had a very low understanding of English and minimal education and maybe were not fully aware of what was transpiring all they saw was a westerner being pulled up for some infringement.

I was feeling unwell and was alone and somewhat isolated going through the final check. Perhaps I could have teamed up with the other westerner and gone through together or waited for a larger group and mix in with them.

Should I have acted differently and challenged him and stood my ground? The potential consequences of this action could have seen me surrounded by four armed security guards with an ancient rifle poked up my nose. The incident would have quickly escalated to accusations, interviews, and ultimately his word against mine.

This would certainly mean a missed flight followed by a very unpleasant day or two of questions and phone calls, worry and stress. For the sake of what amounted to US$30 I would much rather be flying home with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth but a good story to tell.

I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and fair game.

Mugging: $30. Coffee: 100 rupees. Being home to see my wife: priceless.

 

Taking rupees into and out of India was illegal prior to June 2014 and the Bank of India issued a directive in 2013 to enforce this. Foreign exchange facilities were made available in the duty free areas past the final security checks to allow all Non-Indian Residents and foreigners to exchange currency before they boarded their flights.

Since June 2014 this has been relaxed although there still remain laws around the movement of currency particularly in regards to Nepal.

It is worth reviewing and getting up to date advice before any travel!