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Gold smugglers upgrade their skills

I had heard of the palaces of Bengaluru and neighbouring Mysore and thought it would be a great opportunity to revive my interest in photography during our stint there

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I do not know how gold smugglers keep their cool, but I was willing to confess to anything when a cop stopped me at the Green Channel.

Will I be flung into the cooler with hardened criminals and politicians? I thought, and wondered whether it would be a good idea to beg for mercy and feign innocence of the law.

It is of course, all my wife’s fault. “Should I go through the Red Channel,” I asked her from Dubai, after giving her an inventory of what I was carrying in my hand baggage. She said take the Green.

I had an expensive DSLR with a 30mm f/1.8 that I had bought at a sale at Grand Stores in Marina Mall.

There was a tiny 20-pixel pocket camera with Wi-Fi for quick shots of people when doing a Vox Pop, street interviews that I was planning. I had read a report that people trust a journo with a smartphone recorder and are more willing to speak to them, than to a reporter with a cameraman hovering around with intimidating equipment.

Hidden in my toiletry case was a vintage Nikon FM2 film camera that a photographer advised me never to sell. The camera body alone was selling for about Rs9000 on eBay and I was sure it would attract customs duty.

I had heard of the palaces of Bengaluru and neighbouring Mysore and thought it would be a great opportunity to revive my interest in photography during our stint there.

Hidden inside my fluorescent-green trainers was a brand-new iPhone that I had bought for a real estate broker. My phone screen was blinking green from time to time after I had dropped it, so I bought myself the latest Samsung (more about this later).

I could have easily worn a tonne of gold jewellery, a necklace, rings on my fingers and a stud in my ear and the customs officers wouldn’t have even blinked, and maybe would have even given me some respect.

Wringing his hands

The reason I say this is because a few days after my arrival we went to a fast-food eatery and witnessed a shake-down by the local don. The mafia type walked in with two hangers-on and he seemed to be wearing more gold and bling than any woman on the streets of Bengaluru.

He said something to the guy at the front counter in Kannada and the man ran inside, and out came the manager wringing his hands while the hangers-on seemed to be playing games on their smartphones.

“He seems to be a mild-mannered crook,” said my wife in a whisper. We were the only patrons at that time. “This is South India,” I said. “Everyone is polite and friendly, unlike people like you from the North,” I said.

At the airport, the policeman at the end of the Green Channel just wanted to see whether my passport was stamped and I was so grateful that he did not ask me to step aside, that I thanked him.

A few days later I went to a mall and asked for a protective cover for my new brushed gold-coloured Samsung S7 phone. The salesmen looked at it and said glibly that they do not keep covers for older versions. Everyone in India was already into S8+.

I wish I had gone to the Dubai Gold Souq and bought gold biscuits and made a fortune selling them here. But I don’t have the guts and nonchalance of gold smugglers who smuggle gold biscuits in their innerwear and nothing falls on the ground as they run to catch their flight.

(Or maybe smugglers never run, they saunter).

Meanwhile, a Bengaluru daily reports that smugglers are finding new ways to smuggle the much-hoarded precious metal into the country, keeping customs officers on their toes.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. You can follow him on Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.

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