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Never keep cash under your mattress

Indians love gold jewellery and this is still very much a cash-based society

Gulf News

A robbery gang cut the razor-wire on the wall of our gated community and got in and all the while I was watching a late-night movie.

I don’t remember now what movie I was watching that night, but the news we heard next day from a WhatsApp group was shocking, to say the least, and has put me off watching TV for a while, and I do not even listen to relaxation music either on my ear buds, before I go to bed.

I am very vigilant now. In other words, I have turned into a neurotic and suspect everyone who I see when I go down to the basement parking to pick up mail or when going for evening walk.

“He looks suspicious,” I whispered to my wife and pointed to a guy in a funny haircut and a huge black bag on his back, as we were walking to the community grocery store. “He’s the hypermarket delivery boy. He brings your favourite cuts of meat and fish,” she said.

“Oh,”, I said, “What about this guy?” pointing to another creepy looking fellow.

“That’s the facility manager,” said my wife.

The robbers were all masked as the CCTV (closed-circuit TV) cameras captured their every move, and surprisingly they seemed amateurish and skittish as a tenant returning home late and driving down into our basement parking, scared them off. If I was the gang leader, I would have felt hugely let down by my mates as it was a wonderful opportunity to make a killing, and they botched it up.

Like their expatriate counterparts in the UAE, Indians mostly keep their valuables and money at home in wardrobes with flimsy locks, or under their mattress. Everyone, including the robbers, know the Indians’ love for gold jewellery and that this is still very much a cash-based society.

Since it’s inconvenient to keep the jewellery in safe-deposit lockers far away in downtown, and you need to dress up for the umpteen weddings and festivals, everyone keeps tonnes of gold at home.

There are also very few ATMs and whenever I venture out to the nearest bazaar, my wife asks me to withdraw money so we can keep the cash at home to pay for various services and foodstuff.

Everything is so expensive and you need wads of cash to pay for things. My wallet is so full of paper money that I have to wrestle with it every time I try to take it out of my back pocket, while the cashiers at checkout counters look at me with sympathy while I am doing the yoga moves.

I recall when my reporting beat was once the emirate of Sharjah, I had got a call from a sad Indian expat about a robbery at his home. They had gone on vacation and left all their jewellery locked up in the wardrobe. “Everything is gone,” he said. “Were the valuables insured?” I asked. Obviously, they were not.

The robbers gained access to our gated, prison-like and beautifully landscaped community from a vast plantation next door that is overgrown with seven-foot high grass and slithering with snakes.

When my wife and I went to the plantation to check it out, the security guards said a cobra came up to their shed and ate a mouse. “We never venture out into the grass,” they said.

I looked up the safest cities to live around the world on BBC Travel and found none of the Indian cities were listed. The five safest places are Osaka or Japan in general — where you can forget your valuables on a cafe table and you will still get them back — Amsterdam, Stockholm, Singapore and Sydney.

The one place they apparently forgot is Dubai, where crime is rare and the robbers are always caught.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.