It was the night before Christmas. I was on duty at the Bombay Airport. Dubai had just landed. The passengers slowly began to walk out in the halls, like a herd of cattle that has cleared immigration. There was this guy dressed in bright red on whom my eyes were set from the moment he had entered the baggage hall. As soon as he crossed the Green Channel and walked towards the Exit gate, I stopped him.
“Hey. Red Nighty. Come here”
He was an elederly gentleman, all dressed in a red fur coat with a white lining and matching track pants. Rotund and slightly out of breath, he shuffled across the hall as he walked, possibly under the weight of the large duffel bag he had slung across his shoulder.
“Ho Ho Ho. How can I help you sir?”
“You can Ho all you want later. Tell me. Where are you coming from”
“Er. Canada. But via Dubai. Emirates EK 502”
The moment he says Dubai, my ears cock up and signal my officers with my eyes. They soon swoop down and surround him.
“When was your last trip?”
“Who are you sir?
“Tera Baap”. I flashed my ID card. “Now speak.”
“Exactly a year ago”
“I gather you are coming from Dubai? Gold leke aaya kya?”
No sir. Nothing at all. I am not a smuggler sir.” He looked back at me in indignance.
“Yeah yeah . that’s what they all say” I kept looking at the passenger, assessing the possible places where he could have hidden gold. The big fat duffel bag slung over his shoulder seemed very suspicious. He had a generous posterior. Rectal concealment couldn’t be ruled out.
“So No Gold?”
Absolutely not sir.”
“Sir”, I heard one of my other officers shout from behind the last of our counters. “You were right. This passenger’s emergency light. 4 gold bars.” The proud officer was brandishing four shiny metallic bars as he grinned joyfully.
“Look at him”, I pointed to another young man standing in obvious disappointment behind my officer in the distance. “He also said he wasn’t a smuggler when we first intercepted him. Now look at him”
“Sir. But look at him. Look at me. I don’t look like a smuggler at all.”
“Arey Wah. So you are already racially stereotyping people here. I thought that was my job.”
“So now tell me. You’ve crossed Green Channel. Anything to Declare?”
“Lots of Love”, he hesitantly says hoping for some laughs out of me.
“Love eh? Lots of it you say? Must be above your free allowance. Arey. Internet se price dekho. Whats in that duffel bag?”
“Gifts Sir. Gifts for Christmas”
Whats their total value?”, I perfunctorily asked as I scratched my head disinterestedly and looked around for other suspicious passengers. It was standard procedure. Passengers are allowed to voluntarily declare the value of their goods before we actually start an inventory.
“I don’t know sir.”
“What sort of an idiot are you? Don’t know the value of the gifts that you’ve purchased”
“Sir. Would be around 2-3 Lakhs. Rough estimate sir.”
“Show me your passport please”
“Dikha mote. I want to see your previous trips”
*Hands over passport with trepidation to my officer*
“United States. Brazil. South Africa. Thailand. Egypt. Dubai. Syria” the officer rattles on.
“See Chavan”, as I assumed the air of a savant instantly. “His entire itinerary is through countries on the white powder line. ( That’s the word we use for drug trafficking routes). “Looks like this clown has something more to hide than he is telling us.”
“Abey. Drugs bechta hain kya?”
“No sir. I would do no such thing. I never venture anywhere near such intoxicants sir. Any intoxicants. Never.”
“Then what is this?” I gingerly open the duty free bag on the trolley and viola! Three black label bottles cozily tucked in beneath a pullover.
“That’s just alcohol sir. Nothing much”, he sheepishly admitted.
“Teri nothing much ki mother sister. Do you know that your allowance is only 2 litres of alcohol?”
“Sir. Sorry sir. It slipped my mind. I was in a hurry to get out” He takes out a big red napkin and starts dabbing his perspiring forehead.
“Arey Chavan. Write this down in the inventory. Excess alcohol. One Black Label. Start screening his bags once again. Fellow thought he could get away on my shift”
“Yes sir. No way sir. He couldn’t have avoided your hawk eyes sir.” The officer shifts into sycophant mode.
“Theek hain . Whats his nationality. “
“No wonder. Looks like a polar bear in a dress”
Sir. Thank you.” He started to smile slightly.
“That was NOT a compliment”
“Chal. Let’s sit.” I escorted him to the chairs behind one of the screening machines. “Now tell me man. What is the purpose of your visit to India?”
“To distribute gifts sir”
“Little kids. I sneak into their homes and give those gifts” his eyes lit up as he continued to narrate how he would climb into their houses through windows and leave them gifts in the night.
“What? That’s disgusting. What sort of a creep are you Meeting little kids in the middle of the night when their parents are asleep. Arey Suresh. Call the Sahar Police Chowky. This fellow looks like some geriatric sex offender.”
“No sir. No sir. My intentions are very noble.”
“So were Hitler’s when he invaded Poland”
“Sir. No sir. I am good man. I give gifts to little kids.”
“Well. Gifts are not free. They cost money. When aforesaid mentioned gifts cross Customs borders, they become liable for taxation. Is the inventory finished?”
I looked at Chavan who was obediently taking out all the gifts out of the duffel bag and preparing an inventory.
“Sir. These are all wrapped in gift paper. To identify them, we will need to tear up the paper.”
“Wait. Don’t do it. We’ll ask this fellow only. Please declare a value for the goods being carried out by you. “
“Sir. Three Lakhs.”
Ok. Let’s accept his declaration. As a Canadian citizen, you get only 8,000 rupees as free allowance. We will charge you duty on the rest. You will have to pay duty on them at 35%”
“Duty? Why? I have never paid duty anytime earlier when I came to India.”
“Aah. A repeat offender I see. Lets book a case. Been a while since we have arrested someone under COFEPOSA”
He began to panic as soon as I talked about an impending arrest.
“Err… Sir Can’t we settle it amicably? I shall give you some good wishes and blessings if you let me go”
“What? How dare you offer me a bribe? Me! Of all the people! And good wishes and blessings? What sort of a crappy bribe is that?” he could see my face flush in bright colours as I yelled at him.
“I apologise sir. Sir. I am sorry.”
“You just offered a government officer a bribe. How dare you? Now you see. On one hand, Anna Hazare sits on fast after fast asking for cleaner governance and here you are perpetuating corruption!!” I pointed an accusing finger at him “It is because of people like you that India gets a bad name”
“I am sorry sir. Extremely sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” He pulled out an asthmatic inhaler and started to puff from it.
Just then, like a dream, Sushmita Sen walks by. It appears that she had just landed in a Air India London flight and was going home.
She stopped as she saw me and waved in recognition. Before I could process what was going on, she strolled towards me and said “Working hard making cases I presume Mr Kumar?” That voice. That bloody beautiful voice.
“Ye… Ye…. Yes. I think so. Work. Hard. Duty. Government of India. Sushmita. How am I doing? I mean. How are you doing?“
She gently smiled and tossed her hair back and ran her hands through it, clearly enjoying my obvious infatuation with her. That gentle chuckle made my knees go weak and I called out “Chavan. Cant you see? Sushmita Madam is here. Call for Chai.”
“No Kiran. Its quite ok. I am tired and I want to go home. What’s this gentleman doing here? It looks like he is in some big trouble with you guys.”
“No. Some old hack who claims he is distributing gifts to little kids on Christmas. Hasn’t declared the goods nor has he paid any duty.”
“Aww.. What a noble gesture. I like such good Samaritans. Jaane do na isko”, she said this in a husky guttural voice and drew her finger across my cheek, and let it linger on my lower lip for the slightest moment.
“Haaa…Whatever you say. Theek hain. Theek hain.. Arey Chavan. Uncle ko Jaane do” I waved my hand towards my officer never letting my gaze slip from her.
“But the inventory and all sir?”
“Do one thing. You pay the duty Chavan”, I snapped back. Chavan realized that this case was now closed.
“Hello Uncle. Go. Sir has allowed. Say thanks to Madam also.”
The gentleman, extremely glad, shoved all the gifts into his duffel bag and sprinted towards the exit.
“Merry Christmas Sir”, he yelled as he ran.
“Haan. Teri bhi Christmas. Now get lost.” I looked towards her now “ Sushmita. How about adding me on whatsapp?”,
She laughed again, this time louder and I swung around to find myself a chair. I needed some water.
*Just to clarify. This is total fiction ( except the part about me having a crush on Sushmita Sen).