A hot May night.
“Whats the time?, I asked desultorily, to no one in particular as I watched the airhostesses from Indigo greet me and walk ahead.
“Its just crossed two o clock sir”, an officer answered.
“Chalo. Emirates would land. Lets go onto the Bays. There is no use sitting here looking at passengers walk through the green channel”
It was one of my random night visits to the airport. Everynight, there is a trio of flights which lands at the Bombay airport just after half past two in the night. I have christened them as the “Golden Triangle”. Jet Airways Dubai 9W-543, Emirates from Dubai EK 500 and Qatar Airways from Doha QR-556. I would always concentrate on these flights to make my seizures.
Emirates was the first to land today and that would be my target. Determined to hunt down gold from it, I walked towards the bay 77. That was where EK would land. From bay 77, you needed to cross three toilets before you landed in the Customs area. The officer accompanying me was asked to guard the second toilet while the third toilet was closed temporarily. I walked towards the toilet closest to the aerobridge and recced the place.
We were on the look out for a new modus operandi. A smuggler would handover the gold to an employee in one of these toilets and walk out through green channel. Even though he would frisked religiously by us, nothing would ever be recovered. The employee would later walk out, taking advantage of the fact that staff, who keep walking around the place are rarely checked.
I ensconced myself on the carpet opposite the toilet on the Bay 67. This was the first toilet a passenger would encounter after disembarking from EK. With the faded jeans and casual shirt and the iPod plugged into my ears, I would have looked just like any other passenger for the untrained eye.
Passengers had already begun to walk by. Emirates had landed. EK500, the flight which would later be christened as Dhanalakshmi. The business class folk, mostly foreigners and captains of industry were being ferried in the shuttle carts so that their gentle knees wouldn’t be molested by the harsh carpeting. Then you could see the rest of the passengers slowly walk out. Gujarati families yelling out instructions, Africans walking around confused, Marathi guys coming home from the US via hot transfers, and South Indian couples searching for toilets and places to stretch their legs after the four hour flight. And then you had the usual suspects. The gentlemen with conspicuous clothing who walked with a single waist pouch tied extra carefully across their body. These were the folk who walked out confident of their surroundings, not waiting to look at signboards or seek directions. Bingo.! Smugglers!
I was only pretending to be looking at my smartphone but was observing over everyone walking into this specific toilet. My eyes, after months of profiling passengers knew the exact amount of time they ought to rest on a particular passenger before darting away in search of a more likely prey. They would keep bouncing off passengers, eagerly looking out for telltale signs of conspiracy or intent constantly hunting out symptoms of uncommon activity or hesitance in the footfall of an individual. In an area like the airport, surveillance is the key.
After about fifteen minutes of watching passengers walk in and out of the gents toilet, I decided to make a break for it and walked into it. Over the din of rolling zippers, splashing faucets and running flushes I realized that none of the gentlemen inside appeared to rank high in my suspect list. I was crestfallen. Looked like I would walk out empty handed today.
Just then a young man walked out of one of the cubicles. Dressed in an immaculate white shirt and black trousers, the violet identification tag that hung from his neck told me that he belonged to a particular airline service provider.
I paid no heed to him as he walked passed me, avoiding my gaze out of the toilet. The toilet was empty now. I stood there contemplating my place in the universe.
Then something struck me.
This chap has stepped out of the cubicle and walked directly out of the toilet. He hadn’t stopped to wash his hands. “What a dirty litte fellow! Doesn’t even wash his hands after using the loo.” I uttered a low Eww and in mid thought I considered the possibility of him not doing anything in the toilet that needed washing of hands.
“Hey. You.! White shirt! Come here”, I ran out of the toilet and called him back in again.
“Where are you posted?”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Emirates ka arrival thaa. So they called me here. Shortage of staff tonight”. I could glean a strong Malayali accent in his tone.
“Do you know me?”
“Yes sir. You are Karlapu sir. Customs”
“You know my rank?”
“Yes sir. Assistant Commissioner”
I called him aside to a corner to search him. As I proceeded to perfunctorily rattle section 105 provisions to him, I stopped in my steps. Declaration.
A voluntary oral declaration is mandatory. Any individual must be given a chance to declare the items in his possession. This chap was not a passenger. Nonetheless, I offered him a chance to make a voluntary declaration.
“Are you carrying anything that you should not be carrying?”
“No sir. Absolutely nothing. And sir. You have seen me so many times in the arrival hall. Don’t you remember?”
“You are not Sushmita Sen that I would remember.” My eyes still kept darting around, expecting someone to step out of the cubicles with a big block of gold and make my day.
This chap was rambling on. I needed to shut him up
“Yes. Yes. Ok. Ok. I am going to search you now. Section 105 of the Customs Act gives a gazetted officer the power to search an individual”
I was always meticulous in procedure, informing the rights to the other side before I searched him.
As I stepped closer towards him, against a flint of hesitance stopped me. “Wait Kiran, what if there is gold on him?”
I hollered in the narrow hallway of the gents toilet. “ Oi. Housekeeping!”
“Ho saab”, came a young chap running towards me.
“ Ajun ekala housekeeping staff la aatmadhe bolvaa. Laukar”
The Panchas. Every seizure under the Customs Act had to be performed under a panchnama, or the account of two individual independent witnesses of the events. This is the standard document.
This gentleman was thoroughly in shock. Tied down in bureaucratic procedures, I hadn’t noticed the growing pallor in his cheeks until that moment.
The two housekeeping staff appeared in a minute. They were the witnesses now.
“Whats in this pocket?”, I shot at him pointing towards his right trouser pocket. “Phone sir” and he retrieved it for me. I grabbed it and considered it for a while in my palm. No weight. I returned it to him.
“Whats in the other pocket?”, I now pointed to the left trouser pocket. An obvious bulge there as well.
“Nothing sir. Just another phone. Just like the one you have checked now.” His voice had a palpable quiver in it.
“Yaar. Dikhaado. Time waste math karo. Baahar Abu Dhabi aagaya hoga”. I was referring to EY-206 which follows Emirates into Mumbai by 20 minutes.
He took out a velvet phone pouch, visibly guarding a phone and nimbly handed it over to me. That instant as he extended his hand to give the phone to me, his hands trembling with the terror of a thousand icy winters, I understood. My case was made.
As I grabbed the pouch, my hand dropped under its weight. This goddamn pouch didn’t contain a phone. It contained a One Kilogram Gold bar. I knew my precious when I touched it.
“Toilet bandh karaa” , I snapped to the housekeeping staff
I immediately stepped upto him and ran my hands over his posterior to check the back pockets. Two more pouches. Two more kilogrammes of gold. As I gave him a pat down and another pouch of gold came tumbling out of a secret trouser pocket.
“Waah mere laadla. Walking out of the airport with 4 kgs gold”
His face was now ashen. I could see tears well up and he dropped to his knees and start grabbing my feet
“Sir. Galti hogaya”
“Chee. Get up.!” I yanked him back onto his feet, caught him by his collar and dragged him out of the washroom.
“Vishal!! Aaj ka case hogaya. Four kilos!!!” I yelled across the hallways of the boarding bays to one of my officers walking towards me.
This young man, made one last attempt to convince me and wiggle out of the situation.
“Saab. Listen sir. Keep one biscuit. Let me go”
My lips curled in anger as I looked at him. He just realized that he had made his situation a lot worse.
“Chal G***u. Tera case banaate hain. Offering me a bribe???”
The officer had come running towards me by then and I hugged him in joy. This was the best case in a month and catching an airport employee was always a high in its own.
Gold worth one crore. Caught just in a minute.
This is among the best of my cases until now. This is only 4 kilos among the 1000 kilos we have caught but it gave me immense pleasure. It was a case that was based on sheer luck and presence of mind.
Within a month, we had two more such seizures in the same toilet and on the aerobridge. Both through my hands. And soon I was christened the “ King of the Aerobridges”.
Will post more such stories soon. Gold rains at CSI Airport.