Landed in Mumbai a couple of days ago. Sahar airport has improved quite a bit in the last 2 years that I have been flying into Mumbai. It is far from the kind of airport that one would expect the financial center of India to have, but I think the airport authorities are doing a good job with what they have. The immigration lines are now well managed. Baggage claim has more capacity and the baggage carts are new and improved.
The line for customs in the green channel, used to be a big problem. It was long of course, but it was the third long wait after immigration and baggage claim. One of the reasons was that everybody carrying a laptop would be pulled out. You’d have to produce a letter from your employer that I guess certified that you weren’t smuggling laptops into the country. All that is history. All this would slow down the lines further. But this no longer happens – either the rules have been changed or the duties are too low and there isn’t any opportunity to make money by smuggling them in.
That’s one reason. The other one is more interesting. Next to the customs check line – which is basically a line to a giant X-Ray machine which screens all your bags – an official is pulling people out of the line and letting them past the X-Ray machine without screening. To a casual observer, it is very clear that in picking the lucky people who don’t have to get their bags screened some serious racial profiling is going on. Anyone who does not look Indian, is unlikely to be smuggling anything into India, so they let them go without screening. Sometimes they will also let through Indians who look prosperous enough to not need any side income by smuggling contraband (I guess you’d call this social class profiling). I am never mistaken for one of these. After a 36 hour journey I typically look like something the cat brought in.
I don’t know what you feel about it, but I’m cool with this racial profiling thing. Checking everyone’s passport to determine nationality is too cumbersome and anyway formalizes a procedure based upon an assumption that only Indian looking people will smuggle contraband into the country. Which will create opportunities for smugglers (do they still exist? What do they smuggle, I wonder?) to hire foreign nationals as couriers. Some randomness in the profiling procedure increases the risk of getting caught which I suppose would be a deterrent. On the other hand by being racially biased in their selection, the customs officials are following the best Indian traditions of atithi satkar. Plus they are reducing the wait times for the unwashed brown-skinned masses. I can live with that.
After clearing customs I go to the SBI forex counter to get some rupees. I think the guy tried to short change me. Here’s what happened. I give him the dollars I wanted converted. He hands me the rupees. I count. They come up short per my calculations. I look around and see his monitor which is angled away from me and has a whole bunch of numbers on it. The total is there but without any highlighting (unlike say how it would be shown in a grocery store in the US). I tell the cashier that it’s short Rs. 30. He counts the money again and adds the Rs. 30 to it. Then, and only then, does he ask for my passport and print the receipt.
It could have been a mistake, but I think if I had taken the money the first time and walked, he wouldn’t have given me the receipt at all. The receipt is an easy way for someone to verify the money they have received.
I’m here in the middle of the monsoon which in Mumbai is awesome to behold. There was a rain storm the night I landed. I’d forgotten what it can be like. Long commutes to work in Mumbai get longer in the monsoon. I am glad that we are in Malad. Many of our employees live close by – close enough to go home for lunch. It makes for a better quality of life.