I was with a Portuguese professor yesterday evening, a small, perky man, with twinkling eyes, who looked like a Jesuit priest in mufti and white shoes. He had arrived in Bombay the very morning; his first visit to Bombay, to India, to the East. He will be proceeding to Goa today, where he will be stationed for a month, assisting the authorities in devising a new course in Portuguese for secondary school students who may want to choose. Portuguese as their second language.
Unfortunately, he had not had a happy introduction to Bombay. He had been cheated both at the airport and on his way from the airport to the hotel. Already he had had a long day, flying from Lisbon to London by British Airways, then a six-hour wait between planes at Heathrow airport, then another plane from London to Bombay.
Finally, at Sahar airport, a porter picked up his bag, carried it to the taxi-stand, and charged him 20 American dollars. In any currency that seemed a little steep to him, especially because he did not need a porter and the bag was practically forced out of his hands. But he was given to understand that the 20 dollars included his taxi-fare to the Taj.
The taxi-driver, once he had taken him out of the terminal and on the road, when he heard what had been arranged, refused to go any farther and asked the professor to get out of the vehicle, unless he agreed to pay him Rs. 500. So he parted with another 500 rupees.
Cheating of foreigners, as they step into Bombay, is a regular business. Airport porters, touts, taxi-drivers, tourist guides, police, all are involved in this racket, jointly and separately. The custom officials are not, they do not cheat foreigners, they make money out of poor Indian workers returning from the Gulf with little luxury items bought from their hard-earned currency.
A year back, a German couple were staying with us. On their last day in Bombay, they went to the Crawford Market and made several small purchase of ethnic condiments. They returned with a small plastic sachet of what they though was saffron, bought at a bargain price of of Rs. 200 only. It turned out to be turmeric, nothing more and nothing less.
I went back with them to Crawford Market and to the grocer from whose stall they had bought it. The grocer was fat, busy and obviously prosperous. When I accused him of what he had done, he slipped Rs. 200 in my hand and told me: "Here is your money back. Please go away and do not make a noise."