Friday, October 16, 2009

Nice new airport, same old shakedown

Nice new airport, same old shakedown
By: George Verghese Date: 2009-10-15 Place: Bangalore

George Verghese, professor at an American university, walks into Bangalore's gleaming new arrival terminal, but his delight is shortlived

Nearly two years after my last visit to Bangalore, what a treat it was to land at the new airport, gleaming and bright at midnight. The lines moved quickly past the infrared camera and the health-check desk, then through immigration. Bags plucked off the belt, a few minutes at the duty-free shop to pick up some last gifts, and then past the customs desk to the waiting car.

Glitter: A view of the new airport. The professor ran into a customs official who demanded a bribe.
pic/ Vinodkumar T

Well, actually not so quickly to the waiting car.

The customs officer asked "What do you have in there?" He was pointing to the small bag only slightly bigger than a book slung over my shoulder. I opened the zipper and pulled out my travel papers and the
netbook I was carrying, a shiny black Asus, small and basic.

"A netbook," I said. "For my own use, and costing less than $300." I thoughtthat would be the end of it.

"Are you carrying any other computer or laptop?" I mentioned that I had my laptop too, in my pull-on bag.

"Please walk to the desk there."

At the desk I was told that the allowance was for only one laptop, and the second would have to be charged a 36 per cent duty. I indicated my surprise, saying that the second machine was just an inexpensive netbook, not a regular laptop, and also that Bangalore was the last place I'd have expected a fuss about laptops, high-tech city that it is. I repeated that the machines were for my own use only, and would leave the country with me in ten days. They asked what kind of work I did, and I said I was a professor at a university in the US.

Couldn't they write the netbook into my passport or something, to verify that I take it out? Apparently not, because this was a US passport, and anyway they didn't do that kind of thing anymore.

By this time a supervisor walked over, and was filled in by the officer at the desk. The supervisor, whose badge announced him as *** (I have the name, in case anyone wants to follow up), repeated what I'd been already told. I resigned myself to paying the fine, around 108 dollars.

As the customs officer calculated the fine, I asked how I could pay, and whether a credit card would be possible. I was told that the fine would have to be paid in rupees. I asked where I could change my dollars, and was told there was a bank in the lobby.

At this point the supervisor, who was still nearby, sidled up again to where the customs officer and I were standing, and asked whether I needed a receipt. "If not, then you can simply pay here in dollars, 100 dollars, and it will be all right."

"I will need a receipt," I answered, determined to not let him get his hands on my cash.

"In that case I can't help you," said the supervisor. It's all about helping the traveller, apparently!

I went and changed my dollars at the bank, then returned and paid my fine,and walked quickly to the waiting car.

Bye bye, airport. Hello, Bangalore.


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