The Shams of India

Chatting with a friend started me thinking about the myriad, highly diverting kinds of chicanery I’ve seen over the years in our beloved India:) This turned out to be such a rich topic...

Shamming for sympathy, including:

The supposedly blind guy at Java City with a white cane and dark glasses that weren’t dark enough to prevent you from noticing up close that he was always looking around and focusing on different sights. His perpetual grin didn’t help either.

The desperately sad-looking woman who came to clean the apartment block daily who remained seven months pregnant, and near tears, from mid-2005 well upto now. Beyond the boundary walls of the apartment block on her way in or out of the building when I hand her a packet of cookies or pastries her smile always becomes radiant.

The old woman who used to beg in front of Mac’s on Linking Road every day, bent over double and shaking even in this summer heat, made people reach out with food in concern for her old bones. Except on the two or three occasions when I saw her arrive for “work,” walking upright and not shaking at all.

Heartfelt hogwash, featuring:

A young woman with her family who used to stop people in the street explaining that they were villagers from Kolar who came to Bombay for medical help, and the same day they arrived they got their baggage stolen and now needed money for train fare home – a plausible story convincingly delivered, except that she told it to me on three or four different occasions over a two-year period.

Door-to-door hypocrites

Here’s a fun fact: quite a few people have knocked on my door claiming that I was obligated to comply with their wishes, which usually meant giving them money for one thing or another, and so far not a single one of them has been telling the truth. None. Zero. Liars all.

My favorites include:

The haughtily aggressive bill collector who insisted that I had to pay the previous tenant’s outstanding phone line bill to continue usage.

The “Energy inspector” (with no uniform or ID) who came by right after I moved into a new place and insisted on coming inside to check the papers for a dekho at the electricity meter. I was naive at the time that I actually let him in and showed him the 3 phase meter which he was not interested in , was busy gapin around the apartment and realized that it was essentially a single room with nothing in it worth taking away, let alone stealing.

And the impressively glib young man wearing a yellow jumpsuit and goggles hanging in the front and carrying a complex-looking “gas sensor” (I now think it was a fake empty box) who tried really hard to convince us that we were legally obliged to pay him 200 bucks to use his super-high-tech gizmo to verify that our gas stove wasn’t leaking. We decided to live dangerously.

Inexplicable absurdities

Shopping in one of those massive malls, I found myself in a watch store . As I was making my way through the crowd in the watch department, someone tapped me very firmly and rapidly several times on the shoulder from behind. I turned around and saw a skinny, well-dressed girl with glasses just completing the action of bending over a display case and assuming a glaringly affected look of poring over the watches as though making a carefully considered choice. She was even rubbing his chin as if thoughtfully!.

I have no idea what that was about. A distraction as a setup for a pickpocket? One of those asinine “hidden camera” TV shows? Or perhaps a wager between 2 people to have a laugh at the expense of a stranger


melinda said...

Scamsters depend on the kindness of strangers.
I met this girl through an office colleague at a party. She was new to Delhi, leaving behind a difficult past, she said with her wide-eyes, sweet face honest face.

I felt an instant connection with her, part pity, part charmed by the tales about her life - fantastic, funny, and sad stories, but so detailed that I connected with it as real.

I loaned her money for an emergency: car problems, she can't meet the deposit on her apartment, any number of calamities. She promised to pay me back, but never did.

I even allowed her to move in with me and her rent cheque bounced 3 months in a row. Her gift for story-telling, what initially attracted me to her on grounds of kindness, becomes exasperating.

So I confronted her, again and again, until one day she was packed and gone. I feel so badly a loser!

gita said...

My mum gave a man RS 500/- for fruits and veggies after he knocked on her door during the morning.

He took the money and said he would go back to his cart to collect the goods, but never returned:)

Shweta said...

I have known of a neighbour friend who had to contact the police to report a bogus caller pretending to be police officers or from electricity and water companies and on pretext of requesting a glass of water they followed her inside the house and took off with whatever they could lay their hands on! Scary times!

ashish said...

There are con men everywhere in different forms and designer clothes! Right outside my office a rickshaw driver with a passenger drew to a stop and requested me for change of a 500 note! Since the gentleman inside as the passenger looked normal I did not suspect nothing amiss. SO opened my wallet to give him the change. I handed over 5 hundred rupee notes and took their 500/ and then the passenger piped in O! I managed to get the change by scrambling thru my bag- so they return the 5 x 100 notes back to me. And they both took off in two separate directions and merge into traffic! When I count the notes in my hand they were folded in such a manner that I was shocked I had only 300 bucks- they had taken off with my 200 bucks! Talk about haath ki safai! I felt like such a loser then!

Mike said...

Rip off people are everywhere! There in restaurants, hospitals, furniture stores, cabs, and even the local car mechanic may be taking you to the cleaners. And sadly enough, these con-men aren't going away anytime soon!

sheila said...

People who come to your doorstep solicit work or on an inquiry should be carrying identity cards. I urge anyone who is approached by anyone offering this kind of service to check them out before engaging with them.

Jim said...

The actual content of 60 Minutes ( a tv show here)is now less than 42 minutes. I don't really have any right to complain:)- would that be a con too?:)