Sunday 2 November 2008

The Mumbai Milk Scam

India 7: The lengths people will go to, to con a tourist

Mumbai, Friday night, after dark.

Our "cool cab" drops us off by the Gateway of India. The moment we get out the taxi, a man with a four foot yellow balloon with green spots asks us if we want to buy one. He slaps it as if to demonstrate what we're missing out on. Unsurprisingly we said no. Moments later, a young Indian women approaches us and introduces herself and starts trying to tie flower garlands around her wrists. We refuse and walk away but she is persistent. We say that we don't want to buy them but she insists, she says don't worry, it's a gift. For Diwali. Ok, we say, thank you, and walk away, but we're sure this won't be the last we see of her. We walk down the seafront and notice she is following us, about twenty paces behind. We walk for a good ten minutes and she is still following us.

Eventually the seafront road turns inland and on our left, shopkeepers sell their wares onto the street, on small tables and stands. The girl approaches us again and says in stilted English "Can you buy milk for me?" pointing at a carton of powdered milk on a shopkeeper's stall. It's for my little brother. I'm tempted to help her, since she'd walked all that way. I ask the shopkeeper how much. 350 rupees (approx 4 GBP). And then it hits me. That's way over the odds. The milk should be about 30 rupees. She's in cahoots with the shopkeeper. Presumably that after I've bought the milk and gone, thinking I've done a good deed, she would give it back to the shopkeeper and split the profits. Nice little earner.

Someone else told us they'd seen a similar scam with rice. The whole incident reminded me that this is a major tourist spot and everyone wants your money. I think how lucky I am that we didn't see any of this in Gujarat. Fortunately, apart from at these major tourist spots like Gateway of India and Victoria Terminal, begging and scamming is not too prevalent. Not as much as some cities like say Barcelona. Still, it just shows, if there's tourists around, don't trust anyone!