It must be about two in the morning as I stood in front of the dressed in lily-white and starched to the-T,  uniformed customs officer. My suitcase propped up on top of the counter and what would be an early version of a boom box, hanging from my left hand.

‘I am afraid you will have to pay duty on that transistor.’
‘How much?’
‘I don’t know exactly. Do you have the bill? I think probably about two thousand rupees.’
‘But it didn’t even cost me that much.
‘Sorry, the duty is 200%’
‘In that case, you can keep it here. I will take it back on my return flight. I am sure I can buy one similar for much less from Crawford Market.’ Seeing that I had managed to throw him off-track, I continued: ‘My father will be heart-broken, because he normally never asks me for anything. He asked me for this so he can record and play bhajans during his puja sessions every day.’

I could see the expressions on his face changing. Suddenly I had put him in a moral bind. How could he deny a gift to a father from his son? Even more so, it was meant to play spiritual bhajans in a home temple. Still not saying anything, he points at the suitcase.

‘What else you’ve got in there?’
‘Oh, just some small gifts for my brothers and sisters. We are eight siblings.  Some toys for their kids and a sari for my mother.’

But I am not worried about them. It’s the issues of Playboy stashed between the layers of clothing. One thing I had learned from my very first encounter with the customs at the port of Dover in England was – never try to or even hint at having hidden anything which the customs officer may deem in the slightest susceptible. It has served me well, Years and years that I have traveled and hundreds of trips I have taken all over the world, I have but only once paid minimal customs duty, that of around forty American dollars.

With my suitcase wide open on the counter, I turn over  my clothes and fish out a couple of issues of Playboy.

‘Other than that the only other thing I have are these copies of Playboy.  But I work for the magazine in Germany and  am its production manager. I want to show my friends and the family what I do for a living.’ To authenticate my claim, I pull out my business card  and extend my hand  to give it to him. Without even turning his head, he throws a perfunctory sideway glance at the card. I am standing there with an issue of Playboy in my hand, proceeding to flip to the staff page and show him my name in the masthead.

‘No, no, no, no. No!!!. Put it right back in your suitcase, shut it quick and get the hell out of here before my boss sees it and you and I both get into trouble!’

© Haresh Shah 2012

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford

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Next Friday, December 21, 2012
MY SWEET LORD
Well, if you have been wondering whatever happened to the beautiful Barbara and her inexperienced  photographer, and his botched test shoot, wonder no more. Click next week on this continuation of Hunting For The Girl Next Door.

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