Its absolutely amazing how boring a train journey can be. Especially when its a long one (42 hours in my case). After reading the days paper twice and trying (unsuccessfully) to solve a four star sudoko, I laid to rest my ambitions, and resigned myself to a boring journey.
Whats also amazing is how seemingly ordinary persons have extra ordinary stories attached to them. I met one such man on this journey.
I will refer to him only as G. How we were introduced is irrelevant. What is relevant is this mans story. Here is what I gleaned from our conversation:
Born and brought up in Kerala, his early life was run of the mill. Complete graduation, marry, have kids, and in the manner of the majority of Keralites, move to the gulf to find a good job. Now G always had an eye for business, and when his low paying job didn’t yield enough, he promptly teamed up with a local and got into the restaurant business. Business was good, but not as good as he would have liked. G was still on the lookout for greater things.
His life changed forever one fine afternoon some years ago. The war in Iraq had broken out. Armies from all across the world were pouring into friendly middle east countries. With them came massive infrastructure, massive requirements and unimaginable amounts of money. It all started when an officer of the army (probably Italian) , approached him with a plan to get a share of the war pie. The job was simple. Procurement and transportation of goods required for the army. Not ammo and the like. But non lethal stuff like towels blankets, toothpaste and other items for daily use in the huge camps that they were setting up. G saw his chance, and with one eye on the money he jumped in. Starting a huge operation like this was not possible for an indian in the Gulf without official backing. It involved heavy collusion with officials. But G got lucky when someone with connections in the government offered to be his partner. All official doorways were now open.
Now G’s business involved supplying camps near the border in Iraq. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that this was a gold mine of opportunity. The camps were given a fixed amount of money (no small change,; sometimes the figure ran into hundreds of millions), for a fixed period, say 1 month. which they could spend as they pleased. For the army, money was not a problem. What they wanted was results. If they asked for a million blankets by midnight the next day, and if they got it, they were willing to pay anything.With such huge amounts involved, corruption is inescapable. G supplied the camps with the goods,on time and in full, and asked them to write out highly inflated bills, which they did happily. All they wanted was their cut, and G was more than happy to give it to them.
One such force wanted 10 million mosquito coils in 2 days. G approached the seaports. There was a shipment of coils lying in the harbor with no one to buy them. G bought out the captain of the ship. The shipment was his to do with as he pleased. He transported it as contraband, and under the cover of night to the base. He paid off the army men, delivered the shipment and hightailed it back across the border. Profit? Check this : When you buy a packet of coils in India you get five coils in a box for something like 40 rupees. G sold Each of the coils as a single coil. And each one was sold for 40 dollars. American. The army asked no questions. They had the goods they wanted. Everyone else was on G’s payroll anyway.
He dealt in all kinds of things: laptops, electronics cigarettes, you name it and he would get it for you. All for a price of course. Within a year he was raking in the moolah. He set up an office worth crores and had 40 foreign staff on his payroll. Life was looking good.
It all changed one day when he returned from a business trip to find his office hijacked by his own partner, his partner with connections to the royal family. It was all he could do escape with his life. He stowed away on a Russian cargo plane en route to Moscow, and somehow made it back to India. But he didn’t come empty handed. With him were a couple of suitcases of cash. He was waiting for the exchange rate to shoot up so that he can cash it all in.
I cannot claim to authenticate each and every detail, but I heard it from the man himself. this was the sort of stuff you see in movies . You don’t expect these sort of people to pop up in train compartments. And yet there he was, and here is his story. Those who have seen the Nicholas Cage movie “The Lord of War” can draw parallels.