Our shipment (furniture and household items from the US) arrived about a month back at Nhava Sheva Port, Mumbai. The shipping company advised us to be present at the time of Clearing (though not mandatory). So we planned in such a way that we would be in Mumbai at the time of shipment arrival.
It was a door to door move; from Atlanta, US to Pune, India. We had about half a container full of household items and furniture. It took us over a year to scale down from a 3000 sq ft house to a moderate 2-3 bedroom apt. Why did we do it? It is a topic for some other day.
The customs department (like many Govt bodies) in India has a reputation for not letting anybody go without a bribe. We spoke to some friends and relatives that had connections. All advised and agreed that it would be better to bribe for a hassle free experience. Brinda and I were not very keen on the same. So we decided that we would personally visit the port and meet the customs dept. This also gave us an opportunity to inspect and make sure we received all of our items.
It was going to be a whole day affair so we dropped off Haripriya with a close relative and headed to the Port. The place was totally disconnected and away from any habitation. We got there on time and waited for our turn, I should say rather our fate. Obviously we were anxious. Finally our turn came and we had to meet the Superintendent (the Big Boss) of Customs in his office. He was busy signing a load of documents and was continuously occupied with other staff and the visitors.
He greeted us and requested to sit. Then he struck a warm and friendly conversation. His friendly and cordial attitude took me by surprise as I was expecting it to be the opposite. For a moment, I thought I was being sweet talked into a bribe game. He welcomed and appreciated our decision to move back to India. It took me some time to get adjusted to his genuine and polite mannerisms. I have had good relationships with some of the bureaucrats and families of the politicians in past, a flashback of this helped me in continuing the positive conversation with him. He signed off all the documents without any question and assured of his help. This gave me a moral boost. Next step was to meet the inspectors. I was totally prepared for it and decided to seek the superintendent’s intervention if needed.
Our shipping company staff again prepared us to shell out some cash for the obvious. The inspectors came and asked for the packing list. They took about five minutes for inspection, opened few boxes and gave the green signal. We were happy and relieved, the Big Day Out was worth the effort.
It’s not over yet. The second hurdle was the Octroi post as our stuff would be loaded in a truck and moved to Pune from Mumbai port. The octroi officials have same reputation as the customs dept. So we again made sure that we were present at the post during arrival of our truck. We cleared the checkpoint without any hassle and guided the truck to our apt.
Getting our stuff without any bribe was definitely a satisfactory experience but more important for me was the pleasant and encouraging experience of meeting the Customs Head.
Later I reflected on this experience and similar incidents from the past, would like to share some lessons that I have learnt:
Judging people deprives us of wealth and opportunities: Based on our environment and upbringing, we are conditioned to think in a certain way. We judge people based on their nationality, color, profession, background, upbringing etc. For example, we think of the lawyers and doctors negatively i.e. they are driven by money only and will go to any extent to rip off their customers. Not true, I have met many nice folks in professions that have the worst reputation.
There are always some good people and we will have access to these if we are optimistic and have a positive attitude. There’s so much to gain if we just stop judging people and focus on the positives instead.
Seeking help: The advantage of living in India is that it is easier to approach folks with authority especially for us (NRIs) that have built some wealth and connections over the years. If I’m not making progress with a certain official, I seek help from their seniors. I have gotten good results not only in India but also in the US using this approach.
It even helps in simple routine things like resolving credit card, utility bills or airline/hotel issues.
It pays to do the homework: We had researched well on the customs duty and the transfer of residence aspect ahead of time. So we knew which items will attract duty and how much is it going to be. I would rather be over prepared than ill prepared.
Simple points, aren’t they? But very effective.
I will be sharing more of such experiences under “Living in India” category, so stay tuned!!