By this time smuggling had evolved, and to match the devil's mind we were using every muscle to switch over to the systemic intelligence from our tedious human intelligence. The frequency of seizures was coming down, and to add insult to the injury every new case was out of our text book.
It had been a complete lull for a fortnight. I was under pressure, not only for the dip in the numbers, but also for my own reputation as an intelligence officer. I was playing hide and seek with my boss the AC/ AIU to avoid the famous question: What's going on, smuggling is stopped or you're tired? It had been a week I saw him.
That day the office sepoy came to me with a pregnant message, " Sir was asking if Gautam is on leave or what?" I knew he knew I am not on leave. The sepoy further added, "He has asked you to call him at his residence number."
I wanted to buy one more day, to go an extra mile and have at least something to to humor him. It was a listless evening with a thin hope hanged with Emirates' singular departure to Dubai. I hopelessly watched every passenger till it was the time to close the check-in counters. I counted it a one more day of no success, and sank in a chair in the waiting area. Sitting there, lost in my thoughts, i saw a passenger, neatly dressed like a conservative businessman, with just a brief case in his hand. From no angle he looked a smuggler to me. Hoping against hope, i got up and for no good reason observed him till he completed his check-in process. He was all the time firm and stable. A bell rang in my head. It had been my experience, particularly in some spectacular cases, that absolutely nothing wrong with a person travelling to another country makes him an unusual suspect. This man was one to me at that moment. Laterally thinking, i knew I was going little to far too keep my hope alive. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and approached him. For some silly reason i was questioning him while checking his hand baggage and was also answering on his behalf. For example, asking ' what do you do gentleman?' And before he says anything, replying on his behalf- ' you must be a businessman.' I don't think he would have ever faced ( enjoyed) such a friendly questioning. And then came a moment, i should have ran shouting 'eureka.. eureka' but stopped myself just short by controlling my nerves. The man had a cloth made waist- belt, we had seen in the past, for concealing hundred or more gold biscuits, -- called 'jacket' in smuggling parlance. I had unknowingly lifted it to check out but dropped it like a hot potato the moment i realised the spell of the coming event.
I said, " sorry gentleman, i troubled you for nothing.' Got a view of his passport details by flipping it in a cursory manner. I had an uncanny feeling that i have a big seizure in hand, and it would be foolish to spoil the chances by showing any haste or excitement. I let him go, hoping the man has not read my mind.
Alok Garg and Dinesh Bhardwaj were the two officers in my team always trailing me to learn the tricks of the trade. Both were very sincere and dedicated, to say the least. To make sure he doesn't get a whiff I became invisible, and intermittently checked his movements from a distance until he completed his immigration and customs formalities, and headed for his flight. My heart jumping out of my chest as if a big fish were already in my net, i came to the customs enclosure, making sentences in my head for the narration to our AC. The moment i turned my face to the direction this man had proceeded, i couldn't stop myself shrieking. To my utter dismay i saw the same gentleman flanked by our officers Alok Garg and Dinesh Bhardwaj-- Dinesh minutely examining his bag and Alok holding the cloth-belt high in his hands, seeking the man's explanation for carrying this queer item in his bag. I rushed to them shouting at the highest of my pitch- " What's wrong with you guys! This is pure harrasment. I checked him outside for no reason, and now you are again troubling him. This is not done. Can't you make out he's a decent man? For heaven sake, spare at least decent people." I dished out my apology to him as well, and helped him pack his bag.
Minutes later, not able to make sense of my sudden outburst, the officers asked me, " You have no idea sir, what he was carrying in his baggage. You should have at least seen it." I knew I owe them an explanation. Once the passenger was out of our sight, i threw a broad smile, and said, " Come on guys, if all goes well, we are all set to make a big seizure. It's just 48 hours away. Let's go to office." I saw them pursing their lips in disbelief.
I told both of them that without making a specific enquiry about the passanger they should gather all the details about him; his itinerary, visa details, pervious travel record et al. It revealed he had come from Hyderabad this afternoon, and had a circuitous ticket: Mumbai- Dubai- Kuwait- Ahmedabad- Hyderabad, not halting even for a day at any of the places. I made the picture of his plan as well as of our counter-plan in my mind.
First of all, i called up our AC, and before he says anything i poured out, "A big seizure is coming our way sir." It seems you have some concrete information, he asked. I said, " Not really an information sort of, but something more bang on." When I explained him about my observation and a foolproof plan ( in my opinion) to strike the gold, he was not really impressed. He said, " i keenly heard you out Gautam, but to be true, it all sounds fiction to me. Anyway, if you're so sure, go ahead with what you want to do but in the meanwhile look for something more real."
I would be not fair on part if i don't mention here my senior, the iconic T S Jayaram who had hugely invested his trust in me and stood by me through thick and thin.
All arrangements were made for both the officers, Alok and Dinesh, to fly down to Ahemdabad in advance
with a precise list of to-do and not-to-do. I didn't want to leave anything to chance. There were no mobile phones in those days. I told them I will be glued to my home number, please don't deviate a bit without consulting me. No call from you guys would mean everything is going according to the script. I kept looking at my watch to have some idea of what must be going on at Ahmedabad airport. There was no call till it was the time for the Indian Ailines flight to take off from Ahmedabad to Hyderabad. It was long past midnight. I sat in my living room waiting for the phone to ring. The flight was to land at 5 am. It was around 5.30 and still no call. I was getting nervous with every passing moment. Finally the bell rang. It was Alok on the other side, bursting out with excitement -- 'We got it sir. One hundred fifty gold bars. We detained the man and he has admitted his guilt.'
I said we will take the details later, CONGRATULATIONS!
I called up my AC, and he picked on the first tring. To my surprise he was eagerly waiting for a news from me.
I said, "150 gold bars!"
His words are still a music to my ears. " You are just incredible Gautam! Keep it up."
The officers returned after completing the seizure formalities at Hyderabad Airport.
Here is their story.
After we reached Ahmedabad we told the AC on duty that we have to conduct a sensitive operation in the transit area of the airport. Please allow us to do it in a very discreet manner. AC/ AIU had already sent a message to his counterpart without divulging the minutae of our plan. The officers at Ahmedabad Aiport were very cooperative. Alok and Dinesh dressed themselves up as passengers returning from UAE in a winter season. Hardly recognisable. They kept an eye on the passenger from the moment he came out of the flight till he boarded his onward flight. Since they knew his seat number, and accordingly booked their seats close to him, thanks our colleagues at Ahmedabad.
Every moment of the passenger was marked; he opened a hand baggage rack that was not over his seat, and visited one of the washrooms before disembarking at hyderbad airport. He was closely tailed by one of the two officers, and was accosted as he hurriedly moved to the exit. He was not supposed to have any contraband with him, and he didn't have. In fact, he took a tough posture. There inside the aircraft the other offecer checked the rack this passenger had opened. And Lo, here's the cloth-belt with bold bars stitched in it. In all 150. The passenger had recognised the officers he met at Bombay Airport, and the circle was complete