I Hooked up with an Indian Con Artist
Delhi: Avoid it if you can, my friends had said. Scams are everywhere.
In spite of their advice, I needed to find a travel store to get a new travel money card. I had already lost three, and was onto my last. Travelling the world with one travel card causes the same anxiety as when you try to take a panoramic picture over a great height with your phone. If you don’t hold onto it for dear life, you’re fucked.
As I attempted to cross a typical Delhi road of death, a handsome Indian man who was very charming and full of character came over to help me to stay alive and find a store. I walked into Delhi Tourism & Services Agency to get a new card, but came out with a $500 one-month rail pass instead. India’s huge population makes it infuriatingly difficult to purchase tickets, and while I am usually stingy as fuck, the convenience of being able to get a ticket to wherever I wanted for whenever I wanted for a whole month seemed like a good deal to me.
I was meant to get a bus to Rishikesh that night, but my new friend Rohan convinced me to join him for beers first. As I was enjoying his company, I succumbed. At the bar later that night, while sinking many bevs and smoking cigs, Rohan told me he was an Ayurveda Masters student from southern India. He’d had a rough upbringing as a beggar, as an abusive father kicked him onto the streets when Rohan was just a child. His father allegedly blamed him for the death of his mother, who had died while giving birth. Captivated by his life story and the authenticity of seeing “the real Delhi”, I also let Rohan convince me to skip my bus. Too many Kingfisher Longnecks led to a limited memory, but what I do recall is smashing drinks as Rohan did mainies around Delhi in a rickshaw, and him kissing me in the back of it.
The next morning, I woke up to a throbbing headache and a sense of regret for the antics of last night. As promised through, Rohan had purchased me a bus ticket to Rishikesh and we agreed to meet again in Agra. As I walked to the bus station, the owner of a tour agency approached me, but I ignored him as per the instructions of Rohan and my friends who had mentioned that particular street being littered with scamming agencies.
“Hey!” the owner yelled out, “I’m not trying to sell you anything! You’re an hour early for that bus, come inside for a beer and a chat!” I stopped in my tracks. I can’t say no to anything, especially a free beer. So I followed the man into his office as his co-worker fetched a beer. The owner curiously asked to see my bus ticket. I knew it was an opportunity for him to try to convince me to buy other tickets, so to prevent him from doing so, I showed him my one-month contract.
“This is fake,” the man told me. I felt my throat tighten. His co-worker tried to hand me a beer but I pushed it away.
“NO, it’s NOT FAKE,” I yelled at him and ran out of the agency. I refused to let him scam me. But which was one was the scam? Was that man a scammer? Or was Delhi Tourism & Services a scam, and Rohan its scammer? There was some serious scam-ception going on. I felt extremely dizzy and overwhelmed as I realised that I may have made a huge mistake. Suddenly, the video-tape in my head rewound to the previous day and night, and every memory I had became slightly altered by the reality I had just discovered.
Rohan was probably not even an Ayuverda student. He was most likely a conniving con artist who had seen me cross the street in Delhi and seized the opportunity to scam me, convincing me to walk into his phoney office and pay $500 for a pass that didn’t exist. I expected there would not be a seat on the next bus for me, and that the ticket to Rishikesh that Rohan had given me would be fake.
Surprisingly though, when the bus did arrive, a man ushered me on and I made it to Rishikesh. So Rohan’s bus ticket was not the scam.
Rishikesh is the meant to be centre of the world for yoga, meditation and peace. Not for me though, as I sat in my dorm bed at the hostel ready to activate my rail-pass which may have been a scam. I dialled the first number on my month-contract and took a deep breath; like a child holding their breath to make a wish in front of their birthday cake. Please don’t be fake, I thought.
“The number you have dialled is busy, please call again later,” a calm and soft Indian woman’s voice said. I tried the second number.
“The number you have called does not exist. Please check the number and dial again.” I tried the final number.
“The number you have called does not exist. Please check the number and dial again.” Holy fuck, I thought. Fake numbers? What the fuck!
I jumped onto Google at the speed of light to find the truth and typed in “Delhi Tourism & Services”. When I clicked onto the Facebook page of the agency, my guts were crushed as I read the complete title of the page: “Delhi Tourism & Services – DO NOT GO HERE IT IS A SCAM!” People’s comments on the Facebook page mentioned times where they had been “issued” train and hotel reservations, only to find out on arrival that the reservations ceased to exist.
Apprehensively, I rang Rohan.
“DID YOU DO THIS TO ME? DID YOU SCAM ME?” I yelled into the phone at him.
“Woah, woah baby, calm down!” he replied. Ugh, I hate when people call me baby, I thought.
“CALL THEM AND FIX IT PLEASE!” I demanded.
“I will baby, of course; I’ll make sure you get to Agra. Will I still meet you in Agra?”
I hesitated for a moment. Fuck no, was what I wanted to say. “Of course,” I said softly, lying through my teeth. Not long after I got off the phone with Rohan, I received an email from the agency. They had issued me a ticket to Agra, and Rohan had ensured they didn’t scam me. I suddenly realised that keeping in contact with Rohan may be the only way I could get through the country without being scammed. Did that mean Rohan had a hold over me?
God dammit, I thought, realising I’d have to keep in contact with him for the entire month.
I consulted my best friend for advice.
“DUDE! DO NOT MEET HIM. He might kidnap you or something! I’m worried!” my friend said.
Ahhh yeah… I thought, suddenly realising I hadn’t taken my safety into account. I had already told Rohan when my train would get in at Agra, but I decided to listen to her advice.
When the train pulled in at Agra station, I grabbed my bags and calmly walked towards the exit. I quickly scanned the streets of Indian mayhem, and when Rohan didn’t appear in my immediate peripherals, I legged it to the nearest rickshaw and made the driver take me straight to my hostel.
I didn’t want to rely on Rohan to get me through the country, so decided to risk it and book each ticket myself, using my best manners each time I communicated with the agency to in the hope they would feel too guilty to scam me.
“Good morning! How are you on this fine day? I would like one train ticket from Agra to Ajmer please. Thank you kindly. You have a marvellous day!” I sent in a text message.
And it worked.
Despite the many warnings I came across regarding the dodginess of the Delhi Tourism & Services Agency, my rail pass continued to work all month. But whether this was because I was receiving special treatment from the scammers thanks to my tonsil hockey with Rohan, my friendly use of manners over text or because the agency is actually a legit company, I will never know.
Whatever the reason, I’ve learned my lesson, and I would definitely recommend being a bit more careful with your ticket purchases (and general conduct) so you don’t involve yourself in a scam-ception like me.
Cover by Arun Kale