A shoeshine should ideally cost 25 to 50 cents (Rs 15 to Rs 25), but to the uninitiated it may cost around 1,000 rupees, that’s around $20,” says J. Ford Huffman.
A media consultant from Washington on his second trip to the capital, Huffman has been conned twice by shoeshine boys.
“In October, I was walking down to CP from the Jeevan Bharti building near Janpath when a man appeared from thin air and pointed at some brown substance on my shoe,” he says.
Huffman was offered a shine and he readily agreed.
“Job done, the man looked up and said he wanted 750 rupees.”
Huffman isn’t the only victim.
Wiley Wade (35) from Texas, a consultant at the World Bank’s New Delhi branch and a resident of Sector 7, Dwarka, is another.
“I don’t remember if it was a bird that pooped on my shoe or a kid who wanted to make a quick buck — but a shoeshine guy magically appeared seconds after it happened,” he says.
He was greeted with a smile and a demand of Rs 1,200 in hard cash.
According to the police, such gangs use boiled glucose biscuits to create the brownish-yellow goop that looks like animal excreta.
“It is perhaps the oldest trick in the book,” said a senior police officer.
“In the early 90s, a similar gang would spoil people’s clothes with melted glucose biscuits, offer to clean it and run away with the person’s baggage.”
Author Sam Miller has devoted six pages of his popular book ‘Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity’ to this form of con job.
“I think the Delhi Police could do better if it learns to be sympathetic to its own people,” he said.
“In my book, I’ve written about how the police don’t shy away from violence and have no reservations about beating a suspected drug peddler in front of children on Delhi streets. With such images around, how would an average Delhiite approach a police officer, let alone a tourist?”
Travel destinations elsewhere in Asia such as Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok offer better tourist safety.
“The police can be seen everywhere in Kuala Lumpur,” said Ajita Singh (20), a DU student who has just returned from a trip to the Malaysian capital.
“They can be seen patrolling in cars and bicycles, especially near souvenir shops and hotels.”
“This is essentially a state-specific issue,” said Sujit Banerjee, Tourism Secretary.
“There are various social awareness campaigns that have been initiated throughout the country to make India more tourist friendly.”
The Delhi government, in turn, wants to empower tourists themselves.
“We are shortly going to launch various measures to empower the average tourist in Delhi,” said Rina Ray, Tourism Secretary (Delhi).
She said the capital would soon have its own tourist website in addition to a 24x7 tourist helpline to make essential information for foreign visitors retrievable at the touch of a button.
“The website and the helpline will allow tourists to access information an array of fields from cultural programmes to transportation services.”
The government is also planning a crackdown on bogus ‘government approved’ lodgings in areas such as Paharganj and other localities near the railway station.