A few decades ago I was a frequent business traveller to Russia. Those were the days of stapled visas and hence my passport does not record the trips. Therefore my revelations cannot be verified, unless the the Indian agencies cables are compromised. But then who would be interested in the activities of a commercial manager in an exposition of electronic products.
It was a trade fair in Moscow wherein yours truly was representing the electronics industrial products of the state such as push button phones, televisions, hand held wireless equipment and other such items which were considered hi tech.
The other Indian exhibitors were manufacturers of foundry & furnace equipment, surgical instruments, textile equipment etc,. Language was a major issue as most of the Russian visitors could not speak English and hence we were dependent on the Indian student community who acted as our interpreters for a small fee. Surprisingly the most common language was Malayalam.
I came to understand that many of the communist party politburo members' children received free higher education in Russia. Many of them turned entrepreneurs indulging in selling contraband items like personal computers, walk mans and other electronic items smuggled into Russia. It was lucrative business as I was told that a personal computer bought in India for about Rs 40,000 sold at about 60,000 Roubles!!! at a time when one Rouble was officially pegged at Rs 30. Make your own calculations...
One frequent visitor was a dapper little fellow, smartly turned out in a dark suit with a dark overcoat, a rakishly angled fedora and black gloves. He was multi lingual and spoke to us in a plethora of Indian languages like Hindi, Bengali, Gujurati, Punjabi etc (no Southi lingo though).
He was not part of the Indian delegation or exhibitors, nor was he formally introduced to us.
Though uninvited he was a welcome visitor as he was fluent in Russian and very often translated for us when we had some Russian visitors.
This guy introduced himself as something like "Captain Sharma". His business card was very simple, it simply said "Resident Director" with a local address and phone number.
I was a little curious and asked him as to which company he was the director of. He dismissed my query nonchalantly with a simple response as "Oh! several of them".
I was not one to be dismissed so easily, however discretion being one of the quivers in my armoury decided to let it wait. The opportunity came a few days later.
It was about 10 PM when I had returned to the hotel after having taken my Indian student interpreters to an Indian Restaurant called "New Delhi". A fairly expensive meal but I think the youngsters thoroughly deserved it after a hard day of interpreting to some thick headed delegates from a rural agrarian factory who were probably being rewarded by a trip to Moscow to visit the exposition.
The ubiquitous Captain Sharma chanced to bump into me at the lobby and after some pleasantries we decided to retire to the watering hole. Soon the tinkle of the little bell announced the last drinks order and hence closing time. I invited him to my hotel room and soon the scotch had done its duty and we were fairly well lubricated.
He then let me know his background. It appeared that he had done a bachelor of Arts degree from a vernacular college in Delhi and then joined the army. He rose to become a captain, however due to a leg injury he was discharged. He then commenced his career in the commercial sector and hence he was currently a director in several companies.
I was quite dumb founded. Here I was a post graduate with a premier B School MBA struggling like a flunkey and here is this smart aleck...
Something snapped and I blurted out "Sala thu spy hai! are you a RAW agent?"
(Some info for the uninitiated...RAW innocuously stands for Research and Analysis Wing the undercover agency of the Indian Government.)
Captain Sharma was visibly shaken...he didn't say "How do you know?"
He said "What makes you think so?"
"Look, I said, this is a typical 'Le Carre' scenario."
"I have read many spy books and know the standard operating procedure working. Here you are a typically unimpressive individual, you wouldn't stand out in a crowd. An Armed forces background, been given the cover of a business director. Under normal circumstances you wouldn't be employed by an Indian MNC as you do not have the qualifications, experience or family connections."
I then continued "I do not know why you have taken the trouble of tailing me, and the way you casually bumped into me was far too studied for me to think that it was accidental."
I started to laugh.
He was not amused. He left his drink unfinished, picked up his overcoat, gloves and hat and disappeared. Needless to say I never saw him again at the exhibition.