Before I start writing about my experience on this, let me say what Kuruvi means. Kuruvis are the kind of people who travel extensively from India to another country to smuggle foreign goods ranging from cigarettes to liquor to mobile phones to gold.
During my recent trip from Colombo to Chennai, I came across this industry of Kuruvis. They are ordinary looking people and would pass as any blue-collar worker who is returning to India for his holidays. But the essential difference between a blue-collar worker and Kuruvis are that Kuruvis fly in and out almost on a daily basis, if not on a weekly basis.
The flight we were travelling, Srilankan seems to a favourite one for these Kuruvis. The modus operandi of Kuruvis from what I understood from my fellow passenger on that day (who is a regular traveller on that route) is to travel from Chennai to Colombo in the morning flight. At the Colombo airport they pick up duty free goods, much beyond the legally allowed value, and travel back to Chennai by the evening flight. It is just like somebody going to work in the morning and coming back home in the evening!!
The Kuruvis, numbering almost 20 in that flight, has very cordial relationship with the flight attendants and stewards. It seems they almost know each other by their first names. Can't be anything if you are traveling on a daily basis on international flights. The "kuruvi" who was sitting in front of our row was making so much of noise and disturbance during the entire 1 hour flight. He was busy packing and re-packing the cigarettes and liquor bottles throughout the flight time. He hardly bothered for any seat belt sign or on the safety of hand luggage even during take-off. He was keeping loose lugguage, in this case, Jack Daniels whisky bottles beneath his seat. The air-hostess came and mildly chided him to keep it in the overhead bin but that was of no use. He hardly bothered about it and neither she insisted on it. Just to silence some other passengers who were very irritated by the behaviour of this person. Mind it, this is on an international flight!! What about safety of other passengers??
I was told that these Kuruvis are part of the bigger gang and the people who actually travel on a daily basis and physically carry the goods are small change in the entire chain. They work for Rs500 - Rs1000 for every trip. Thanks to excellent connections and commissions, the airport and security staff allow these "kuruvis" to go without proper immigiration and customs checks. Few "Kuruvis" do this daily journey as a kind of self-employment tool!
To give you a small example, I was told that a Jack Daniels full bottle of whisky costs Rs750 at the Customs Free shop in Colombo and they are able to sell the same in the outside market for Rs1500 per bottle. Therefore, they make a tidy sum of Rs750 per bottle.
It seems to be a thriving business and was very curious to find out how these Kuruvis were treated at the Chennai Airport by the Customs officials. I followed the "kuruvi" who was sitting in front of me and to my astonishment he was walking boldly without blinking his eyes through the green channel. I know for sure that he was carrying at least 10 Jack Daniels whisky and a huge carton of foreign cigarettes on that day. Our customs officials, as expected, didn't stop this guy and he was long gone before I could come out after the Customs officials questioning!!!!!!!
This world provides plenty of opportunities for self-employment and this one is truly fascinating!