ConMen of Meghalaya – a personal history

I have known a lot of con-men in my life. They have come in various shades and colours. They’ve come in every shape and size.  Most don’t stay around very long because people inevitably impose questions upon them at some point in time. So before that can happen, con-men use their sixth sense to get out of a sticky situation. Nevertheless the time that they do spend with us is rife with fabulous stories and miraculous imaginings. In a way, they are the descendants of characters like Puck and Krishna. Many old stories from all over the planet have such characters in them and many have endeared themselves to us. However, this short account is about the modern-day variety – the con-men, scalawags who strut about cities like Shillong and feast upon their unsuspecting naïve residents.

First off, though you might be infested with con-men at any social strata depending on what it is they are after, it is generally a problem associated with the middle and upper classes. This is because these strata are easily impressed by fancy-sounding English words and preening talk especially related to big dreams and big bucks. For the longest period of time, my family who owned a small but prime piece of real-estate along the Assam-Meghalaya border was beset with these characters. Con-men would emerge out of nowhere and descend upon my unsuspecting family with a ferocity not seen since the days of the Golden Horde. Under a variety of guises these artists would come to sell us their act. They would, for instance, come as great visionaries who wanted to start a “resort” (this is word I cringe at) or a “university” (another cringe inducer). To thwart these cretins one MUST fight fire with fire, use their own language against them. Ask them for the complete DPRs and estimated expenditure reports, insist on a SWOT analysis, ask them for client testimonials etc etc etc, basically say as many awful officious things as possible. Most of the time from my own experience, con-men will never be able to furbish the required documents that you require from them. Since they are such ‘important’ people I usually have no problems giving them my email address so that they can forward the paperwork to my account. They usually assure you that the required files will be sent in by the evening. And then I wait. And wait and wait and wait and wait. Nothing comes through into the inbox. Initially I would call these people repeatedly and remind them to send me the necessary paperwork. I would think that it had simply slipped their minds. Only much later on did I realize that this was a pattern. That there was, in fact, no paperwork whatsoever. All they wanted was the land, not a partnership. They had no intention to “develop” it.

This group of con-artists are usually speculators who believe that by acquiring land from cash-strapped owners and eventually re-selling at a higher rate their vast debts (this is usually the case with con-men) will be erased. However, their debts are never erased entirely because con-men have a fatal weakness – they like to live BIG. Two and a half crore is nothing for such people. They burn through it like a hot knife through butter. So next time, before you do any business with these human lampreys, make sure you know their financial strength. The fact that someone owns an iPhone X, an expensive car and has a “family name” should NEVER ever be the reason to do business with someone.

There are so many con-men in Shillong today. You might be related to a few yourself. Look around your neighbourhood. How is Mr P able to afford such an expensive car? What does Mr K do in Ri Bhoi exactly? Sadly, the answer is that they are either thieves who work in the government or police force, or are allegedly independent “businessmen” AKA con-men. These people give other legitimate business-men a bad name. They go around and ruin other people’s chances by promising people the moon and delivering a garbage dumpster. On that note: is that why such people end up in politics? Hmmm, that is food for thought. And as I say this I don’t think that I am too far off the mark when I consider the rank and file of next year’s candidates.

Another interesting variation of the con-man is, what I have come to call, the ‘white devil’. Genetically the same as the run-of-the-mill Indian prototype, the outward appearance of this creature is what sets it apart and guarantees its success. It has evolved a layer of ‘white’ skin and a clever tongue in order to lure and capture its prey. They are usually derived from Caucasian stock or claim to be. This immediately qualifies them for first class treatment in a society obsessed with fairness and which associates the same with superiority. Places like Shillong in particular with their colonial hang-ups seem to be just the sort of places such creatures thrive in. I am assuming that the testing grounds for their affectations must have been learned in old colonial settlements like Calcutta where they were able to combine metropolitan charm with ruthlessness. After the crumbling of the old world order in 1947 many of these con-artists made their way to the last reservoirs of this ‘ancien regime’: the hill-stations. This is why so many dubious ‘Old World’ characters stalk the Shillong streets. Clinging onto preppy “proper English” diction and half-arsed ideas about the world, rehashing dull stereotypes and spewing bourgeois adages these men are much beloved by many middle class people especially among the older families of Shillong. When the British left the country, this ilk settled in fast and re-colonised the old stomping grounds.

A smile and a way with words are all that are required to sway certain people. Many of my own family members have been sucked in as well by such acts, losing money and assets in the process. It is sad to see such things but it comes on because we continue to associate people who speak the “Queen’s English” with refinement. In reality we don’t really want to take up the ideas of “Western Man” wholeheartedly (forget about resisting them), we are just in love with the appearance of Civilization. Some people have noticed that and have carved a niche for themselves at the cost of others. Many so-called entrepreneurs continue to offer up faux sophistication for a price, they loathe the use of “American” slang in conversation and protest vehemently when certain famous aphorisms are misquoted. They might start a school, training institute or a choir. Most, in reality, last read a book in BA (English Honours) some 20 years ago and have since resorted to Scoop Whoop for their infotainment. Yet, somehow, these are the supposed purveyors of ‘high culture’ in our society. Why do we still entertain these dinosaurs in our day-to-day lives? They are irrelevant, complacent, sanctimonious and, painfully, dull.

Because we’d rather let a man’s words and not his actions determine our measure of him, we continue to be made fools of. In my own lifetime, I have met many “uncles” who came and went: people who professed this and that, transnational movers-and-shakers, people who awed us with tales of London, Toronto and Sydney. In reality they were only trying to scope out an angle for themselves, trying to ingratiate themselves with certain influential uncles and the moneyed classes. As stand-alone figures these characters are generally harmless and quite amusing at times, with their antics and anecdotes, but real problems arise when one actually believes them and starts doing business with them. That can be a costly mistake. Taking such people in can be hazardous to one’s peace of mind, once inside they do not leave on their own unless dislodged forcibly, which can be an unpleasant, bitter experience.

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Avner Pariat Written by:

Avner Pariat is a poet and chronicler of Khasi Jaintia Hills.

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