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Achkis for Russia

by | Nov 4, 2016 | Shippy Experiences

The year was 1983. I had just joined the Scindia ship ‘Jal Rajan’ at Chennai as junior engineer. As soon as I joined, the crew asked me, “Jahaj Russia jaata hai, goggle kharida kya?” Not wanting to appear uninformed, I did not ask what they meant but nodded wisely. Later on, I asked one of the crew members where to buy these googles (achki, in Russian). He told me to go to a particular shop and tell them that I wanted goggles for Russia. I was under the impression that they were referring to some special goggles that one had to wear in Russia. So, after a couple of days, I went up to the shop and said in a confident voice “Russia ke liye achki chahiye”. Pat came the reply, kitna box chahiye – 2, 3, 4? That stumped me a bit, but I decided to go in for 3. The guy came back with 3 big boxes and inside each were a dozen goggles! The shopkeeper looked at my incredulous expression and realised that I didn’t have a clue what was happening. He then explained to me that these goggles could be sold for a good profit in Russia! He then gave me a box of stickers with ‘Sony’ written on them – they were orange in colour and told me that I had to stick them on the outside of the glass, so that they could be prominently seen.It cost me a princely sum of Rs.10 per goggle!

I came back to the ship and after enquiring around, stuck a ‘Sony’ sticker on each of the goggles. It looked crazy with almost 10% of the surface covered with a prominent orange sticker!

In the days it took to reach Russia, I tried to get as much information as possible on this business venture and at last the big day arrived. We were in Russia and I, along with some of my shipmates, went out to sell the achkis. Of course the customs knew about the racket but they allowed 2 nos. to be taken out at a time. We went to the market place and just stopped people and pitched the goggles at them – for 20 roubles a piece. A lot of people asked them for Ro 10, but eventually, in a few minutes we all had sold out at around Roubles 15 per goggle.

The economics were as follows: Officially, the exchange rate was 2 Usd per Rouble. I think it was INR 30 to a USD. We sold each goggle, bought at Rs.10 for 15Roubles. The best champagne was available at Ro 6 per bottle. A glass of milk (really good milk) was available at 5 kopeks (100 kopeks to a Rouble).

We lived like kings. Most of the crew bought a lot of utensils and stuff for their homes. One day, at the marketplace, one huge chap – must be at least a foot taller than me and mean looking, asked me for a goggle, wore it and just walked away! I was taken aback for a few minutes and though very scared, on an impulse ran after him, reached up and held on to his collar and started shouting at him. His reaction surprised me – he apologised profusely and very politely took off the goggles and handed them back to me!!

Most of the buyers were very well dressed people – both men and women alike and very straightforward in their dealings with us.

As for the goggles themselves, I tried to wear one and the floor literally went out from below my feet. They were horrible and the eyes were aching for quite some time. Should have realised then that eye drops would be the next big thing!

I think I learnt one of my first lessons on economics then – if the people have all the money in the world to buy but nothing worthwhile to buy, they will pay a good price for a novel item even if it is absolute trash.

The communists always say that the system is good for the poor because the state sees to it that nobody remains hungry. I beg to differ – we saw many guys drunk and lying on the streets. The state should give people food, but there should also be some incentive for them to work. If not, they soon become a burden on everyone else.

The way they controlled the population was by fear. That big man at the marketplace was scared – not of me (inspite of my menacing personality!) but of the secret police – he had to stay there, not me!


Niranjan Bangera

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  1. Capt. Ashok Malkani

    I went to Constanza and Odessa in 1959 September,my first voyage at sea ,on the Jalakala ,an old Liberty ship (Mary G ).
    The first thing to buy in Odessa was a ” Chapka” a felt lined cap with pull – down ear flaps in that kept you warm.
    The best deal, for a first buy.

    • niranjan

      Some good memories, Sir. Thanks for sharing.


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Written By: niranjan

Financially Stupid Niranjan


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