Rishi Majumder follows the trail of the Angadias, backbone of the diamond trading community

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

The Panchratna Building

We don’t want to talk to any press person,” says a manager at Maganlal Shakardas, one of the biggest Angadia firms in Mumbai, in his office at Panchratna Building, next to Roxy Cinema. One of the biggest what…? Angadia, translated from Gujarati, means ‘one who carries valuables’ or ‘trustworthy’. The Angadia system supposedly dates back to Emperor Akbar’s time when it was instituted to transfer valuable packages throughout the country.
Today, the Angadias of Mumbai ply the Mumbai-Surat route primarily, but also extend their services to other parts of Gujarat. Despite charging a minimal 0.1 per cent of value, the leading concerns easily garner annual turnovers estimated at crores. How?
Called the “backbone of the diamond trade”, diamond merchants prefer them over any courier service. The Angadias transport 90 per cent of the world’s diamonds – making the collective value of their insured daily parcels easily over Rs 100 crore. Besides this they carry large amounts of cash, machinery, clothes, mail and even foodstuff. But the Angadias are not mere couriers. They also supposedly extend outstanding balances to the tune of millions of dollars: “They are a parallel post office, a parallel bank and a parallel insurance company all in one,” diamond merchant Vasant Mehta had once remarked. “It’s an unparalleled parallel system.”
The Panchratna building today, like on any other week day is bustling. Diamond merchants, diamond cutters, diamond polishers, Angadias… and every other stereotype associated with the diamond trade have located their offices behind vault doored cubby holes in this skyscraper housing some of the biggest names in the diamond trade. Policemen guard the building as gun bearing security guards interrogate each entrant, check passes and take down details. The buzz inside the building complex matches that of a stock
market’s – in rush hour deals, prices, loans and interest rates are thrown at one another, retracted and modified. “What big? We are not big. We are very small,” protests a worker at Madhavlal Maganlal, another reported Angadia biggie. “You should interview Somabhai Kanchandas.” On trying Somabhai Kanchandas, we are told: “Rubbish! We hardly do anything. Try Madhavlal Maganlal.” On returning to Madhavlal Maganlal: “Our Seth isn’t in. We have no idea when he’ll be back – so can’t talk to you sorry!” On persisting, one worker laughs, “You’re in a newspaper? Forget the interview. Can you find me a nice girl? I want to get married.” We get the picture.
Most Angadia bosses (traditionally, Angadias) are Patels, hail from Gujarat’s Mahasena district, near Palanpur – the Indian diamond industry’s hometown. Why does the diamond trade blindly trust them? On asking some diamond merchants and being told coolly to leave our phone numbers, we await the calls. “Hello, it’s me. But don’t mention my name,” says a voice we can’t identify anyway. “The Angadias are good.” Thanks, but why does the diamond trade trust them over couriers? “Because they charge less, delivery is 99 per cent, and they guarantee payback.” It’s not that as easy though.
Dawood Ibrahim’s first tryst with the law was in trying to loot ‘Angadias carrying Haji Mastans money’ (that he mistakenly robbed money belonging to the Metropolitian Bank is another story). The Girnar Express train robbery worth Rs 90 lakh and the Limda Travels bus heist valued at Rs 1.28 crore were from Angadias. In fact,

such reports in the Wall Street Journal have inspired Hollywood star Michael Douglas to co-produce and act in a robbery thriller to be shot on the Mumbai-Surat route.
“They have insurance and police protection,” explains the unnamed diamond merchant. Insurance policies are carefully crafted to include Angadia provisions. And rumours abound that the police issue Angadias special cards, which if shown, ensure protection and the right to not have their packages checked to those who wear cheap trousers and shirt to carry crores worth of diamonds and cash on second class train and bus journeys. Besides incidents like BMC vigilance squad seizing 60 lakh worth of silver being smuggled into the city to avoid Octroi by courier boys, and police allegations of Hawala felicitating and Angadia boys ferrying in banned Gutkha to be sold at five times the price, what really casts doubt on the Angadia’s credibility is the lack of documentation. The only document accompanying such transactions being a waybill called Jhangad. Another unnamed voice answers such queries: “Like with the Jewish diamond community in New York, much of the trade here is family-based and informal – relying on trust. Loss of business and reputation are a far greater threat than legal action. Such businesses are not illegal, but extra legal.” And perhaps the government overlooks that of an industry which constitutes one fifth of the nation’s exports.

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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