If you’re born in an Indian family especially one in Gujarat, then the one sign that you are now your own master and a man in your own right, is a meeting with the family accountant. Unless of course, you were born in a stockbroker family, in which case, your family has been buying stocks in your name as soon as you turned eighteen, well then you arrived in life a long time ago, then this is not for you.
I was deemed worthy of this great honor quite recently, my parents took great care to ensure that the accountant was well versed with my, well lack of knowledge on anything that can be deemed account-worthy. My family accountant was told with great regret, “usko form 16 bharna bhi zara sikha dena” in a tone that implied regret and unabashed shame, probably the tone Manmohan Singh would use with “madamji.” The date was set for this great ritual and I was to meet, the man who would be captain of my life’s ship, the lighthouse to my dinghy, lost, raft tossed about in the violent ocean that was tax planning. A lofty title for a person who made his money advising people on how not to pay the government, what they owed it. Think of them, if you must as the highway bandits that would loot government stagecoaches in the wild west, minus the charm and sartorial sense.
My perception of the family accountant thanks to all the hype that was created was quite similar to the picture given below:
I went in with hands clasped, head bowed repeating the golden rule that all family accountants preach, “tax planning isn’t evasion it is just good old common sense.” It is true, when he calculated and told me the amount, the greedy government was going to take of my hard, sweat-stained, earned money, it did feel like democracy was quite the scam. Most of my questions were met with unheard acronyms. It was like talking to an older relative of yours who has lately discovered, by sheer chance, the versatility of SMS lingo and is quite eager to display their use of abbreviated terminology. There’s nothing like paying someone to make you feel financially inadequate and well frankly impotent.
There were moments in our conversation where a lot of my outrage was promptly met with measured calm and then devices and paths of subterfuge that frankly sounded quite ingenious. Here was a man who in the battle between the government and the little guy, for once was on the side of the little guy. Albeit while charging an atrocious fee for the same. As I learnt more about the great monster that was the Income Tax bureau, I realized all tax planning was extremely unfair towards large portions of society, especially those who are terminally ill and/ or are dying. The advantages of all tax saving investments require minimum lock-in periods of 5 to 15 years. Apparently the government believes if you’re not fit to survive another 10 years you don’t deserve the money you make. My key takeaway from this point was screw tax saving, IAMMMAGONNADIEEARLYANYWAYS!
Apparently the one question you never ask your accountant, is if his fee is more than the money he is helping you save, or if your entire loss of salary to taxes is still less than the fees you are paying him. This question will be met by the sternest of gazes and expressions like, “beta aap naye ho abhi.” It’s almost like I had offended the very God, I had gone to pay obeisance to, by serving him a coconut that was cut by a man of the lower castes. Such disrespect is rarely tolerated. I hastened to make amends.
I’ve realized that I love accountants, such noble beings they are, they make sense of the mundane, they deal with the paperwork, so that we normal humans don’t have to, they fill in those numerous tiny boxes all day, so that we don’t die of a migraine, they forge, subvert, inflate, deflate and conflate figures to paint the perfect picture of poverty.
“How can I pay tax your honor, I have several loans all timed perfectly to co-exist with my pay cycles, with interest rates, that would put American private medical care providers to shame.” I learnt debt is a beautiful thing and well credit is an even better thing, that allows us to enjoy the present and postpone our responsibilities to the future, where we may or may not be alive, or in a position to pay tax, same thing.
The ritual ended on quite a high note, the accountant put his hand on my shoulder. I had found God, for the first time I did not feel alone in this vast orphaned world of food and travel vouchers, I now had a friend. As we walked out toward the sun, he told me something I shall never forget, “beta har ek bill sambhal ke rakhna, aur chance mile toh ek do dusro ke bhi le lena” words to live by.
I returned home and that evening as I went out to eat with my friends, that MasterCard ad did get one thing right, we did, all fight for the bill, AFTER IT WAS PAID. I swear I saw Lord Kubera looking down on us smiling benevolently. That night as I reached home, I fished out the corner of the bill, that I had rightfully earned in the scuffle that had earlier ensued, I was a boy no more.