February is the month of Reckoning! No, it is not the Day of Judgement sort of reckoning of your deeds and misdeeds that is being discussed. The Good Lord is kind enough to give you a wide berth and postpone things till eternity. This reckoning is a worldly one, a downright materialistic one about your earnings and spending and savings – it being rendezvous time with the Tax-man! What is more this happens to be the only time you get to worry that your income is rather excessive! The only time when you actually find yourself wishing that would it that your income was less – less enough to escape the tax-net. But no! No such respite for you. Notwithstanding the fact that you might be having difficulties in making ends meet; notwithstanding the fact that you live your life in a perpetual state of near penury, a life of severely strained resources and ‘straitened circumstances’ – the figure representing your gross annual earnings stares at you from the tax-reckoner’s note pad an obscenely large sum too! You realize that contrary to the fact that you are living a proverbial hand-to-mouth existence you are an embarrassingly rich fellow!
Come February and your income becomes a public domain. All the year long you might keep it a closely guarded secret so much so that most times even your own recollection of the exact monthly figure is a somewhat fuzzy affair, but this time around this private information becomes manifestly (and embarrassingly!) public! You find yourself revealing this most jealously guarded of personal details to anyone who offers to calculate your tax-dues and offers any hope (howsoever nebulous!) of measures of any sort that might help to soften the blow, so as to say! Calculators are whipped out and you get an estimate of the impending cut. The final ‘maths lesson’, of course, is the prerogative of the office clerk. At last one day when it can be no longer avoided, you pay a visit to this most important (and as circumstances will finally prove, most indispensable!) person in the current social and official circuit! Of course it is not all that easy. Invariably the fellow is closeted in one-to-one meetings with other guys who have stolen a march on you and seems to have no time to spare for you. You are given a brush-off a couple of times and advised to look-in after a day or two.
Sooner or later, however, you manage to ingratiate yourself into the concerned clerk’s favour, get his eye – or more aptly his ear! Your ‘withdrawal statement’ is fished out of the file and the figures punched into a well-worn calculator and finally the display of the calculator is tilted to let you get a glimpse of the calculated ‘cut’. The sum, more often than not, turns out to be far in excess of your expectations! After you have recovered from the initial shock, you might manage a nervous, stupid smile and ask the condescending clerk for a ‘way out’! Again the figures are punched out on the calculator and not being able to make sense out it all you scan the clerk’s face anxiously and every frown, scowl or shrug pulls your spirits down and down and down.
Finally the clerk shakes his head ominously, not even looking you in the eye. Again you stammer your request for a way out, and by this time usually a note of desperation can be discerned in your voice.
“Do you have any ‘documents’? The clerk finally says with a sigh and a weary shrug making you feel apologetic for shifting the burden of your financial troubles onto his shoulders.
“Documents?” you confess your ignorance and are duly educated about the various tax-saving devices and documents. Back home you dig out all your life insurance policies, which might be quite life saving at this juncture. Next day the clerk contemptuously separates your fathers’ and other relatives’ policies which you might have attempted to use to add weight to your own meager savings. This is one of those paradoxes of life, if you are rich enough to save money, you escape the tax-net and if you couldn’t afford to save any money, you are rich enough for your income to be axed…I mean, taxed! After the savings benefit has been loped off the proposed ‘cut’ does not seem to have decreased by any appreciable sum.
“Any more ‘documents’?” the clerk offers once again.
A frantic hunt begins for all those receipts of school fees and sundry. The school bills are accepted, of course, up to a certain extent, but your cable bills (which you have optimistically brought along with the logic that your children spend more time with the TV than with their books and the argument that TV does have an ‘educative’ value!) are summarily rejected. You might swear that you only watch ‘Gyan Darshan’ and National Geographic but the clerk is not swayed.
The clerk seems to have a bottomless appetite for ‘documents’. He regards you balefully through a haze of cigarette smoke and presses for more ‘documents’! Now you are at your wits’ end! You might rack your brains till they start creaking but you cannot think of any more documents. So what is the next step? Maybe a worldly-wise friend comes to your rescue and enquires after the cause of your anxiety. You tell him the whole story and then blurt out in anguish,
“Where from do I get more ‘documents’?!”
“From the ATM, of course!” your experienced and worldly-wise friend comes up with the solution.
Suddenly you see light! The next day, you bring an appropriate number of these rustling ‘documents’ fresh from the ATM, put them in an envelope gaily and invite the concerned clerk out for a cup of tea and then self-consciously hand them over. The worthy fellow carelessly pockets the envelope and launches into a discussion as why occasions like the ‘Valentine’s Day’ are alien to our culture and our religion. Iqbal, Saadi and a local poet or two are appropriately quoted and you realize that your friendly ‘tax adviser’ is a multi-faceted personality.
So there you are, the original poor little rich man, your problems solved at last! You can afford to relax now. Till next February, that is!
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at firstname.lastname@example.org)