My friend, Hemant was very much worried. He confided in me that it was the first time that he was being ‘summoned’ by the school principal of his son.
“What he must have done now? A five-year-old terrorist – that’s what he is.”
“Like father, like son!” I quipped. Needless to say, he was not impressed; and continued to pull his hair.
Next day I enquired about his meeting with the school principal.
“The school principal wanted me to move my son away to a different school. We don’t have room for such children. He said so.”
“What did the little devil do this time?”
“It seems that the teacher was asking each child to narrate what his or her parents did for living. And when his turn came, Rahul told that I was a stripper in a high class night-club. That I dance round and round a pole in the middle of the room. The teacher put two and two together; and informed the principal – who sent urgent summons to me.”
“But – you are not a stripper!”
“Precisely, and my son knows that. So in presence of the teacher and the principal, I questioned him about his answer – and he told us that he didn’t want to share the news that I worked as a tax auditor – so he made up this exotic lie.”
Accountants, auditors and tax auditors! Is this what people think of you (us)?
As Hemant was growing up, his relatives and well-wishers used to predict that he would (or should) be a doctor. And he pretended to agree. However, his heart was not on being a doctor. Nor was he eager to be an engineer. He aspired to be an accountant. This was despite the fact that the accountants are (or were in those days) neither glamorous, nor venerated – like the peer professionals (IT professionals came into the limelight much, much later).
He shared his conviction with me – “Doctors and engineers need accountants, but an accountant may or may not need the doctors or engineers. The doctors will always face moral turmoil – if you charge a very poor person, he may not be able to afford you – and if you don’t – you may not be able to enjoy lavish life style. However, only the taxpayers (who are seemingly rich) would come to the accountant. So no problem!”
Convinced by Hemant’s philosophy, I quickly changed my own tracks, and became a ‘Chartered Accountant’. A member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. Filled with lofty ideas of rendering the best services, offering pragmatic tax solutions, weaving a web of intricate structure with a view to reduce / minimize various negative aspects of business – I opened my ‘office’, and waited for the first client to show up. And I waited, and waited, and waited some more. The very first client who knocked on the door had to file a mundane Sales Tax Return. I had no heart to charge him for such a simple work.
Slowly, very slowly the pace of work increased, and so did the income. I continued to render, in my eyes, the best service – but tax solutions / intricate structures, etc. vanished into the thin air. I learned hard way the ‘easy way’. Or is it other way around? While defending an income tax client, the Income Tax Officer (as the tax auditors are called in India) asked me how much the client was willing to pay. I baulked at this, and walked out of the office. My client continued the discussions with the Officer, and after few minutes, she came out smiling. Like a cat who had just swallowed a whole canary. The deal was mutually satisfying. And to me disgusting!
From then onward, I had my fair share of corrupt Officers. The clients expected me to be a go-between between the Department and the taxpayers, to achieve a mutually satisfying outcome. And I found it very difficult to comply! Educating the clients or trying to defend them solely on the basis of provisions contained in the Income Tax Act, 1961 and the case-laws – was an uphill and daunting task.
And slowly my dream started to tarnish. Unable to handle the stress (now I had to consult the medical professionals frequently – unlike what Hemant had predicted), I moved into the audit services. My networking did pay off; and my firm made rapid progress. Few ‘concurrent audits’ of large branches of key banks kept everyone happy. The bubble burst when the Chairman of one of the Banks called me to omit / change my findings about one of the delinquent borrowers. “Your firm and my institution have a long way to go – I have more lucrative assignments for your firm. However, such type of reports will harm everyone!”
I took the implicit hint / threat; but did not change the ‘last’ report. Because that was the last report for this bank.
During my practice in India, I did have unusual portfolio of clients. Everyone wants to pay little or no tax. I saw the rise and demise of “Saral Scheme” – a most simplified method of filing taxes; as also witnessed demonetization (way back in late 70s), couple of Voluntary Disclosure Schemes, and introduction of ‘tax audits’. A client of mine offered me software which would make ‘Zapper’ (the North American software which zaps the cash sales of restaurants, etc.) seem like a mere mole-hill! Clients walked into the office – “Here are the bank statements; I have paid so much taxes, now be a creative accountant, and cook the books.”
I love to eat (I don’t eat to live, but I live to eat) – however, cooking was not for me. Being a ‘broker’ or ‘connection’ did not appeal to me. Not all apples were rotten. I did have an occasional ray of sunshine, But with the passage of time, the gap between the sunshine went on increasing. And one fine day, we just ‘upped’ and bid India a good-bye. Relying on an advertisement by Canadian High Commission in the Journal of ICAI, we immigrated to Canada.
I wish I could say ‘And then they lived happily thereafter’. That would be lie. The first three years in Canada were hell. And then we got used to it. Pubic practice oriented – I worked “donkey’s hours” in a small accounting firm (one big boss, one small Indian), and then a mid-sized firm. Like Hemant, I worked as a ‘Senior Tax Auditor’ and a ‘Tax Supervisor’ in Income Tax Department (the only departure from public practice), then one of the big four accounting firms, and then finally a not so small place where I wanted to call home (and retire). All this time, I continued to build my knowledge and social base. The destiny dealt yet another blow. At the stroke of my fiftieth birthday, I was laid off – for the first and last time in my life.
“Phee…” I yelled to the life, and ventured into my own practice – from the basement of my house. With nothing but the determination to succeed and a firm family fulcrum! There was this ‘déjà vu’ feeling – been there and done that…
“The lofty ideas of rendering the best services, offering pragmatic tax solutions, weaving a web of intricate structure with a view to reduce / minimize various negative aspects of business” surfaced – slowly and steadily. And at last my dream came true. Only it took more than twelve thousand kilometers, and dozen plus years. Now the tax jargon of Trudeau / Trump tantrums, takeovers, mergers, acquisitions, Section 85 Rollovers literally roll over the tongue – easily.
As Abdul Kalam rightly said – “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”
And I dared to dream.
December 5, 2017