Not ‘Four Score and Seven Years ago’ – but definitely more than Two Score and Few Years ago.
During my school days – in Panaji Goa.
One night, Satish and I sat on our favourite bench at Campal ground and listened to the melodious songs being broadcast by Vividh Bharati on the program ‘Chhaya Geet’. And our talk turned to gender bias.
“Every time, the teachers ask the students to write an essay – it’s always on ‘My mother’.” Satish said.
I disagreed. “Mrs. Chico asking us to write few lines on ‘My parents’.”
“She is the exception. Do you recall anyone else?”
I couldn’t, and the discussions drifted slowly to other topics.
It is true. In my sixty plus years, I have noticed importance being heaped on the ‘mother-hood’ – at the neglect of the poor father. No, no – please don’t take me wrong. The importance of mother is unquestionable! Heap as much praise as you can – on mothers – they deserve them, and some more. But don’t, for heaven’s sake, ignore the father. Poor father!
Remember that the ‘daasi’ (servant) – the harbinger of good news – she always runs to the King:
“Sir, the Queen has delivered a baby. You are a proud father of a daughter / son.”
And the King would immediately take out the heavy chain with a diamond pendent – from his neck – and hand it over to the daasi.
“Here, take this gift! Thank you for bearing such good news.”
The daasi is richer; and the King poorer. Today, the chain with a diamond pendent is replaced by wad of notes in the wallet with a chain. The result is the same – Richer Daasi; and Poorer Father.
Fast forward to my professional life in Mumbai:
My second one – she was a difficult child even before her birth. On a rainy August night (that too a Sunday) – a whole three weeks before her ‘scheduled arrival date’ – she decided that being confined to the womb was no good. It was ‘time’ for her to venture into this wicked, wild world. She kicked; and we rushed to the hospital – passing through seemingly impossible hurdles – water-logged roads, unavailable cabs and non-operating local trains. In the end, exhausted, we achieved the goal – reached the hospital. Right into the waiting arms of our Gynecologist – Dr. Naik. One look at the mother, and she proclaimed emergency.
“You – you wait here. We will try to have normal delivery, and if not we will go for C-Section.”
It was few minutes before midnight. Wet, cold, alone, miserable. I searched for a tea-vendor – yearning for a hot cup of tea. Finding none, I settled for half pack of Four Square Cigarettes and a matchbox.
“After all, it’s going to be a long wait; and I was cold. I need to remain awake. I need to welcome our child. And she would never know. Also, in the West – they do distribute and then smoke a cigar or two when a child is born. In East, I could settle down for a slimmer cigarette”. I rationalized, and I puffed up the smoke..
Warmth flowed through – and I thought of sitting down. However, everything was locked – except the ‘special room’ where the patient and the baby would settle down. But there were no chairs in the room. Only a bed, a cradle attached to the foot of the bed, and a bed-side cabinet (to keep fruits, cookies, etc. which the visitors would be bringing in, I surmised). I stood the ground – shifting the weight from one foot to the other (so that both the legs shouldn’t get tired at the same time). I remember glancing at the wrist watch every thirty minutes or so – to find that the minute hand had moved only a notch.
After what seemed like several hours, I sat gingerly at the edge of the patient’s bed. Very carefully, so as not to disturb the starched and sterilized bed-sheets. NO SMOKING sign prevented me from taking any more puffs. I tried to remember the names of all gods / goddesses and then relatives and then friends…
A sharp jab on my ribs and a screech “GET OUT OF THE BED. HOW DARE YOU?” startled me from my meditative trance. I jumped out of the bed, and tried to smooth the bed-sheets (and her temper) to the original state (and failed).
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I am so sorry.” I used my saccharine tone to pour the sweet chutney on the spicy, sour Bhel.
Ms. Florence Nightingale pushed me aside rudely. “Madam was so much in pain, and delivered the baby after the operation. And here you are sleeping like a ….” she seemed to be at a loss of words, and I butted in:
“Baby – girl, I hope.”
“Yes, very pretty – little Princess, in fact.” I came to know much later that this is standard dialogue taught in the Nursing School of Hard Knocks.
I tentatively touched the portion between my chin and the chest. All I had around my neck was a blessed black thread with a small pendent of Lord Hanuman. Baa had tied it around my neck – to ward off all evils. It had no intrinsic value. Ms Nightingale smiled as she accepted bunch of one hundred rupee notes fresh out of my pocket. All was forgiven and all was forgotten.
“Madam will be wheeled in soon. Let me arrange a chair for you.”
And the father in me – the poorer father in me – waited in anticipation to have the first look of the new born Princess and the Queen. Everything else was forgiven and forgotten.
“So, what do you want for your birthday?”
“What should I get for you?”
“What is it that I should get for you on your birthday – that will make you happy?”
The change in tone, and slight increased volume – meant that the continued silence would be detrimental to the health and harmony of the family, the community, and the environment.
“Anything you wish, dear – whatever gives you the pleasure. I shall accept anything gratefully and gracefully. Only condition is that the giving of the gift should make you happy.”
A frosted breath! A drop of condensation on his beer mug remained suspended and froze. So cold….He shivered.
“My gift to you will give ME happiness?”
“Always – its like this. The gift will give you satisfaction – you did something big for me, and you made me happy. And that in turn would make you happy. And I would be happy, too! In other words….”
Suddenly, he found he was talking to the air. He stared at his mug – beer now warm and flat!
He had done it again. Closed mouth gathers no feet – but he had opened his mouth so wide that in went both the feet to the thighs.
“How to influence friends; and win over your spouse?” He wished Dale Carnegie had written a tome on the subject.
But was it his fault? He traveled down the memory lane, recalling various gifts he had received:
“Belly button lint cleaner”
“Nose and Ear Hair trimmer”
“Shoe Odor eliminator”
And tons of anti-perspirants, colognes, socks, ties and kerchiefs. Only when he had thundered aloud “Do I have a stinking personality?” that the perennial flow of colognes and anti-perspirants stopped.
His children had given up on him: “Dad, you are the most difficult giftee – nothing makes you happy.”
“A day spent together, a family dinner – full of fun, frolic and festivity – like we used to have few centuries ago; or a heavenly breakfast at IHOP. Any of these would make my CENTURY.” But he had held his tongue – knowing it was of no use. There are mountains to climb and valleys to cross – let bygones be shelved!
Ask not what the family gives you – ask what you give to the family.
He compared the gifts he received with those he had given to his beloved. During courtship phase, most of the card shop and chocolate shop owners knew him by his first name; and relied on him for supplying steady flow of funds to their cash box.
The flow continued for a few months after the wedding. Then the questions started.
Amorous card or the ‘amras’ for lunch?
A bouquet of red roses or a banquet meal?
Lingerie for her or lungi for himself?
A toaster for the Valentine Day; followed by a top-notch vacuum cleaner for her birthday; and then a whole set of Calphalon Cookware Set. And yet he found himself more and more in the dog house than the seventh heaven – which he had hoped.
The vacuum cleaner was his initiative. He wanted to surprise her with something novel. She had hinted that she wanted something new, very shiny and clean and which doesn’t go very fast. The Miele Vacuum Cleaner fitted the bill – it was new (in the market), very shiny, cleaned everything, and went as fast as the operator would take it. His daughter explained to him next day that the mom wanted an automobile! Not the clunker she was driving, but a brand new one!
Pah! Women! How was he to know?
The Calphalon Cookware set on Diwali day – and she immediately banged the pan against the pot so hard – that both had dents. Fortunately, he was away from the pots and pans; and no major damage done.
Back to the realty – he had to think fast. Salvage the situation and mitigate the misery – else a few more nights on the couch. He wondered whether it would be a good investment to buy the most comfortable sofa bed. Shaking his head, he resolved to focus on present crises. Whipping out his smart phone and he fired up the lap-top. Scouring various websites, and prompts – he made online purchases with pick-up delivery at the stores. Having accomplished the difficult task, he almost danced with glee, restrained, and slunk out of the house for picking up the booty.
Returning home, he found the climate still wintry – so straight he went to her:
“Honey, I am so sorry for the horrible mistake I made this morning. I am really, really sorry. Here’s something for you to show that I really care…”
He handed over to her a big pink colour Victoria Secret bag – which contained two gift wrapped packages – one big and one small.
“This doesn’t mean you are off the hook. You don’t know how much you have hurt me. After all the things I do for you, and taking care of YOUR children.” SOB!
She carefully opened the bigger package – saving the wrapping paper for future use. And she giggled – just like the teenager she used to – when he gave her a funny, lovey-dovey card. And then she opened the smaller package. Screaming with joy, she hugged him. She got the most precious gifts. The lovers – in fiction – promise moon and stars to the loved-ones. But her husband – in real life – got something rarer than the moon or the stars or the universe.
“A full package of toilet rolls and bottle of hand sanitizer.”
Everything was forgiven, everything forgotten. And everything, once again, CLEAN!
His siblings called him an ‘emotional fool’.
His friends considered him a ‘strange character’.
His parents had given up on him long ago. The ‘Black Sheep’!
To him, the library was the toy shop. He was excited to enter it, and never wanted to leave it – like a child, in the toy-shop! He could spend hours in the library – browsing through the epitomes to yellow journals; at times reading – cover to cover, often just skimming. He moved with the writer; laughed at times; and shed few silent tears. But reading – he continued.
He did not care about anything – except reading.
He felt the power of the words – the words gave him the wings, the words soothed and suffocated him. He found the laughter and the tears on the same page; and he was astounded by the yetis on Himalayan ranges and ETs on Mars. And wept with joy when the sailors or warriors returned home safe and sound!
Few reads made him think, and speculate as to implications on his own life. One of the books about letters from the mother to her children made him sit up. In this book, the poor mother, instead of giving a gift, wrote love drenched letter to each birthday child. It did not matter whether the reasons were economic or esoteric – the idea appealed to and remained with him.
“One day, one day – when I am old enough – and have children of my own, I shall write to them such loving letters. Each letter will express my feelings; and hopefully, the child will relish receiving this gift, as much as I in giving. One day, one day!”
And the day came few decades later. A family of his own, and the bright children, who were apples of the parents eyes. And just before the twelfth birthday, he wrote a short but powerful letter to his eldest child. An unequivocal expression of love; coupled with pinch of sound advise on entering the ‘teen-age’ life. And rounded with recollection of good times that the child brought into their lives.
Disappointment, if any, on receipt of letter instead of ‘gift’ was well-hidden; and the child expressed the delight – “You made my day, thank you very much dad!”
This continued for the other child – and then onwards each year for both of them. There was no set formula for the letter, no rules as to which topics to be included or excluded – everything went in, and the contents of the heart poured out! The reaction from the child varied – and one day:
“I loved your letter – and I shall cherish it forever. It brought tears but the ending was hilarious!”
This was the culmination of his happiness. He had reached the place he wanted to… Make his children laugh and cry.
And he doubled his efforts – now including various occasions (besides birthdays) to the personal letters. Festive occasions, Christmas and New Year (combined) and sometimes ‘Just no-occasion” letter or two. He cared not for publishing or readers and readership / followership. His family was his audience; and he continued to bask in their adulations.
Then the problems hit him – hard and fast – one after another; taking almost his life and breath away. He winced with physical and mental anguish; and he couldn’t be positive in his thinking – much less in writing.
“What should I write for my child’s birthday? I have no positive thoughts. All I see is black; and I don’t want to write about it.”
A piece of paper containing his signature at the bottom right corner was received with equal enthusiasm.
“Dad, thanks for the cheque – it’s one of the first coming from you!”
And it hurt –Hurt – unlike white blinding flashes in the brain. Wincing – not because of stabs of pains in the abdomen, he gulped.
“All my efforts for NIL?” He speculated.
For subsequent birthday, he made a valiant effort, and jotted down few original and profound thoughts, mixed with right amount of humour and advise. He signed off “Dad” at the bottom right side of the letter; “Dad” and not his name – like he had done on the cheque folio.
“Brilliant, I love it; and I will always cherish / treasure it!”
He got the much anticipated input. But he felt the roar a bit tepid.
He skipped the Christmas and the New Year. And waited for the outcry.
“What? No special letter for me? How come? What’s happening?”
There was none. Nor on the first missed birthday in a dozen years.
Firing up his old laptop, he re-read the first letter written to the child on twelfth birthday. And he laughed; and he cried.
He cared no more.
A four year old child was asked whether he could read and write.
“I can write, but I can’t read” was the answer.
“Write something”. The child purses his lips, and with deep concentration, scribbles on the blank paper. Totally undecipherable.
“What have you written?”
“I told you – I can write, but I can’t read – so you read what I have written!”
This Christmas, Shen bought books as gifts for the family members. Not because he liked to read, but because he loved to write. And he didn’t want to be the child who could write, but not read. Reading is peaceful, and joyous. Just like the spirit of Christmas. Right?
Books are the best friends. He got this from the right source. His father. He emphasized this fact over and over. The best company, the friend who senses your moods and does the custom tailoring. “If you are in a foul mood, pick up P. G. Wodehouse; and if you are not feeling sleepy, pick up Homer’s Iliad!” was the sound advice.
“Why do you read the same book again, and again?” Saanvi, the wife quizzed him.
“Because I liked the book and the style and the plot; and many other reasons. Do I ask you why do you talk to your friends almost every day? You share the same jokes and stories and news (he did not use the word ‘gossip’). Books are my friends. Every time I read (even if it’s the same book), I find something relishing, refreshing and reinvigorating. I talk to my books, and they talk back to me…”
He realized he was talking to empty space, as Saanvi left in a huff. She is the person who read his love notes (sent about forty years ago) again, and again.
“Jonathan Livingstone, the seagull? Lovely. I read this book about 35 years ago – remember? We were fans of Richard Bach – and we read all his books that time?”
He was happy that she remembered.
“But do you remember the contents of the book? It was such a long time ago. Hence I brought this book to you – I remember you loved the philosophy, prose and the pictures in the book. Together we had memorized parts of the book. Do you remember?”
He remembered one of the favourite quotes both of them had memorized; and was about to recite it.
How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!
“Are you trying to force me to read the book again?”
Suddenly, there was chill in the air – despite the gas fireplace throwing out the warmth everywhere. His plan to replace the word ‘fly’ with ‘read’ to amuse her – flew away.
“No dear, never. I wouldn’t dream of putting any pressure on you. You are already having so much stress – at work and home. No, never. By the way, did Gyan call today?”
He handled the situation deftly, and the ire was deflected from him to Gyan.
The BOOK remained on Saanvi’s to read pile by the television set. Lost in the large heap of newspaper clippings, magazines and other books. One fine morning, Shen removed the BOOK quietly from the pile; and put it on the pedestal bookshelf in his office. Nobody noticed, nobody cared – not even Jonathan Livingstone, the seagull.
Opening the book at random, he found yet another quote:
He smiled embittered – for him every gift had a problem!
January 19, 2019
“Smooth Seas do not make skillful sailors” – an African Proverb.
Forty years ago, I entered the realm of professional accounting – not so chubby cheeks, but with a dimpled chin, rosy lips; and very much wet behind the ears. Affluence and opulence – here I come. Short-lived euphoria! I was a proud recipient of stately stipend of Rs. 30 per month – for thirty-five hours of work (in theory – actual hours at least sixty) per week, (that time, a cup of tea cost Rs 1).
“Be happy that you are getting paid at least something. In my time, we had to pay to do the course. Just like you pay to take the degree courses.” My boss consoled me. And my learning began.
I wish I could tell that being articled clerk was all fun and joy. It wasn’t. We had a popular story going – the king’s favourite elephant was very sick and dying. The best veterinarians in the world concluded that the only way to save the elephant was to make it cry – without resorting to physical torture. The king announced an enormous award to any person who could do so. Attracted by the lavish prize, many people tried to make the elephant cry. Nothing worked. The king doubled the reward. Still no luck. The elephant was about to die. Much to the amusement of all people, a geek took up the challenge of saving the elephant. Going to the elephant’s left ear, he murmured something. The elephant shook its head. Then he went to its right ear and uttered a few more words – and the elephant started crying. The elephant was cured; the geek got the prize. The king requested the geek to share what he told the elephant.
“In the left ear, I told the elephant that I am pursuing my career in Chartered Accountancy.” The elephant was shocked.
“In the right ear, I confessed that I am still an articled clerk – when the elephant felt so bad about my status that he broke down and started crying!”
Even after forty years, the learning continues.
Being born in a ‘business’ family, I always dreamt of having my own accounting practice; where I would pay more than double the prescribed rate of stipend; and never tell my articled clerks that they were lucky… It would be many years before that stage would come; but it did.
Giving up the high-income public practice in India, my family made Vancouver our new home. In the first few years of settling down, I wondered about the sanity of the decision. Compared to my professional life in Canada, the status of articled clerks in India seemed glamorous. However, slowly, slowly – the life improved; and I settled down to the mundane existence – comfortable with the bi-weekly salary being credited to our bank account. One day, I shall have my own practice in Canada – one day! However, the dream seemed distant and impractical. Till one day!
Till one day – when I was just let go (a milder word for ‘sacked’). “Fired at fifty” lit another type of fire under me. And another public practice firm was born!
Running a successful public practice in Canada should not be any different than running one in India. As usual, I was proved wrong. That was more than a decade ago. The challenges and the learning continue to date.
A weathered veteran mentored me on running a successful practice. “Zen – you have to master the Zen to be successful in your career.” So far, I had encountered Zen in meditation, but Zen in accounting? And learning continued.
While handling difficult clients or unsuspecting auditors, I learnt to apply Harry Truman’s dictum “If you can’t convince them, confuse them!” Information overload is the keyword.
For initial interviews with the prospective clients, instead of using the check-list, I learnt to ask meaningful questions and elicit the information to help me gauge the potential.
“When you sit in your car, do you first buckle up or start the car, and then when the car is moving, you buckle up? Or you don’t buckle up till you have driven a few meters?”
“How many parking tickets do you get every year?”
“How many speeding tickets did you get last year?”
“Do you like to eat better or live better?”
Answers to the questions like above allow me to assess the client and her risk tolerance level. And the learning continues.
Compared to public practice, you could call porcupine back smooth as silk. But then, smooth seas do not make skillful sailors – or successful accountants in public practice!
“BUSINESS of FIRST”
“Maamu, one paan for Baba”.
“And one for Kaka – the usual, Banarasi, Kachcha Supaari and Jaffrani 120”.
The first speaker – Satish; and the second one Atul. Maamu – it would be a Herculean Task to describe him – worthy only of elite writers such as R. K. Narayanan or W. Somerset Maugham. Maamu was the ‘character’. Sitting in the kiosk – located opposite Panaji Jetty – he sold bidis, cigarettes and Banarasi Paan, and most unusual yarns.
Senior Sonak was affectionately called Baba; whereas Kaka was my father.
We grew up in Panaji – a pristine paradise (Paradise Lost – long ago). Much before the onslaught of cellphones / text-messages / WhatsApp and what nots – a ringing cycle bell used to be our ringtone. The ears could pick up the nuance in the bell sound; and identify the friend.
A ringing cycle bell would indicate that Satish or Hemant (usually both) is / are outside my house (opposite Susheela Building – the Post Graduate Centre); and I would rush out to meet. Mostly it would be both. Satish would ‘ring’ in Hemant (who used to live just across Old Pharmacy College) and then both would ‘bike’ to my place.
Café Suresh (Susheela Building, 18th June Road, Panaji – still exists) was our favourite hang-out during the day; and Pica Peixe at Campal (now Forrest Restaurant) in the evening. And we talked about everything under the sun, moon and beyond. The books we read, the teachers we had, people who were mad, and those who were sad. Also the people who were bad!
On day, Hemant brought up the topic of ‘honour killing’ – a young girl murdered by her parents and siblings. ‘Just because she was friendly with a person not from the same religion’.
Hearing this, Satish exclaimed:
“Is there life after birth?”
“Satish, do you mean – is there a life after death? For the young girl?”
“NO! I stand by my question! Is there life after BIRTH?”
I do not recall totally the drift of conversation that took place after this profound statement. But I do know that we left Pica Peixe with heavy hearts, and busy brains. Once again, I was impressed with the philosophical rhetorical!
On one of such days, the conversation drifted to the ‘first’ something. Hemant proclaimed he could remember his first words (No, these were not re-told by my parents, I really know what I spoke! He claimed). Satish spoke about his first smoke. At the kiosk of Maamu – when he was ‘requested’ to go and pick up a paan for Baba. He dared not refuse. Cycling all the way from St. Inez to Panaji Jetty Maamu; and back. “More out of spite than curiosity, I took my first puff; and then continued…”
The eyes turned to me. I couldn’t remember the first words I said; nor had I started smoking then. The first stolen kiss, first love – were best left to imagination; for there were none. What first thing to speak of?
Then I remembered. I did not share it with them at that time. But here it is.
We were in the third year of University (11 + 4 pattern, or old SSC). Few months before, Baba had a serious heart problem; and to fly to USA for surgery. Aayee accompanied him. As mentioned, these were the days prior to internet, emails and other faster means of communications. International calls were very expensive, and if I remember correct, Sonak’s didn’t have the phone connection. Health Bulletins from States were sketchy; almost non-existent. And we prayed, and prayed for happy outcome.
One evening, a stringent cycle bell – which I immediately recognized as Satish, brought me out of the house running. Satish – a laid back personality – raising a cacophony of bell? What’s up?
“Just heard from USA. Operation successful; and Ayee and Baba are flying to India next month.”
We stood looking at each other. Too embarrassed to reveal our real feelings, yet very, very elated, enchanted and excited. Awkward moments ticked by. I broke the silence.
“Let’s celebrate – I think I want to celebrate with a peg or two of RUM”.
“You? Rum? What? Okay – got money on you? Let’s go.”
And we went to the restaurant near my house – I believe it was called Hotel Samrat (belonging to Naik family). Over sips of Old Monk and Cola – my first one – along with some good vegetarian dishes, we lost our inhibitions and awkwardness; and together we wept. We wept together for the turbulent past, and glorious future. And all we thought of was neither about life after death, nor about life after birth but only of:
‘LIFE IN PANAJI, WHEN BABA IS HOME!’
July 28, 2018
This is the mantra handed down from generations – from one parent (usually the father) to the child (usually the son). Unlike formal education, it doesn’t need to be explicitly taught. An ever-perceptive child learns quickly by example.
A typical household scene. The wife is carrying on the conversation (monologue); while the husband relaxes in the recliner, trying to focus on the sudoku puzzle (or whatever he is doing). Every time the wife stops to breathe-in, he grunts “yes, dear!” The conversation ensues uninterrupted. And the peace reigns everywhere.
The fun starts when ‘Yes Dear’ stops.
The wife felt something was seriously wrong, when her husband stopped ‘yes-dear’ing her. Concerned, yet not to alarm her husband, she expressed her worries to their family physician. He advised her to carry out simple experiment – talk to him at a distance of 30 feet, 20 feet and then 10 feet AND observe when he responds. Armed with the advice, the wife called out her husband “Dear, will you take the trash out?” No response at thirty feet. She repeated the question at twenty feet; and still got no response. At ten feet, the husband barked “for the third time, I am telling you – I have already taken the garbage out!”
Yup, the yes-dear hadn’t stopped. Only the hearing had!
Talking about ‘hearing’ – Shen had to be on the aid; the hearing-aid! After being in the denial about loss of his abilities (he never recited the ‘yes-dear’ mantra; hence the delay), he caved in (was there an option?) and gave his ears to the audiologists. Not one but both; and not to one but to many.
The adventures began. Shen balked at the cost of hearing-aids; and he assured everyone around him that his hearing had dramatically improved overnight. “In my dreams, the Goddess came, and put her hand on my head, and both ears. The ears popped, and I can hear perfectly!” Eliciting no response, he was about to repeat the statement, when Saanvi touched him on the hand: “Enough, we heard you loud and clear the first time you spoke about the Goddess. Now be quiet, and let the audiologist do her work!”
Waiting for the tests to conclude, he remembered his uncle in Pune, India.
The uncle, wanting the hearing-aid, was given the option – the economy version (costing less than $10; and functioning version (costing about $1,500).
“The economy version is a small white box (size of three Triple A batteries) and a wire coming out of it. You put the box in your pocket, where people can see it; and extend the wire to your ears. People around you rightly conclude that you have hearing problem and talk to you loudly. The other version – actually works. Your choice.”
He did not remember which option the uncle opted for; but he wished he could do so. He opened his mouth to speak, but a stern stare from Saanvi reduced him to gulping the air soundlessly. The fish in the aquarium opening and shutting its mouth.
Sporting the trial pair of hearing-aids, he faced the world. Suddenly, the sounds exploded around him. Though the setting was only at 60% of normal level of hearing, he could clearly hear his own short gasping breath, and sweat trickle as he swiped the credit card for a deposit.
Two weeks down the road, and being unhappy with the pair of hearing aids (it was absolutely no value for money – with the emphasis on ‘money’), he returned them and got the deposit back. Saanvi had already booked an appointment with another audiologist. Shen found the former option cheaper and better; but couldn’t wiggle out of the jam. Again, equipped with yet another pair, he faced the loud music around him.
The third (and the last one) proved to be much more reasonable in price; and answer to Saanvi’s prayers. The audiologist spoke ‘Shen English’; and convinced him about the advantages of ‘hearing’ against ‘not-hearing’. And the extended five-year warranty, coupled with written promise of ‘free-batteries’ for five years – broke all the resistance.
Thus equipped, Mr. Shen was ready for the battle. He could hear clearly – besides the traffic and the mundane humdrum, Saanvi’s sweet sermons; Gyan’s backtalk; and Anju’s petulant pouts. The crescendo of cacophony drowned everything. And yet, distinctly at a distance, he could hear -not with his ears, but with the heart – the Bach Symphony performed by the atom sized ant on her grand piano!
July 2, 2018
“Is she okay?”
He was about to retort – “Why don’t you ask her?” – when he felt her hand squeezing his slightly. A hint – keep calm. He looked at his beautiful wife – dressed in typical Indian finery – a light blue saree, few ornaments, a large red dot in the middle of her forehead (the third eye) and very little make-up. She insisted in being dressed in Indian dress – wherever she went. Even in the pre-dawn light at 4:30 a.m. on the top of a volcano somewhere in Maui – she seemed tranquil. But shivering – more with high fever than the actual temperature. She insisted on coming to the sun-rise – despite ill health.
He always abhorred it when people, based on her attire, assumed that she did not speak English. Au contraire – she was fluent in eleven languages – four of them ‘European’.
“She is fine – just feeling a bit cold” – he replied to the onlooker.
“They were all gathered on the top of the volcano – with more mountains in silhouette. Sun-rise on lava was the theme. They had started from their hotel at 4:00 a.m. to be on the spot just before the sun-rise.
Though dressed warmly, there was incessant chattering of their teeth, as also chattering from the people around them. People kept rubbing their palms to warm up and continued to wait for the grand finale.
Slowly the rocks behind them started changing colours, and the sky ahead of them burst into flames. Time froze. Everyone held their breath. A finger of ray followed by another; explosion of colours! A spontaneous standing ovation. All of them – from different soils, and regions – felt connected. Dawn cracked, and the sun-yolk oozed out.
June 15, 2018
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
A recent cartoon making round depicts a child discussing his career options with his father. “I am considering a career in crime”. Dad raises his eyebrows: “Organized or Politics?” The idea may be far-fetched, but the realty hits you. Especially in context with politics in Goa. Criminals, Casinos, Chiefs! Goans lower their heads – either […]