‘Hello, Sir! How are you?’ Asked the young partner from the CA’s office when I answered her call.
What business does she have sounding so cheerful in July when hard earned cash has to be coughed up and Income Tax Return filed? But one has to be civil.
‘Oh hello.’ I replied, trying to – and failing to – match her joviality.
‘Sir, I can’t hear you properly. Please speak louder.’ She commanded.
‘Can’t. I’m in a hospital.’
‘What happened to you?’
‘Nothing. I’ve come to meet someone else, but can’t talk any louder. What were you calling about?’ I know from experience that a call from the CA’s office, especially in July, is rarely good news, so I risked asking, ‘I hope it’s good news.’
‘I have good news and bad news.’ Despite the cliché, she sounded cordial.
‘Give me the good news first.’
‘Well the good news is that you are healthy and…’ Was she a CA as well as a Doctor? I wondered silently.
‘And…?’ I asked, ever the optimist.
‘And you’re already in a hospital, so ready for the bad news.’ She giggled aloud.
So she was a CA, a Doctor as well as a Comedienne and had the best bedside manner among all three, except the ludicrously loud laughter at my expense.
‘What’s the bad news?’
‘We have an additional tax liability.’
I liked the way she said ‘we’ and made it sound like it was a joint responsibility.
I was tempted to say, ‘Ok, you pay it’.
Instead, I protested, ‘But I’m a poor salaried sod who never gets to touch a Rupee before the Taxman has chewed off his bite! My company cuts full TDS. Then why this?’
I must’ve sounded like a plaintive child about to lose his favourite toy to the class bully, for she replied simply and patiently, ‘There’s more tax owed.’
I was silent, too stunned by the unplanned and unavoidable outgo.
‘Are you a…?’ She paused. What did she mean to ask? ‘Are you alive’?
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Are you all right?’ She asked.
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘but there must be a mistake.’
‘There’s no mistake.’ She said, with the finality of a hangman.
No wonder Benjamin Franklin has said, ‘Nothing is certain except death and taxes.’
‘I’ll come to your office tomorrow morning.’ I croaked, my voice breaking with emotion.
Next morning, I walked into the senior CA’s cabin and stood with my hands on my hips like a heavyweight boxer before a bout.
I took a deep breath and said, ‘If a rich man can owe Seven Thousand Crore Rupees to banks and still manage to leave the country; and if a driver can be the owner of big companies employing over Six Hundred people; and if a small unknown builder can declare cash holdings of Fourteen Thousand Crore Rupees; and if the roads continue to contract Small Pox religiously year after year; and if the traffic moves slower than my walking; and they build such wonderful monsoon drains,’ I paused to take another deep breath and show him the picture, ‘what right do they have to ask me for more taxes?’
‘Sit down!’ Was all that the CA said.
My stirring speech had evidently left him unmoved.
‘Coffee, tea or…?’ He asked, smiling.
‘Poison, if you have!’ I replied, indignantly.
‘Relax!’ He laughed. ‘It’s only thirty percent.’
‘Plus surcharge and education cess and now the GST.’ I added, getting a little annoyed by his lack of concern.
‘Don’t worry. There’s no GST on Income Tax.’ He said, consoling me.
To me, it sounded as reassuring as an undertaker telling a dead man, ‘You are looking nice!’
‘What if I refuse to pay the taxes? What if I declare a non-cooperation movement like Gandhiji did?’ I asked, still belligerent.
The CA thought for a moment. Then he said, ‘There will be reduced power supply.’
‘Oh that’s quite normal.’
‘There will be limited water.’
‘That’s nothing new.’
‘Toilets will be dirty.’
‘I’ve never seen clean public toilets.’
‘There will be no non-veg food.’
‘Fine. I’m a vegetarian.’
‘There will be no bed.’
‘No bed? You mean they’ll take my bed away?’
‘No, they’ll take you away.’
‘Take me away? Where?’
‘To jail?’ I gulped.
He continued, enjoying my discomfiture, ‘I’m describing the conditions in a jail! Dear Sir, you and I are too timid to be Mahatma Gandhi and too stupid to be successful tax evaders. Just pay your taxes and go sleep in peace.’
I paid my taxes, but am unable to sleep in peace.
Every time I fall asleep, I dream that I’m thirsty and walking in darkness to a public toilet, carrying a bed on my head, as that’s the only possession I seem to have left after paying my taxes.
©Avinash P Chikte