Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Making of a Taxman

(This post is dedicated to my Cultural Secretary, who silently works hard and comes up with innovative proposals. Be it purchase of new musical instruments or creating a collection of different genres of music from all parts of the country or celebration of every festival from Lohri to Pongal to Holi or an extended game of Dumb Charades, he is always working to ease out the stress of tax laws. Commissioner Baghalpur Saab (as we fondly call him), you rock!!! )
I must apologise for the long hiatus in posting. It is only a fortnight since I got my computer in my room. I still don’t have internet. And it is difficult to blog amidst the din of our computer lounge. To those who are wondering what happened all these days, I present a brief summary of what happened in this long gap.

It is close to four months since I arrived at National Academy of Direct Taxes. To chronicle my stay in one post is virtually impossible. But idiots like me can achieve even the impossible with an unbelievable ease. At least my stupidity helps me to believe so. Before, I proceed let me inform you that I have a slight problem in judging time and space. At times, this is aggravated due to short term memory loss. So if you find that I have mixed up tenses, places, persons, genders, reality and fantasies, please forgive me.

We landed on 9th December. Contrary to our expectations, December was pretty warm. Probably, it was the warmth of our preceding batch, the faculty and our then Director General, who always had a special love for probationers. As days passed, the warmth increased. But this was from a different source – Tea. Now don’t dismiss this with a condescending sigh. It was at NADT that I discovered that there exists a ritual called High Tea. For someone who seldom drank tea, high tea was something very alien. But, soon we learnt that high teas were a common thing in the government and one must learn to enjoy it.

We had so many High Teas during December that the IPCC almost issued a missive accusing us of disproportionately contributing to global warming. An undisclosed highly placed report from the Economic Intelligence wing reportedly observed that if FBT was imposed on High Teas, then the fund collected could single-handedly meet the budget requirements of NREGA, SSA and NACO. However, considering that it would place a huge burden on most of the Government departments, the observation was silently pushed under the carpet.

On a serious note, high teas actually serve as an excellent platform to impart soft skills. For example, how to eat crispy golden fried Jalebis with a fork while holding the tea cup in a saucer in one hand and the plate containing the jalebis in another. Or how to eat with poise even when you might have actually been starving for three days and the snack is your favourite one.
But soon the incidences of High Tea reduced and we got restless. So we decided to elect a Cultural Secretary a.k.a CulSec and a Film Secretary a.k.a FilSec to make our evenings more eventful. The new CulSec took his role too seriously and celebration of various festivals became a serious affair in the academy. He is forever worried about what to celebrate. Such is his enthusiasm that when the calendar did not have any events for two consecutive weeks, he decided to celebrate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He insisted that we have a really really sad song and a dance in slow motion. Luckily, just in time I informed him that you can just commemorate it, but not celebrate. He dropped the idea but not before finding a new reason to celebrate.
On February 6th, he wanted to celebrate the National Day of Niue. Officer Trainees (OTs) who had geography as their optional in Civil Service Examination, especially those who got the interview call again, are still trying to find where this country is. Nevertheless, the CulSec went ahead and planned a full-length programme with a folk dance from Tamil Nadu, a bhangra from Punjab, two songs (one instrumental and one vocal), and one dance. We, again, got into a fire fighting mode. We had to create an alternate event. Since the auditorium had excess capacity and no one in Nagpur was willing to come we decided to call our batchmates from Customs and Central Excise. They smelled something fishy and sent their senior batch. And this was what we were waiting for. The moment they landed in Nagpur they were led into the guest rooms and for the next one week we taught them the Income-tax Act. Why should only we have the pleasure of learning the act? Of course, we did keep our promise and treated them to the promised cultural evening on their last day of their stay.
While you are reading this post, the CulSec would get ready to celebrate Africa Malaria Day. It promised to be a grand event as sponsorships have already been obtained from all leading mosquito repellent products. When he is not organising festivals or lobbying for sanctioning of new proposals, he would be found writing his autobiography “Count Your Hair Before They G(r)o(w)”. And he is not the only budding writer here. At least a dozen books are on the offing from our batch. Some of the interesting ones are: How to Tax the Dead – A key to widen the tax base, 10001 Successful Reasons for Casual Leave, Seven Habits of Highly Unsuccessful KTPs[Refer footnote 1], Outsourcing Assignments and Income Tax for Dummies. All copies of the last book are sold out even before the first print.

I am not so intellectually endowed to write a book. So I prefer to read. I love autobiographies and Richard Branson’s is my all-time favourite. I have been reading it for over a decade. No luck, yet. Well, I am a slow learner.

When we are not reading or writing books, we watch movies. Our FilSec is no-nonsense guy who believes that movies must go beyond their targeted purpose of entertainment. At least he makes an attempt. What is great about watching meaningful movies? The challenge lies in watching meaningless movies and then trying to figure out what the movie was about. Towards this end, we had screenings of bollywood avant garde movies, like Mumbai Salsa. It was a cinematic expression of modern art. No one understands what it is, but everyone has a radically different story to tell, though they see the same visuals. Getting back to the movie, it had two far-reaching consequences, one unintended and one intended. First was that two Officer Trainees (OTs) qualified for an exchange program with the hospital [Refer footnote 2] across the road. Second was that the Hobbies Secretary started salsa classes. It was only later we came to know that salsa wasn’t as easy as it appeared. I had to abruptly drop out as doctor advised me not to lift weights more than 100 kgs.
My description of life here would be incomplete if I fail to mention the most exciting and adventurous activity which a few brave OTs undertake, marriage. Every weekend someone sets off to try his luck with the opposite gender. Activities range from visiting a prospective spouse, negotiating terms for a peaceful and non-violent marital life, actually getting married (which again could range from civil, ceremonial, secular, religious etc), pestering for family quarters in the campus etc. Those who do not have an opportunity to indulge in any of these luxuries spend their time watching movies like “Runaway Bride”, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Four Wedding and (my?) Funeral”.

If you are wondering about the conspicuous absence of academic activities in this post, it is because I really don’t get what is happening in the class. My understanding of English is a little poor. So when the Basic Hindi classes [Refer footnote 3] are conducted, I go to my Basic English classes. I am the only student there. I have learnt the spellings of articles, pronouns and propositions. I am beginning to learn the spellings of a few nouns like “Income”, “Tax”, “House”, “Property”, “Business”, “Profession”, “Salary” etc. Once I complete my English classes, my regular classes will commence. Till then I have been advised to sleep (but not snore) in the class. I sign off with the promise in the next edition you will find my experiences in the class.

1. KTP – Keen Type Probationers, those whose excuse for existence is to study, study and just study.
2. Opposite our campus, there is mental hospital.
3. It is part of the Official Language Policy.