Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Autobiography of an Another Yogi

Today, I woke up very very early. At 7:10 am. Thanks to the kind-hearted soul who banged my door as he ran to the sports complex for the morning Yoga. In a jiffy I ripped off my shirt, the one in which I dozed off last night watching a movie, and groped for my t-shirt in the darkness. It was there exactly where it was 56 days ago, under the pile unread newspapers, scissors, a DVD which I rented three weeks ago, the charger of my phone which I dumped two weeks ago and ear phones of my present phone. Despite the risk of being late, I took a moment to feel proud about how systematic, orderly and organized I am. Not a single molecule moves from its preordained position. Time seems to have no effect on them. I smiled. It feels good to start the day on a positive note.

I stepped out and observed a sea of OTs dressed in the dark blue academy jackets. It reminded me of The Matrix. I was the only one without a jacket. It then occurred to me that it was cold. I cursed the vagaries of weather due to man-induced changes in the environment. How on earth should I know that it would be so cold in the morning? The last time I went to Yoga, the temperature was 15 degrees higher, a little humid and the sky was cloudy. I never realized that such huge difference existed between the mornings of monsoon and winter.

When I reached the sports complex, I had same effect on my friends which George Bush wanted on Iraq, shock and awe. Depending on their respective academic, social and religious indoctrinations, analysis and conclusions ranging from End of History to End of the World emerged. I sheepishly smiled and wished them thinking it would divert their gaze. It ended up as an exercise in futility.

I entered the Yoga room. The mats were new. May be they were bought to cater to the new batch of probationers who arrived last week. Amidst the melee of probationers spreading their mats and settling down, the Yoga instructor sighted me. He adjusted his glasses and looked if it was really me. On confirmation, he had the same look on his face which a bollywood father has in the climax when he meets his son lost in the opening reels of the film.

As the count began for the asanas, a tinge of nostalgia stuck me. It was just as if yesterday was the first day I missed my morning Yoga class. Time is such a deceiving devil, I mused. It flies faster than we think. As I returned to my room after Yoga, I found the maid in-charge of my floor cleaning one of my friend’s room. I asked her to come to my room after she is done with the room. She quizzically asked on which floor my room was. With utmost honesty, I replied that I stayed on the same floor. “Oh”, she remarked as if something from her long-term memory suddenly got retrieved. “Room number 21”, I said to avoid further embarrassment. She had a derisive smile in which I could read, “That room which never opens even after a hundred knocks.”

She promptly came. She too was surprised that things did not change one bit since she last visited. As she cleaned, the bearer got the morning tea. I extended my mug. He raised his eyebrows with remark which only I could hear, “So, you too have your morning tea?” I proudly smiled saying to myself, “Yes, I do.” Once, I finished my tea, the laundry guy came to my floor. When he saw me standing with cloths, he almost dropped the pressed clothes he was carrying. I remember him knocking my door every alternate day asking if there were any clothes to be pressed. I involuntarily shout from my blanket that I had none. One day, despite my repeated shouting he continued to knock my door. I furiously opened to give him a dressing down. But before I could burst out, he pleaded “Sir, please take back your pressed clothes. I am trying to give them back since a week but you refuse to open the door.” As usual, I got away with my trademark sheepish smile.

I was happy that I could do a lot of tasks that were pending. But what was more satisfying is that my presence at the early morning Yoga has motivated my friends to think and dream big. VV, who previously worked for railways, now believes that trains running at 500 km/hr would be a reality in the next six months. MJ, a doctor, thinks that next year we could have an oral vaccine that would protect us from both cancer and AIDS. NN, who hails from Bangalore, is confident that next time he visits home, he can reach M.G.Road from airport in 20 minutes. Today, they have realized that “I have a dream” and “Audacity of hope” are not mere dramatic phrases. If they could spot me at the early morning Yoga, they can even expect their day dreams to come true.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The One Year Itch

It is one year since I joined the National Academy of Direct taxes. I think it is time that I share what I have learnt in this one year. The major subjects were accountancy and Income Tax Act. Accountancy was truly unnerving to say the least. Though I come from an engineering background, I am not very comfortable with numbers with a trail of zeros. I don’t mind algebraic expressions. But pages with high density of numbers is not something I was familiar or comfortable with. Till date, the maximum numerical density I could tolerate was the soduku square. Here was a long list of numbers waiting to be divided into two categories, debit and credit. The challenge was not in segregation, but in ensuring that their totals were identical. And that’s where my woes began.

Actually, debit and credit are not entirely new to me. Debit is the name of the card which was given to me by the bank which has my salary account. It is a good card but doesn’t work after the 10th day of the month. Credit is the card which my dad gave me. It works 365 days a year. To sum up, I had very pleasant memories of “debit’ and “credit”. But ever since I started my accountancy classes, I began to hate those words. At the end of the course, the only thing that I am confident of is that I can draw a line that would run exactly through the center of the page.

I don’t think my experience with the Income Tax act is very different. Even the best of the argumentative Indians will acknowledge without second thoughts that it is the most difficult and complicated pieces of legislation. But that is how tax legislations are. It is said that Prince Siddhartha left his kingdom the day his taxation classes began. Later, he attained enlightenment pondering over the first word uttered in the class, “Income”. Chandragupta Maurya, fearing that his son too might run away, divested himself of the finance portfolio and handed it over to Chanakya. Chanakya’s concern for posterity took the shape of Arthashasthra. But that is where the problems began to grow in geometric progression. Codification of laws gives rise to a new phenomenon called “interpretation”, whose limits coincide with that of ingenuity and insanity.

The Income Tax Act, 1961 must be having around 400 sections, 1200 sub-sections and god-knows-how-many provisos and explanations. But I know only two sections. Section A and Section B. Section B is where HK and CM sit. I too sit sleep there. HK sits next to me, wakes me up when the class is over and reminds me that it is time to go for lunch / tea / home. CM was her predecessor. But for these two, I am not really sure to which sections the rest of my batchmates belong to. I hardly see any of them. The road from the mess to my classroom is utterly deserted when I run every morning to the class with a toast in mouth and paper tissues in my hands. If I am lucky, I wouldn’t be caught by my Assistant Course Director at the entrance of building.

If I am luckier, then he would send me back and ask me to join the next session. I would then go back to the mess and have a complete breakfast. Since I would be the lone diner, the entire staff of the mess would be there to serve me. I would leisurely eat till I risk falling asleep on the dining table. I would then take a cup of tea and take a stroll across the lawns opposite to the mess and wonder for the zillionth time how beautiful early mornings are. Never mind the clock striking 10. ‘Early’ is relative.

Yes, I lose one half casual leave for missing the class. But how does that matter. I never needed any leaves. I don’t have anywhere to go or anything to do. During probation, marriage is the most common occasion for which officers apply for a leave. I don’t see myself getting married even in my next birth and don’t have sufficient foresight to look beyond that. I don’t even have a beautiful fiancĂ© / girlfriend whom I would love to meet. Considering that it took two and a half decades to get rid of me, I am the last person whom my parents would love see at their door. No wonder, in my one year stay in the academy, I just took one day leave. That was just last week. It was to attend a wedding of my batchmate at Punjab. At the risk of repetition and boredom, I would like to confess that I had no luck with lasses at the wedding.

On my way back, at Delhi, I managed to detain MS for a coffee. I love meeting MS because she is the only human being who often tells me that I am smart, intelligent and funny. I know it is her education that makes her say so. She was a practicing psychiatrist who is now pursuing M. Phil at IHBAS. It was more than a year I met her and I shared my achievements (or rather the lack of it) with her. This time even her professional experience couldn’t prevent her from getting shocked at how disastrous a person could be. When she recovered, she managed to blurt out, “I am scared what is going to happen when you go to office next April.”

I calmly replied, “So is the Government of India”