Friday, June 19, 2009

Idiot and I

If traffic is something people have to fight everyday in metros, it is boredom in smaller towns. More often than not, you are miserably alone. You wouldn’t have too many friends of your age and those who are older have families to go back to. Having got used to always-on internet connectivity for around half a decade, browsing on a USB modem is not an entirely pleasurable experience. All these have pushed me into a forced wedlock with the idiot box. It is boring and utterly irritating. Yet, I go back to it every evening and it is the first thing I see when I wake up each morning. That is why I call it wedlock.

So let me give you a glimpse of my marital bliss. Frankly, I don’t watch anything in particular. I just keep surfing the channels. Today, when my better half was turned on (no pun intended) it was showing one of those soaps. It was a close-up shot of a couple who were holding each other. The teary-eyed lady looked deep into the man’s eyes. I waited for ten minutes but neither of them even batted their eyelids, leave alone indulging in any other motion. The camera showed them in two dozen angles with jarring vocals playing endlessly in the background. I shifted to the next channel.

The enterprising channel was interviewing a maid who supposedly worked in the same neighbourhood where Shiny Ahuja lived. I immediately ran down to the one-room temple below my guest house and thanked God that dogs still do not speak a language the news channels can understand. When I returned, the programme was drawing to a close. The anchor signed off saying, “There is a glaring difference between the on-screen and off-screen images of stars.” What a revelation! Thanks dude. But for you I would have still remained under the belief that Tobey Maguire could actually jump from one skyscraper to another.

My next pit stop was MTV, which more than makes up for the unavailability of FTV. As usual, a bunch of girls were flaunting their long sun-tanned legs performing acts on which even those with abnormally low IQ would have second thoughts. Seeing them being so jobless, wandering without proper cloths or food (they seem to survive on Papayas and Watermelons), I am convinced that recession is for real. I don’t understand why those creative brains that run the ticker refuse to rename roadies and splitsvilla as leggies and stripsvilla. If you try to listen what they speak, it would something like this: “What the *beep*. I know I am the most deserving. This *beep* is trying *beep* me off. Just *beep* off, OK? “

At the succeeding English news channel, after discussing India’s loss at T-20 for more than 20 hours since the loss, the newsreader remarked that a 360 degree coverage of the loss would follow. Can’t we have a 20-20 version of news? When we can have a nano car and nano houses, why not nano news channels? Any business house which starts such a channel can claim to have delivered the biggest CSR.

An aspirin and a few clicks later, I found myself watching Gemini Music. It made me nostalgic. A lot has changed in the last three years, including the name of the channel, but the husky beauty has stuck on. Nothing has changed. Neither her voice nor her wardrobe. Who says that change is the only thing which is constant?

The following 38 channels had the same programme. People of all ages and genders were dancing or singing or doing both. Kids displayed undesirable precociousness in garments and gesticulations. And the judges were those whom people wanted neither to sing nor to dance. Even better if they stayed at home. If not singing and dancing, they set upon narrating jokes on which only the judges laughed and the studio audience clapped. Captive audience in every sense of the term.

At the next click, I returned to where I began. The lady was still looking deeply into the guys’ eyes. The camera must have zoomed in from 845 different angles. Tears, which welled up in her eyes, still did not roll down. I think I must revisit my high school physics and relearn surface tension lessons. I am sure if I can understand this, the Income-tax act would be a cake walk.

I disinterestedly set upon the next round of surfing.......

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Krishna Connection

Vijayawada. That is the place chosen for me to begin my career. Everyone would like to work in metros and big cities. That is where the action for IRS lies. Big cases, complicated issues and ingenious chartered accountants collude to sharpen the learning curve. But small towns have their own charm, I was told. If you dispute my terming of Vijayawada as a ‘small town’, all I can say in defense is that small is relative. The last time I referred to Vijayawada as small, the listener broke into a sarcastic laugh. An accomplished bureaucrat who retired as Chief Secretary, he must have felt that I was being snobbish. I can’t blame him much. Even my batchmate in the IAS, who is posted in Eluru, protested instantly at my judgment of urban sizes.

It is characteristic of my service that we don’t begin with places like Rampachodavaram. Atleast not till the Government thinks of taxing collection of honey and sale of wild jackfruits. And that, considering the reluctance to bring agriculture in the ambit of taxes, seems very remote. So for IRS, where a lot of our colleagues start their careers at places like Mumbai and Delhi, Vijayawada is a small place.

So what is it that makes small places charming? It is the people. The day I was to reach here, my train was scheduled to arrive here at 4:45 in the morning. I called the office the previous day and asked if they could send someone to the railway station as I was new to the place and was arriving at an odd hour. In about an hour’s time, I got a call from the driver. I asked him to be at the station by 4:30 in the morning. He said he would be at 4 am. And he was. It was just the beginning. It is ten days since I came here. And I have never come across anyone who thinks twice when you ask him for something. People here respect you to the point of embarrassment.

One reason could be because officers of my rank are few. There are five officers of the rank Assistant / Deputy Commissioners in Vijayawada. The corresponding number in Hyderabad is more than 50. Other could be historical. During my interaction with a senior officer, who hails from this place, I was told the behavior of people towards Government officials is result of the colonial history. Since the region, unlike Hyderabad, was under the colonial rule, the people are well-acquainted with administrative machinery and are more conscious of the power, potential and the reach of Government. This is something which would be put to test soon. How?

My jurisdiction consists mainly of old parts of the city and adjoining rural areas. The economic growth is not very vibrant in these parts. But that doesn’t grant me immunity from upward revision of revenue targets. My predecessor felt that collections have reached optimum levels and are likely to plateau. The only way to increase collection was to widen the tax net. So I have sent about 400 letters to assesses, who were not filing returns to do so. Non-filing of Income-tax returns when you have a taxable income or when you belong to particular class of assesses like companies could lead to imprisonment. The response to these letters would reveal whether the people here are truly respectful of the authority of Government.

Personally what I like the most about small cities is their contribution on the professional front. You get to deal with all types of cases. In big cities, there is an element of specialization in the jurisdiction. Some charges deal with only salary cases, some with business cases and others with companies. However, in small cities, the jurisdiction is territorial. So one gets to deal all kinds of cases and consequently the experience is more varied. Secondly, the workload is relatively more manageable. Not that every colleague of mine in the metros are getting buried under the piles of files, but a few of them do have quite a Herculean task ahead of them. And for me, after two years of slumber at Mussoorie and Nagpur, keeping myself awake when sun is still high is in itself a Herculean task.