Monday, March 26, 2012

The Gold Rush

If raids are the most dramatic part of the Income Tax department, then seizing gold is the most melodramatic part of the raid. You may take away crores of cash from a man with an ease of taking shirt off Salman Khan’s back. He would plead for sometime but would soon accept the fait accompli and starts plotting the next plan of action. But making a woman, and may be Bappi Lahiri, part with one milligram of gold is like asking selectors to rest Tendulkar. It would be a malady of misery and misfortune and a demonstration of dishonor and disgrace. A sorrow that finds place next only to grabbing the dress of your dreams in a melee of end-of-season sale but finding it one size larger. I never understood the fatal attraction of women towards jewellery. But then, I never understood women in the first place. In any case, it is not unusual for me to deal with things that I don’t understand. I have been doing it ever since I went to school and have been doing it more confidently ever since I joined the Government of India.
We are quite reasonable and we do allow a reasonable amount of jewellery to be retained. So when you ask them to choose some jewellery from those proposed for seizure for retaining, they face their biggest dilemmas of their existence. It is like asking them to choose between Clooney, Cruise and Cooper. Or like asking them choose between husbands who can cook, clean or take care of babies. Unconsciously, you have triggered off the most complex decision-making ever in history of mankind, or rather womankind. A decision-making process that must consider a billion variables, each of which are a polynomial function consisting of intangibles as variables and invisibles as coefficients. One which would take the best super computer few years to arrive at the solution. The estimation of the utility value of each piece of jewellery has to be calculated with respect to the clothes, shoes, bags, watches and 524 other accessories, some of which could be passed off as a piece of UFO cutlery. So that calls for a massive inventorying of not just what the lady owns but also what she plans to buy and what she dreams to buy in the next five years. The same exercise has to be repeated with her sisters, cousins and friends with whom she has a bilateral jewellery exchange agreement. No spreadsheet and not even pen and a paper. An exercise whose magnitude and complexity is comparable only with that of Wal-mart’s stock taking is accomplished just by looking at the jewellery and staring into thin air.
After three hours, the first piece of jewellery is yet to be decided. If it was cash, I would have seized, deposited in the bank and be on my way to some watering hole. I just hate the notion of working on a weekend. But since we spend most of our weekdays figuring out what to work upon, we end up working on weekends. And here was a lady who has completely disassociated herself from time. I realize that the proposed beer at the sports bar in the afternoon has to be rescheduled to evening. With a heavy heart and heavier hand, I SMS the same to my friends. 
You know the utility evaluation is over when the lady finally begins to touch the jewellery. But what you do not know is that the touch has triggered the second evaluation, the one that is exponentially  more complex, emotional evaluation. The moment she touches the jewellery, you can see her going into flashback. Sepia-tinted images float before her and violins play at the background. Every piece of jewellery, has a story behind it and some even have epics. And all of these relate to those jewellery gifted by her parents. That which are bought by her husband, however, would have to contend with just anecdotes. Anecdotes of his tightfistedness and how she had to settle for less when she could have got something better. Something not very different from the perception about her choice of husband.  So the output of previous decision-making is fed into a new flow chart evaluating the sentimental value of the jewellery.
Even as the process goes on, the lady still thinks that some miracle would happen and she would be spared of this ordeal of separation. At regular intervals, she would come up with new pleas. She would begin to narrate how poor they are. It doesn't matter that there is fleet of luxury cars in their porch and the house is situated in one of the most expensive localities of the town. If they are poor, I wonder what her servants are. Further, what about those who earn less than 30 rupees a day. Anyways, she soon realizes that we-are-poor-strategy is not convincing even to her, let alone us. So now begins the next argument – “Why us? There are so many people richer than us, so why us?” This time her husband, who till now was a silent spectator to the proceedings, too joins and you soon start hearing scores of names. They even start saying that the department goes after poor, hapless people like them and we lack the guts to go behind the high and mighty. I remind them that raids are conducted on suspected tax evaders, not on the basis of Forbes ranking. I offer them an opportunity to file a tax evasion petition before me and assure them of suitable action. And that seals their mouths. So much cooperation from our public minded elite who cry hoarse over corruption, black money and swiss accounts. 
The discussions on politics, power and wealth have metamorphosed into a futile inconclusive philosophical polemic. As the sun goes down, so does my patience. I declare that if they fail to complete their selection within the next 10 minutes, I am going to decide by means of a lucky, or rather, unlucky draw.  The threat works. All decision-making algorithms are suspended with immediate effect and choices are made based on the momentary instincts. Its late evening and I have my doubts about the dinner. However she doesn't have any more doubts on the impending fate of her jewellery. As the jewellery makes its way into the container which would be sealed and stashed away, the lady looks at it with the sigh of a mediaeval explorer having the final glimpse of his homeland at the horizon from the ship. The expression on her face is a concoction of hope, anxiety, fear and misery. Her husband, however, has just one expression - petrifaction at the imminent pestering for new jewellery the moment we leave the premise. It is now that his dilemma begins - whether to first pay taxes or buy jewellery.