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Tom and Jerry

The recent announcement of the FM to deploy search engines to identify tax evaders had me in deep contemplation for Tom and Jerry, the celebrated cartoon characters, have real life counterparts. If pussycat Tom, the eternal loser is the taxman, Jerry mouse, the perennial winner is the taxpayer. Like Jerry, taxpayers go to extraordinary lengths to outsmart Tom - the taxman. And this is not, as commonly believed to be, India centric. Rather it is a global phenomenon. Witness this: Kenneth Dart, an American billionaire gave up his US citizenship and opted for the Belizian one, merely to avoid US Income-tax. Since he had to also stay in US and control his business, he “engineered” to become Belize’s ambassador to US and operated from there with full diplomatic immunity! That’s one way how Jerry wins.

The desi version of the above comes with a minor variation. Despite being in India for the entire year, tax-payers declare to have spent more than 182 days abroad and thus claim NRI status which exempts their foreign income from being taxed in India. As far as stamping the passport is concerned – the evidence - Nepal allows Indians to come in and exit without any entries in passport. Jerry usually “gets” hotel bills, albeit at a cost, from Nepal as evidence.

As I thought about these issues and walked alongside the beach the other day, I noticed from a distance that my good friend and builder, Mohan dressed in three-piece, selling spinaches. As I wondered what on earth was he upto, I also realised he was simultaneously giving an interview to the media on the virtues of spinaches, which he revealed were harvested from his farm. Even Popeye, the cartoon character, would not have sold it with such verve. When did Mohan the builder turn into a farmer and why, that too in a three-piece? As I got drowned in the Tsunami of questions I walked upto him to find answers. Mohan instantly waved at me as he saw me and shouted “Hi Narada.” Since his last visit to US, I noticed, Mohan speaking English with an American accent. Why English, it would seem that he even spoke Tamil with an American accent. “When did you turn into a farmer?” I enquired without even caring to reply to his Hi. “Just a minute Narada, let me complete this interview,” he quipped as he went on to complete his interview. “Please don’t forget to send me the final copy of the interview,” he said repeatedly to the scribes. “Now tell me Narada, how are you?” he enquired with an air of authority. “Spinaches, you… err,” I mumbled incoherently. He laughed mightily. “Narada, these spinaches are from my farm.” “When did you buy the farm,” I enquired slightly puzzled. After all, he always consulted me before buying any property. Lowering his voice to almost a whisper he said, “I purchased some barren land 85 Kms away from the city.” “If it is barren how come the spinaches?” I probed further. “From the wholesale market” he confessed. “Then why did you falsely claim that these grew in your farm?” I enquired in a stern voice. “Narada, my construction business is doing extremely well.” “So” I said agitatedly as I sensed some wholesale mischief. “As you may be aware that the very nature of my business generates huge amount of unaccounted cash. Even if I want to be law-abiding, I can’t. And to bring it to books I have no other way but to route it as agriculture income.” It took couple of moments to digest what Mohan had said. “But why this charade of giving an interview to the media?” I queried with a presumption that at-least now I had him on the mat. On the contrary, his eyes lit up as he replied. “Narada, when the assessing officer will seek proof for my agriculture income, the interview which I gave just now would stand in good stead. Wouldn’t it?” he said, as he winked at me mischievously. The answer stumped me. Search engines or engineering searches, I realised, despite Tom’s best attempts Jerry is destined to win. Crucially, all of us are Jerry in different shades. Perhaps it is our collective prayer that protects Jerry from Tom!

Last modified on Sunday, 07 July 2013 07:36

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