Suresh Menon

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Why our colum­nist wants his den­tist and the tax­man to trade places.

There are two events ev­ery year that I do not look for­ward to with any en­thu­si­asm. The visit to the den­tist – a chatty, fun-lov­ing bloke whose jokes, with his hand in my open mouth, I can­not laugh at – and the ex­er­cise of fill­ing in in­come tax forms. Some­how, this year they fol­lowed each other in quick suc­ces­sion and be­fore I could re­cover from the den­tist, I was be­ing tor­tured by the tax­man, so to speak. One drilled for plaque, the other for hid­den wealth, and I didn’t pos­sess ei­ther.

For some rea­son, the tax­man be­lieves I make more money than I ac­tu­ally do and asks the same ques­tion in 20 dif­fer­ent ways to try to trip me up.

“Aha!” says the form on page two, sub-sec­tion three, “How come you haven’t de­clared the fact that you tipped not 200 ru­pees in the restau­rant but only 180?” The tone is nasty and su­pe­rior in the way such forms have of mak­ing you feel small.

Or there is an ap­par­ently in­nocu­ous state­ment: “If you can tell us, hand on heart, that you didn’t visit the toi­let more than twice on your flight from Ban­ga­lore to Lon­don, now is the time to do so and you will re­ceive a re­bate un­der chap­ter six, sub-sec­tion 1.2 and clause 67 of the 1934 In­come Tax Act.”

That’s easy, you think. But a les­son you learn af­ter fill­ing in the form year af­ter year is that noth­ing is easy in the world of tax­a­tion. You think you have claimed a de­duc­tion for the red ta­ble run­ner you bought six months ago only to be told that the de­duc­tion is for blue ta­ble run­ners only and for red you ac­tu­ally have to pay a value-added tax. The fol­low­ing year, the colours change again and you are left as con­fused as be­fore.

I know sci­en­tists with an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion, writ­ers on the verge of win­ning the No­bel and math­e­ma­ti­cians who can cal­cu­late the value of pi to the hun­dredth dec­i­mal place in their heads, who quail be­fore tax forms. And how can they not? When you think you have led a blame­less life, the form says: “In your state­ment last year you said that you have a wife and three kids, but now con­tra­dict that by say­ing you have a house with four rooms.”

I think my den­tist and tax­man should ex­change places. The tax­man can go where no man has gone be­fore and dig out plaque where we thought none ex­isted. The den­tist can keep drilling un­til he re­alises there is no hid­den wealth any­where. And I can spend the time saved in my house with four rooms or with my wife and three kids.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is.

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