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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Modest Proposal - VI: Liquidating Black Money In Two Steps

My reputation as a problem solver seems to have never died down, even though it has been years since I last showed my abilities.  

(For those ignorant few, please scroll down to the end for links to my "A Modest Proposal" series where I have described my heroic feats in quite un-heroic terms.)

In fact, it is only I who seem to have put aside that glorious chapter of my life behind me, the rest of the world remembers.

The other day a whole lot of people trooped in to my house demanding an audience with me.  Everyone wanted to speak to me all at once - the entire surging sea of humanity.  Out of that lot, a significant number said they were having a problem in taking out their cars out of the parking lot because my driver had parked it in the middle of the exit road. I immediately handed one of them the keys to my car, to do the needful, and they went back seemingly satisfied.  Do not quite know why their satisfaction was not full and final. 

But there were still some people who would not go away.  Their faces seemed familiar and, unaccountably, in my mind’s eye, they were always hoist on high places - seated on a dais, podium, prime time, media etc.  I magnanimously walked up to them and encouraged them to speak to me without fear or reserve.  They asked if they could sit down for a while - they had some more serious issues.  There was an awkward silence, and each one of them hoped to open up after the others had left. 

Finally, a nervous, fidgety fellow spoke.  He said, in a conspiratorial tone, “it is the problem of black money.”  Ah! Big problem with international ramifications, a problem which others had tried their hands on and failed, a problem which occupies the national mind.  That is quite up my street.  “What about the others?” In a unique manifestation of “a revolution of moral concern” they said that their problem was also the same. 

The gathering had barely seated itself when a man who distinctly smelt of money, without any preamble, started reeling out figures related to black money. 

“Yes, but are these figures inclusive of the black money that you gentleman have secreted at various locations?”  

He was not clued on to this.  All that he wanted was that the money should be brought back without delay.  He said that half a dozen times, to underline the urgency of the problem.  He kept both his hands in his trouser pocket throughout, not taking them out even once.  I thought he had already taken out his hoard of black money and secreted it in his deep pocket.  Secretly, in some corner of his mind, he also wished for his promised 15 lakhs out of other people’s black money.  But I could see the logic.  I could also see that he was speaking for all of them. 

I assured them that the problem of locating and confiscating black money was child’s play for me, but would they like me to go down in history as the biggest bumbling idiot who ever lived?  They were shocked beyond words. 

You see, it is not for the first time in the history of our great nation that such an idea – shall we say Quixotic before Quixote – has come up.  In the golden age of Vikramaditya, Kalidas had authored such a proposal to weed out black money, and nearly sank the ship of his state.  He was immortalized as a fool sawing off the branch he was sitting upon.  The rhyme Kalidas kate ghaas (Kalidas cuts grass) became a national ditty.  It was the revisionist historians who, in order to refurbish the image of Vikramaditya, ascribed to Kalidas the authorship of the books he is credited with, and the foolish project was consigned to the memory hole.  After painstaking research, I had been able to establish this little known but very instructive fact of history.

The penny dropped for them instantly.  The spokesman said with great finality “We see the point of it.”

Then he became desperate. “I know, it is difficult.  Not only difficult, it may even be suicidal.  But my new party is sworn to the idea of doing away with black money.”

“That is simple”, I said.  “Make another promise, change the party, change your name, your parents, your face, or simply deny that you had made any such promise.  Better still, say that investigations have revealed that nothing called black money ever existed.” 

“I have tried each one of the options, except the last one, several times during the course of this campaign itself.  I will be found out.  And I cannot say that black money never existed because like poverty, secularism, nationalism, development etc., we will need to exhort the liquidation of black money to lure the masses in all future elections.  Parties, irrespective of ideological leanings, make these promises.  Unity in diversity.  Please, please do something.”

There was a pin-drop silence.  He was clearly speaking for the collective!

 “You mean you just want to be seen to be doing your utmost to clean up, right?  Cheat people out of their votes.”

“Is that not what democracy is all about, a competitive fraud where the cleverest con man wins?”

“Well said.  Let us go”. 

“Where to”. 

“To locate, unearth and confiscate black money”. 

“Yes but let us first inform the authorities...”

“The law minister’s famous raid on drug peddlers has already laid down the precedent.   Every law-abiding citizen can enforce the law according to his understanding of it.." 

As if guided by some demiurge, we were standing in front of a modest looking house  hidden among imposing palatial houses in a famous colony.  An old man came out to investigate what it was all about.  My God!  Is not he the man I had seen yesterday, on my way to the bank, clutching something close to his chest and looking utterly watchful? Spurred on, we searched his house with a fine toothed comb and soon enough the precious horde of black money, secreted in a black bag, wrapped in a black shawl, and kept in a black box was  winking at us

.  I smiled at my own problem-solving ability, which now seemed to be getting automated. 

Four hundred and seventy eight thousand rupees in all!

The media was not far behind, and my beaming interlocutor, who was exploiting it as good photo op, was struggling to be seen in the forefront of this campaign. 

“Four hundred seventy eight thousand million, is that the figure you quoted for black money?”  

“We have unearthed the four hundred seventy eight thousand - the million that remains is now child’s play, I think the tax authorities can take the small stride after the giant step we have taken today.  Let them also claim the credit.”

The old man, who happened to be a primary school teacher, came up with all kinds of receipts to prove the money’s legitimate origin.  My interlocutors became nervous. 

“Now the media will nail our lie.”

“Impossible”, I said; “The media have money so much on their minds that, on matters concerning money, they cannot distinguish black form white.” I was ready for them. 

“Sir, but on the basis of papers furnished by the old man it seems to be white money.” 

“It appears to be white money alright, but actually it is black money gone white, out of fear.”

The media got more than it had asked for.  Not only was the issue clarified, they had got a catchy headline for tomorrow’s dispatches.

(The author requests that he should not be encumbered by any awards - Padma or of some other variety - for his pains.)