Rahul da Cunha: Tax but no tax
Illustration/ Uday Mohite
So, in all my years of living in India, rarely have I seen a nation so obsessed with three letters. No kids, not SSC. No millennials, not GPS. No Arvindji, not AAP. Yes dear reader… you got it… GST.
There was a time the only interest the Bombay aam janta showed in anything financial was Nani Palkhivala's Brabourne Stadium 'breakdown of the budget' — where he explained, for example, why umbrellas and raincoats were 15 bucks more expensive than the previous fiscal year.
This is the first time that I've heard something money-related being discussed in so much detail, with no one having a clue what they're talking about (a bit like Pahlaj Nihalani talking about why he's administered 67 cuts to an animation movie).
In bars, bar councils, clubs, eateries, call centres, co-operative society meetings, gyms, kitty parties and Page 3 soirees, the only talk at the moment is GST. Chartered accountants, exhausted after dealing with NaMo's ambitious DeMo plans are faced with this flat 18% across-the-board tax.
So, I was at a Central Mumbai eatery last night — a pit stop back from a Malad visit (a trip to this suburb at monsoon time takes about as long as a Mumbai-Manhattan flight). This is a restaurant so renowned for its seafood that the glitterati, the Gen X-ati and the gangsterati can be seen tucking into the surmai fry, with no worries about socio-economic imbalances. A Dhinchak Pooja track was playing, sounding oddly like a ABBA Dancing Queen remix.
Every neighbouring table was chatting about this 'most significant of tax reforms'. Next to me was a group of rowdies straight out of a Ram Gopal Varma movie. The only word I understood was GST, followed by imaginary guns being pointed at foreheads.
The question up for scrutiny was DeMo and GST assassinating the supari killing market.
One Nawazuddin Siddiqui (from MOM) lookalike, was concerned that with the cash component gone, he had to submit invoices to his clients after the 'supari' with this new tax.
Four young Bollywood rookies tucking into some prawn koliwada at another table:
Starlet One: "This GST… what you all think about it?"
Hunk One: "I've not downloaded the new season yet."
Starlet Two: "Arre, stupid, I'm not talking about GoT. Game of Thrones. This is GST. Goods and Services Tax."
Hunk Two: "Bro, I'm Sallu Bhai's third body double. After Tubelight bombed, I have no work, so where's the issue of paying tax?"
Shift to the Glitterati table:
Socialite One: "Darlings, are you followers of GST?"
Socialite Three: "Puh-leeze, my hubby advised Arun on it."
(The Arun is, of course, Jaitley)
Socialite Two (obviously a fashion afficionado): "I wish I could become Modisaab's designer. If he must wear a waistcoat to the Oslo beach in Israel at least let it be a stylish one."
My bill arrived.
The fish was Rs 18. The onions Rs 218.
The waiter responding to my shock, said, "Saar, in GST, no tax on fish, big tax on onions." (Onions pronounced with a 'w'). "But you can pay me separately for my
personal GST — Good Service at Table."
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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