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Celebrating the first anniversary of having launched a book in Portuguese in March 2016.

English version to follow soon….!

ashokbhatia

Surviving in the Corporate Jungle

BookFrontCover

This is a short introduction to a book by yours truly, the Portugese version of which is getting launched in Portugal shortly. The launch event  in Porto is planned on the 2nd of March, along with a talk on “Work Life Harmony” at the  Catolica Porto Business School  of  Universidade Catolica do Porto. The launch event in Lisbon is planned at Universidade Europeia on the 3rd of March, 2016, as part of an event titled ‘Passport to India.’

How this book happened

Forty years back, the School of Business at a prestigious university in India made a big mistake. They awarded me a degree in Business Management. They were so very happy to see me off the campus that they even awarded a silver medal to me.

I owe this book to my professors – some of whom taught so well that I learnt a…

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The conscientious ones amongst the mandarins in the Indian Health Ministry cannot really be blamed for having sleepless nights. The epidemic of such lifestyle diseases as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular abnormalities is leaving them a wee bit clueless. The need of the hour is to come up with a scheme which nudges Indians of all sizes and shapes to start living slimmer and healthier lives.

Take obesity, for instance. As many as 60 million Indians – roughly 5% of the population – are considered obese. With more than 50 millionObesity image suffering from high blood sugar, India is a nation headed for a health tsunami the devastation caused by which would be anything but sweet. This is a grave threat to our vision of the country reaping a hefty demographic dividend in the years to come.

How do we motivate the Indian couch potatoes to switch off their TV sets…

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India offers to the world an immensely rich collection of sacred scriptures.rig-veda First and foremost are the Vedas, which could be justifiably referred to as the core of the spiritual and psychological soft power of India. Then there are the Upanishads, which capture the highest spiritual knowledge and experience that India can offer to the world.

India also has Puranas, Itihasas, Tantras, Dharma Shastras, and Sutras, besides the innumerable works of religious poetry in regional languages.

Ramayana and Mahabharata

Amongst Indian scriptures, Ramayana and Mahabharata happen to be the most popular narratives. Both are pregnant with mature thought. Both contain teachings of political, religious, ethical and social kind. Both showcase, in a relatively simple language than that of the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Indian idea of Dharma, or righteousness.valmiki_ramayana

Both appeal to the soul as well as to the imagination of an intelligent mind. Even illiterates find gems of wisdom in these two epics. If philosophy, ethics, morals, social concepts, political thoughts or administrative justice form the warp in this unique fabric, heroic tales, human emotions, poetry, aesthetics, fiction, romance and villainy form the weft.

These epics showcase a highly developed sense of ethics and values, social and cultural realities of a distant past, besides intellectual and philosophical refinement. Lay persons could draw several life lessons from both these works. So could professionals of all hues.

Sanskrit, the supreme language  

Sanskrit is the language which forms the bedrock of a vast majority of these works. An intimate feeling of the language helps in understanding the multi-layered narratives better. One acquires a heightened sensitivity towards the shades of style and the context in which a statement is being made.

In today’s inter-connected world, one may not know Sanskrit but can still savour a fraction of the fragrant nectar of knowledge offered through any of the Indian scriptures.mahabharata-vyasa-ganesha

Sacred scriptures comprise a minor part of all the Sanskrit literature available from the Vedic to the pre-modern times. Nonetheless, they form the bedrock of Indian culture and spirituality.

Bhagavad Gita: The Song Celestial

Bhagavad Gita forms an integral part of Mahabharata, appearing in its Bhishma Parva. It comprises eighteen chapters. Broadly speaking, this unique composition touches upon three kinds of Yogas – Karma Yoga (The Yoga of Action), Gnana Yoga (The Yoga of Knowledge) and Bhakti Yoga (The Yoga of Devotion). [Yoga is a term which is often confused with physical practices of a certain kind. However, the term is used here in the sense of describing a communion, specifically the communion of an individual soul with the Divine.]

Upanishads articulate the philosophical principles concerning mankind, world and God. Gita explains the manner in which human beings can practice these subtle philosophical principles in their mundane lives.

Soulful management

One of the basic concepts enunciated by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is that Mahabharat Krishna Arjunaof the everlasting nature of the soul. The concept of a soul now finds a resonance even in modern management literature. In his book ‘The 8th Habit’, Stephen Covey urges professionals to pay heed to their ‘inner voice’. While proposing the whole person paradigm, he speaks of the four dimensions of a person – spirit, body, heart and mind.

From a management point of view, perhaps the most relevant are the concepts espoused under the overall umbrella of Karma Yoga. Here, Lord Krishna emphasizes the importance of self-less action, free of its rewards and gains. A state of inaction is held to be another form of action itself.

Gita III 6

कर्मेन्द्रियाणि संयम्य य आस्ते मनसा स्मरन्।

इन्द्रियार्थान्विमूढात्मा मिथ्याचारः स उच्यते।।

[A hypocrite is one who suffers from a false notion of having self-discipline. He is someone who controls the organs of action but continues to dwell upon the objects of sense.]

Gita III 7

यस्त्विन्द्रियाणि मनसा नियम्यारभतेऽर्जुन।

कर्मेन्द्रियैः कर्मयोगमसक्तः स विशिष्यते।।

[He who controls his senses by his mind and engages with the organs of action in a Yoga of Action achieves excellence in whatever he does.]

The concepts enshrined under Gnana Yoga are also highly relevant for management professionals. This is so because one of the major challenges in their careers is to keep unlearning, so the process of real learning can never cease.

Smart professionals always keep an open mind. They strive to keep abreast of latest technological developments. They keep learning from their failures as well as from their successes.

The Yoga of Devotion

When it comes to Bhakti Yoga, the relevance of what Gita says is perhaps bhagavad_gitasomewhat limited as far as a practicing professional is concerned.

Loyalty and devotion – to a superior as well as to the company – are terms which readily spring to one’s mind. But in the absence of a truly charismatic business leader of the stature of Lord Krishna, blind devotion could perhaps lead to a catastrophe in one’s profession. A sense of misplaced loyalty often becomes an excuse for senior managers to remain in their comfort zones. Accepting fresh challenges becomes a key challenge. Their skill-sets start getting rusted. Much like stones which do not roll, they start gathering moss.

Time to rediscover the Gita

There is much that CEOs and managers can learn from the Bhagavad Gita. Its language is pregnant with symbolism at times. But it has rich lessons to offer for day-to-day conduct of business.

This stream of knowledge is close to 3,500 years old. It is never too late to rediscover it.

(Illustrations courtesy Wikipedia)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/management-lessons-from-ramayana

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/management-lessons-from-mahabharata

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/management-lessons-from-the-life-of-lord-krishna

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/some-management-lessons-from-india)

 

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The quiet evening saw the silver rays of moonshine descending upon Blandings Castle. The soft and silvery glow dimly lit up its ivied walls, its rolling parks, its gardens and its outhouses. The frenzied revelries of Christmas were another month away. Peace prevailed. Tranquillity ruled.

Blandings castle-enIn the cozy smoking room of Blandings Castle, two persons could be sighted. In the big chair nearest to the door, one could see the Earl of Emsworth, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Plumsville. He had a cigar in his mouth and a weak highball at his side. His fuzzy brain was softly whispering in his ears that life could not get any better. His son, Hon. Freddie, was happily busy in America, executing his marketing plans for Donaldson’s Dog-Joy Biscuits. Lady Constance Keeble was off to some South American countries on a charity drive for a few more weeks. He was…

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zuerich_rietberg-villa_wesendonck

Indian art is much revered and valued in all major countries. So, the priceless collection of sculptures and paintings at Museum Rietburg in Zurich comes as no surprise.

Here are some of the artefacts one discovers while taking a saunter down the museum. These make one realize the immense potential of the soft power of India.

Zurich Rietberg 13

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Zurich Rietberg 7

Zurich Rietberg 12

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Zurich Rietberg 22

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Zurich Rietberg 23

Zurich Rietberg 24

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rietberg-india-patan-sari

rietberg-india-uday-shankar

Art of any kind perhaps gets appreciated because it connects us with our own inner sense of aesthetics, beauty, love and harmony. The attempt to preserve and showcase the artworks of distant cultures and continents is praiseworthy indeed. It is a good example for other countries to emulate.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/a-saunter-down-the-rietberg-museum-at-zurich-in-switzerland-part-1-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/a-saunter-down-the-rietberg-museum-at-zurich-in-switzerland-part-2-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/a-saunter-down-the-louvre-part-1

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/the-dance-of-life-at-the-national-gallery-of-norway)

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(This post is dedicated to my mother, who earned her BA degree from the Department of Correspondence Courses of Delhi University in the year 1972. In the same year, I completed my B.Sc. Honours in Physics from Hansraj College, Delhi University, through the regular classroom method.)

Synopsis

The future of Distance Education can be bright and rosy only if it aims to improve the EmployabilityMay 2014 033 Quotient of those who subscribe to this stream of knowledge. Given the challenges it faces from traditional class-room learning and from the emerging realm of open on-line learning, there is a strong need to reinvent and reinvigorate the content being offered by it.

The mode of distance education therefore faces a twin challenge. One, proving itself superior to the traditional class-room learning. Two, that of being one-up on the open on-line content on offer to the youth of today, thanks to advances in technology.

Looked at from the perspective of an employer, when a candidate is being considered to be hired, she needs to not only overcome the barrier of a weaker perception of the distance education mode but also demonstrate her superior depth of applied knowledge. The unique strength that such a candidate brings to the table is possibly that of her prior working experience. It also shows that the candidate has the grit and determination necessary to complete the academic criteria of a course, even while handling a career and other mundane responsibilities of life.

In terms of credibility, on-line courses rank a poor third as of now. But the possibility of these catching up and making HR managers sitting up and taking notice of its contemporary and dynamic nature cannot be ruled out in the very near future.

How does the distance learning mode reinvigorate itself? The key lies in understanding the industry requirements and in incorporating the same to redesign the content on offer. Irrespective of the subject, contact programs which offer workshops on body language, communication skills and in building up self-confidence can help. In some cases, elementary IT skills could add value to a student’s marketability. In others, a crash course in a specific foreign language could perhaps help the candidate bag a dream assignment.

Customer is said to be the king. In the case of distance learning, the customer is the prospective student. If the focus is on improving her Employability Quotient based on the skill-gap felt by the industry, the mode of distance learning would improve upon its unique place in the education-mix on offer to the aspiring youth of today.

What the industry looks for

For any business, hiring is a critical activity. One, the person being recruited also brings in a set of attitudes, beliefs and value systems into the organization. These need to be matched with the core values and the culture of the organization. Two, the skills being brought to the table by the candidate have to be assessed realistically, so the person does not prove to be a misfit. Three, the kind of experience and its relevance to the assignment on hand needs to be evaluated. Four, the qualifications need to be checked, so the organization does not end up hiring either an over-qualified or an under-qualified person.

A premium on values

Attitudes, beliefs and values get formed from an early stage of one’s life. Hence, it would be naïve tovalues cartoon corruption assume that formal education at the higher level could play a role in shaping up the same. Yet, some steps could indeed be taken. Management lessons from literature and Indian scriptures, if made a part of the curriculum, would surely reinforce the learning of a career aspirant. Case studies which focus on the values that some brands stand for, such as Tatas and Siemens, could demonstrate the importance of fairness in business dealings. Likewise, details of corporate scandals could drive home the point that excessive greed leads to commercial ruin. Examples such as Satyam and Lehman Brothers readily come to one’s mind.

Skilling the young

Skill sets which a candidate is expected to possess obviously vary from assignment to assignment. In most cases, jobs of a technical nature need higher proficiency in the relevant technical domain. However, depending upon the candidate’s aptitude, skills can also be imparted on the job. For instance, a shoe factory can hire an engineering graduate engineer from any discipline and mould her according to their internal requirements.

For jobs of a non-technical nature, particularly those which fall in the realm of marketing, customer service, procurement, and the like, soft skills carry a much higher weightage. Skills in communication, leadership, collaboration, teamwork, analytics, adaptability and planning assume higher importance.
Evaluating experience

With a clear tendency amongst candidates to overstate their career accomplishments and emoluments, recruiters often have to dig deep to ferret out the truth. Often, past employers need to be contacted so as to ascertain the facts. Successes being quoted by a job seeker need to be seen in the context of the business environment in which the same are said to have been accomplished. The recruiter also needs to evaluate if the success was a team effort or an individual one.

Detailed questioning during the course of a personal interview alone enables the hiring person to understand the nuances of the range and depth of experience of a person.

The knowledge matrix

Often, one is aghast to find that a post-graduate in commerce cannot clarify as to on which side of the balance sheet the profit figure should appear. In such a case, a recruiter has to check her enthusiasm and not proceed to ask as to why it should appear on the ‘Liabilities’ side.

Our learning outcomes happen to be weak on conceptual clarity but excel at promoting rote and memory enhancement. Alas, such is the legacy of Lord Macaulay that we continue to follow till this day!

Unless one is hiring for a research and development slot or for an assignment which is highly technical in nature, one does not look for top grades and academic accomplishments. Grades may not be too good a measure of a candidate’s Intelligence Quotient but do show the capacity to work hard and the propensity to reproduce in an examination hall what has been taught in the classroom.

Pedigree does matter, though. Academic institutions have an image which invariably influences thec1 (25) learning outcomes, and thence, the value attached to a candidate’s qualifications.

A candidate who has undergone a standard classroom process gets taken more seriously than one who has been through the distance education mode. However, the advantage of the latter is that the candidate is likely to have a better Emotional Quotient, especially if she has been pursuing a career as well. This improves the adaptability of the employee and indicates better chances of success on the job.

Distance Education: Unique Selling Propositions

The stream of distance education offers several Unique Selling Propositions.

One, the seeker of knowledge is free of the tyranny of the classroom. No more for her the drudgery of listening to endless uninspiring lectures. There is no emphasis on fixed duration, fixed content dosage of a repetitive kind.

Two, a vast majority of those who opt for this stream are already pursuing either a career or another full-time educational endeavour. Upon successful completion, they bring much higher value to a prospective employer.

Three, prior practical experience brings in a level of maturity which helps the aspirant to shore up her Emotional Quotient, besides adding value to her knowledge base. From the point of view of the employer, this is a great value add.

Four, by shifting from the one-size-fits-all modules to flexible and segmented offerings to a career aspirant, the distance mode has the potential of surpassing the learning outcomes of traditional classroom learning as well as those of on-line learning.

When tyranny begets tyranny

Despite these unique features, employers have an in-built bias in favour of the products of the traditional classroom system.

This bias is rooted in the belief that those who have undergone the traditional process have followed a MICROMANAGINGdiscipline of fixed timings and withstood the boredom which goes with repetitiveness. On the other hand, those who have undergone the distance education mode are perceived to have merely wasted their time in worthless pursuits rather than focusing on academic enrichment of their lives.

Managements often believe that employees have to be physically available to them for a certain duration in the day and have to fall in line with the overall discipline of reporting times and a singular absence of check-out times. It is believed that to young ones, all work becomes routine and boring after some time. So, a candidate who has already undergone a possibly boring process might survive better and longer within the organization!

Such mundane considerations end up tilting the recruitment windmills in favour of those who have undergone a classroom stream of regular education. In other words, managements which believe in tyrannical practices at the work place end up reposing their trust and faith in hapless candidates who happen to be the products of yet another tyrannical system.

However, with the focus in the economy shifting from manufacturing to services, work-from-home is becoming a buzz word. This is happening also due to the personality traits of the millenials who are joining the work force, as also due to better availability of internet and connectivity. Better prospects are surely ahead for the stream of distance education.

Distance Education: Challenges

Being an important sub-set of the entire education eco-system, the challenges faced by the Distance Education mode are essentially the same as the ones being faced by the overall education system. Admittedly, there are finer differences which make this mode more susceptible to disruptive changes in the society at large.

The onslaught of technology

The rapid pace at which technology is changing is making the tasks of education and skill developmentinternet image 1 tougher. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is capable of taking on the tasks which require analytical skills. Capgemini, the consulting major, recently decided to replace 40% of its work done by its resource management group with IBM’s cognitive computing system, Watson. This shows that it is just not mechanical or repetitive jobs that are at risk.

Some crystal gazing

By 2025, almost 70% of India’s population is expected to be in the working age group. By then, thanks to AI and robotics, a large chunk of India’s present knowledge economy would have shrunk. As the contours of the new economy emerge, the country’s collective strength would get determined by world-class education. It would no longer be enough to have commerce and engineering students who can write codes. India would need thousands of research scholars who would be capable of critical thought. This work has to start today.

Augmenting ability, not merely certifying it

It is hoped that the forthcoming new educational policy of the country would suitably address the upcoming challenges of the 21st century. This policy needs to focus on enhancing cognitive skills, capacities for critical thinking and innovation. A robust foundation for the future can only be laid by gearing up all streams of education, including that of distance education, to augment cognitive skills and promote out-of-the-box thinking at all levels. Innovation, and research and development need to emerge as the primary goals of the higher education system. The focus of skill development needs to shift to augmenting the ability rather than remaining confined to the task of merely certifying skills.

The three Rs – reading, writing, arithmetic – must continue to form the core of education. Students who learn these must also learn to question and criticize, to think afresh and come up with new paradigms. They can then end up extending AI, rather than just succumbing to its growing prowess.

Meeting the challenges head-on

The feature of contact classes is a crucial one inasmuch as it gives the students a first-hand feel of the03 subject and the teacher an opportunity to engage in a direct interaction with the knowledge seeker. The image of the institute gets burnished. So does the quality of skills being imparted.

Enriching the contact element

The approach in future needs to be to enrich this feature even further. Tie ups with local professionals who are adept at imparting the kind of skills the industry looks for is a sure way to be one-up on the on-line courses. Students can obviously be given a basket of courses to choose from. Additional fee can be charged from those who wish to also take up an intensive communication or leadership course.

Another way to enrich this feature is to make management games, case studies and role-playing as essential elements of contact classes. An internship with a local business, under the guidance of a faculty member, can help the student hone her industrial skills and also add value to her curriculum vitae.

Segmented and specialized offerings

For those taking up courses related to travel and hospitality management, foreign language courses can be offered on an optional basis. Visits to local businesses and an apprenticeship with these could improve the Employability Quotient in a significant manner.

Quite a few vocational skills can be brought under the domain of distance education. This would be a great value add to the employment eco-system. Elementary IT skills, if imparted as a part of the academic offering, can surely help.

Adaptive learning: a flexible way forward

Adaptive learning views attainment of competency as its central goal, the duration of learning being

Squatting Scribe

Squatting Scribe

largely irrelevant. It recognizes that each knowledge seeker is unique and needs a tailor-made basket of courses which, if completed successfully, would make her a productive member of the society. Admittedly, this necessitates a common entry-level screening, which is simple and which gauges the capabilities of the incoming students at the entry-level and then offers them a route which makes them reach their career goals in the shortest possible time.

An industry interface

Distance education institutions which offer career counseling services and have full-time placement executives on board have a definite edge over those who neglect this vital last-mile connectivity

between the employers and the prospective employees.

By adding video sessions covering chats on important subjects with industry leaders, placement officers can add much value to the overall learning of the students. This is especially true of management courses where practical experience matters much more than the knowledge of theoretical formulae and concepts.

The need to reinvent distance education

Albert Einstein famously quipped that insanity is the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that yardstick, if educationists persist in their belief that continuing with the traditional paradigm of distance education would be a panacea for India’s deepening youth skill crisis, it would amount to insanity!

The need of the hour is to reinvigorate and reinvent this crucial stream of education. A new paradigmpondy-univ-emblem needs to emerge. This paradigm needs to be based on the challenges of the 21st century. By substantially enriching the learning process alone can one hope to see India capitalizing on its demographic dividend. We are perhaps about to miss the bus already. The time to bring about this change starts now.

(A paper presented at the National Conference on Distance Education in India: Emerging Challenges and Prospects, organized by the Directorate of Distance Education, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry, India, on September 8th and 9th, 2016)

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Psmith put the newspaper away. A sigh escaped him.

“Nothing makes sense”, he muttered.

For the space of about twenty-five seconds, Mike, sitting across a small table on a sunlit balcony ingateway-of-india Mumbai, India, sat in silence.

“What is wrong with you?”, asked Mike, with a concerned look on his face.

Some time back, Psmith and Mike had been posted to the Mumbai branch of the New Asiatic Bank. It had taken them some time to get used to the hustle bustle of the noisy metropolis, often reeking of stale fish.

They had a centrally air-conditioned apartment all to themselves at Worli in one of the high-rise buildings overlooking the Arabian Sea. Being a Sunday, both were in a relaxed state of mind.

“How could people be so very excited about being taxed differently?”

“Who is excited? What are you referring to?”

“You would know that India is soon set to hop on to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bandwagon. What the poor guys do not realize is that life is not going to be a bed of roses, as it is being made out to be.”

Mike continued to concentrate on the designer tea-pot in front of him, a complete picture of the model gown-wearing bank officer on his weekly off day.

“It is good to notice the concern you display for the citizenry which managed to slip out of British control some seventy years back. Perhaps, you are upset that it took them so long to realize that their entire country needed to be a unified market?”

“No. What I object to is the fundamental flaw in the GST. It is un-Indian. It is just too simple.”

Mike looked up in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Comrade Jackson, no Indian tax system could be that simple. A universal tax percentage applied to everything so you know how to calculate it is just not right. It is handing over the power of understanding a tax to the people. Does this not take away the basic right of Indian taxation: confusion, opacity and obfuscation?’”

“But, surely, that should be good news?”

“Not for the few bespectacled gentlemen who try to figure things out, buried under the weight of those heavy tax books in some library of a government department. They would be rendered simply rudderless. They would resent this sudden deprivation of their tremendous power – of being the select few who could interpret and explain away the laws, the bye-laws, the rules, the notifications, the rulings by various tribunals and councils from time to time, and what not. I sense a revolt of sorts brewing up soon enough.”

“Oh, you mean to say that the bureaucrats would not be too pleased with the new taxation system?”

“Elementary, my dear Jackson. They would surely not relish the prospect of losing their power over the people. Also, the only way they can earn the extra money required to keep their families grinning from ear to ear.”

“Hmm…you do have a point there.”

“Not only this. Should a simple taxation law come into play, imagine the number of taxation experts India Parliament Housewho would be rendered jobless. Their care-worn clients would no longer be spending hours in their plush offices, trying to figure out the nuances of filing quarterly returns. They would instead be sitting in a fine dine restaurant, treating their lissome secretaries to a sumptuous dinner, while having told the spouse of a pressing need to attend a crucial meeting at the office.”

“But you would agree that the GST idea is indeed noble, simple, global and logical.”

“Which is why I suspect there is so much resistance to it. The government has been trying to sit people down and explain to them why the current system of taxation is the work of some mad people who happen to grace the opposition chairs now. Of late, it even decided to reach out to the latter and ensure that they were no longer sulking at the party presently in power walking off with all the credit for having brought in this landmark change. And note that the party in power now had itself obstructed the same change when it happened to be in the opposition.”

“But what do you think is so very exciting about the present system? I think it is known as Value Added Tax. They have several other taxes as well.”

“Well, for one, that should be known instead as Value Reduced Tax, simply because you have less value once you have paid it. Then they have excise, individual state taxes, octroi tax, entry tax, professional tax, luxury tax, entertainment tax, sleeping peacefully at night tax, Bengali sweets tax, South Indian dosa and idli tax, North Indian chhole bhatoore tax, West Indian poha and shri khand tax, did-not-tell-your-wife-and-came-to-Pondicherry tax, Clean India tax, farmers’ mental happiness tax, road accident tax, child-not-doing-too-well-at-school tax, mother-in-law irritant tax, enduring the politicians tax, having-to-watch-inane-movies tax, waiting for delivery of public services tax, and many more in the same genre.”

“Ah, life could be surely simpler!”

“But the good point here is that the common citizen can never afford to be lazy or complacent. The Indian tax system has always been designed to keep the common citizen on his toes. Agile. Confused. Uncertain. Feeling illiterate. There has always been an element of surprise. He opens a letter and finds that he has a tax due. And he starts asking himself, ‘What tax is this? I was not aware a tax like this existed. Do I need to pay it? Is there no way to avoid paying it?’ And off he goes to seek some solace from his tax consultant who is happy to demystify the affair and get another excuse to raise a bill on the hapless wannabe tax-evader.”

“You appear to be quite impressed with the Indian taxation system!”

“Yes, Comrade! They have an excellent system which matches their age-old spiritual values. Anythingemblem_of_india-svg that makes you feel small, negligible and illiterate is bound to flatten your ego in no time. You could even be a director of our bank. But when you get a tax notice which you do not understand, you feel all of a twitter. You take a more benevolent view of humanity in general. Even your driver and your lift operator seem like angels in distress, facing similar challenges in life. You realize that there is no escaping the taxation system. It is as immortal as a soul is said to be.”

“But what makes you think the GST is likely to be simpler, when it comes to the fine print? I was told that it would need even the humble barber to file as many as forty odd returns to the government every quarter?”

Psmith slid out of his chair with a disgruntled sigh, and dusted his dressing gown. “Perhaps there is something in what you say. I propose that we call the new system as the Great Spiritual Tax instead. It would make all businesses across all the states and territories of India equally worried. They might even turn to spirituality and seek divine intervention to set their house in order. It would not be wrong to surmise that a commercial crisis has indeed arisen. A period of great anxiety has begun, especially so for small businesses.”

Mike looked up with some surprise.

“Let me explain,” said Psmith, raising his hands. “Once the new system takes over, all businesses would be required to register. Whether for manufacturers, distributors or retailers, it would be virtually impossible to escape the tax net. The luxury of doing business based on fake bills would no longer be theirs. In fact, past transactions could also come in for greater scrutiny. Besides, the Income Tax sleuths would be easily able to figure out the real income levels of businessmen of all hues, sizes and shapes. The entire business eco-system would totter.”

“Are you trying to say that the size of the Indian parallel economy would shrink?”

“Quite possible, Comrade Jackson. Your keen intelligence reaffirms my faith in your unique abilities. However, I doubt if this could be good news for the country.”

“How do you say this?”

“If you would delve deep into your memory cells, you would recall the 2008 financial crisis which engulfed the world. Do you think the Indian economy suffered as much as our so-called advanced economies then?”

“I do not think so. The Indian economy showed greater resilience then.”

“If so, allow me to point out that one of the major factors discovered and held to have helped India then was the existence of an underground economy.”

“Indeed?!”

“I do believe so, though I confess I am not an expert at such matters. Take the informal economy awayRashtrapati Bahavan and what do you get? A rigid and formal economy which has a much higher dependence on formal debt markets. The risk of overstating debts grows manifold. Next time round, when another Lehman Brothers show up on the horizon, the Indian economy could be found in deeper waters. Having a thriving parallel economy helps.”

“You surely surprise me. You sound like an ardent advocate of the parallel economy!”

“On the contrary, I do not. My point is very simple. Why should we allow only our businesses to suffer when the political parties themselves continue to enjoy the fruits of an underground nature? Why not clean up the Indian political act as well and provide a level playing field to all her citizens? Why should the Indian politicos be spared of a taste of their own medicine that they prescribe for the toiling masses?”

“Whatever, the Indian GST is now already on a roll. The bill has received the assent of the President of India. The only hope you can entertain is that of the implementation getting goofed up and the process getting delayed somehow. My understanding is that if the steps of setting up a GST Council, an agreement on a basic tax rate and the detailed procedures take longer than a year, the implementation deadline might as well get shifted to April 2018. If that happens, the government itself may keep it on the back burner for some time.”

“Oh, you allude to the risk of embracing unpredictable consequences of adopting a new taxation system in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary elections!”

“Yes. In fact, yet another challenge before them might be that of the absence of internet connectivity all over the country. Even if the GST Network gets perfected, how would they ensure that a dealer in, say, Sikkim, can secure a registration in Kerala? It is good to hear of a seamless market, but a smooth roll-out would need a strong internet backbone all across.”

“Well, sure enough, their best men would be working out the finer details and smoothening the road to implementation. The stakes are high indeed. The reputation of the present government rides on how it handles a challenge of this nature. But what you are missing on, Comrade Jackson, is the key factor of human ingenuity. When it comes to paying any taxes, it knows no bounds.”

“But I am not quite sure if there could be an easy escape route for any business, as you yourself had rightly pointed out just now.”

“But we underestimate the propensity of human beings to go to any lengths to avoid paying any taxes. Innovation is the name of the game in this case. Sure enough, the Indian tax experts would now bemap-of-india burning the proverbial mid-night oil, getting ready to advise their anxious clients about some new creative practices they could adopt under the new tax regime. Given the level of primal hate harboured by all businesses towards the act of paying any kind of taxes, advisors in the business of tax avoidance would be twiddling their thumbs, endeavouring to figure out ingenious methods of beating the new system at its own game.”

Mike smiled.

“As always, you have hit the nail on its head. But this is a universal fact which governments all over the world have to cope with. Is there any other thing you are not too comfortable about?”

“Yes, though I do not know how your intuitive faculties are so very advanced as to guess this. I do not quite see eye to eye on the strategy of dumping more and more indirect taxes on the hapless citizenry, while not working aggressively to expand the direct taxes base.”

“I really do admire your depth of thinking on the subject. Do you refer to recent reports that merely one percent of the people pay income tax in India?”

“Indeed. What an irony!”

“Perhaps, you imply that politicians of all hues lack the courage to take some unpopular steps. Rather than chasing more people to pay income tax, they prefer to use the indirect taxes route which is relatively invisible?”

“Yes. Perhaps they follow the advice of their sage Chanakya who famously said that taxes should be collected by inflicting the least possible pain on the citizens, much like a bee would collect nectar from a flower in bloom!”

“And what do you think our own bank would have to undergo?,” Mike asked.

“Serious matter. Under the new dispensation, we shall need to register in all the states and unionpsmith-1909 territories. Perhaps, even in districts, where we have branches. This is going to be a compliance nightmare. I hear some talk of all the banks lobbying for a facility to register with a centralized agency which would pool, reconcile, analyze and audit our transactions. if so, this agency could distribute the revenue earned through us to different states where the transaction has occurred.”

Mike rose from his chair and stretched his arms. His gaze drifted off to a couple of fishing boats bouncing up and down on the bluish-green waters of the Arabian Sea.

“These are deep waters, indeed. I wonder why we are discussing such matters on a lazy Sunday morning? I rather think I’ll nip down to Haji Ali and take some fresh air into my lungs,” said he. “You couldn’t come too, I suppose?”

“On the contrary,’ said Psmith, ‘I could, and will. A stroll will just restore those tissues which the gruelling discussion of the last half-hour has wasted away. It is a fearful strain, this taxation toil. Let us trickle towards the place mentioned by you. Comrade Jackson, lead me to this picturesque dargah of yours of which I have heard so much.”

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