In the wake of the demonetisation in India, my family was sitting fairly pretty. We have been salaried individuals for most of our lives, and have paid taxes in full each time. No evasionary tactics, no havens, no undeclared income, nothing. In fact, I have a pending refund with the Income Tax department, which will actually cost me more to get out that the actual refund itself. Therefore, the demonetisation was barely a blip in our daily life.
However, there is an old friend of my father’s who I instantly thought of, on hearing the news. He is a jeweller, and while he hasn’t explicitly spoken to us about black money, we know well he has oodles of the stuff.
Case in point: On a social visit one evening, he took me aside from the throng and quietly asked me to issue cheques to his daughter-in-law. For a bit of background, his younger son and he run their business, his wife does nothing mostly, and his daughter-in-law manages the household with the aid of a plethora of servants. His elder son and his wife both work with banks.
The daughter-in-law, a nice enough girl, has a fine arts degree. And I was asked to write out cheques, ranging from 10 to 25 thousand rupees, for a few months, apparently to pay for ‘drawing classes’. He would give me cash instead.
Although he never said so explicitly, this is basically money laundering. I am converting his black money with my hard-earned white money. I told him very nicely I would think about it, mainly because I hesitated to tell a friend of my father’s to fuck off in his own home. [My father would never have tolerated this, by the way. Always had this little pow-wow with me outside of his presence.]
Sure enough, about 2 weeks after the dramatic events of 8th November, dear old uncle money bags called up. I answered the phone, and cordially asked after his health. He laughed a little maniacally, and replied with a question: “How do you think I’m going, kid?”
With barely concealed glee, I passed on the phone to my mother. She chatted with him for a while, going into expansive detail about how demonetisation would root out corruption from our country, etc, etc. It was quite masterful really, and I tried not to laugh so she wouldn’t lose her stride.
Of course, he went along with this tirade for the most part, and then came down to the ground realities. Would she deposit 2.5 lakh rupees in her account? We could return it to them slowly later. My mum, poor thing, thought she could stave off this question with her lengthy eulogy, but no, he was purposeful. She declaimed all responsibility, and said that the family finances were handled by yours truly. [Which is accurate, although we have a consensus.]
She said that I would ring him back later in the day, after having a word with my chartered accountant. That was a ploy meant to buy me some time, because no matter what the chartered accountant said, I wasn’t going to launder this man’s money. He could flush it down the loo for all I cared.
I called him back a few hours later to say just that, but much more politely. He didn’t press the issue, and agreed right away that if I wasn’t comfortable, that was ok.
Only after I disconnected the call, did I realise that I had been holding my breath. Which is when I got angry. I was dreading turning down a request for a favour, even though I had every right to do so; I was following the spirit and the letter of the law; he was asking me to put my family in the cross hairs of the income tax department; he had no qualms about putting us in an untenable situation; he offered us no token for this request (not that it would have mattered).
I was in a rage. That man has been raided by the income tax department 3 times by his own account. If I knew how, he would have been raided the next day for the 4th time.