Monday, November 30, 2020

The hardest thing in the world to understand, according to Einstein

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We are in the most hated season of the year – the Income Tax season. The season of recurring nightmares involving receipts, forms, strange numerals, long explanations and conflicting interpretations of the phrase ‘tax deduction’. Apparently, children, pets, neighbors are not tax deductible.

Tax departments are filled with dour, humorless men. I can understand why. The only thing more depressing than filling out your own forms is going through the forms of others.

The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax, said Einstein. I am in good company. The form, in essence, comprises two portions. A question and a statement. The question: Did you make money last year? The statement: Good, now give it all to us. But it is many pages before you get to that.

One needs a professional to make sense of it all. My technique is simple: I put everything in a shoe box (or a number of shoe boxes, although I cannot write off shoes as legitimate professional expenses) and invite an accountant to run his calculator through it.

Where did you spend five thousand rupees on July 6, he asks me. I have no idea. I barely remember what I had for breakfast today. And what about this receipt, what’s it for? I live a Thoreau-like existence, blissfully unaware where the money comes from or where it goes, trusting the accountant to work it all out. Taxmen tend to believe we make more money than we actually do and ask the same question in 20 different ways to trip us up. “Aha!” says the form on page two, subsection 3, “How come you haven’t declared the fact that you tipped not 200 rupees in the restaurant but 280?” The tone is nasty and superior in the way such forms have of making you feel small.




Or, there is an apparently innocuous statement along the lines of: “Now is the time to confess you have done something terrible and you will get a rebate under chapter 6, subsection 1.2 and clause 67 of the 1834 Income Tax Act.”

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I know scientists with international reputations, writers on the verge of 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 taxman asks: “In your statement last year you had said that you have a wife and three kids, but now contradict that by saying you have a house with four rooms?” A lesson you learn after filling in the form is that nothing is easy in the world of taxation.

Every accountant dreams of discovering a loophole that will then be named after him. Every tax-payer dreams that his accountant will be the one to discover that loophole. The taxman’s ambition, like that of the crew of Star Trek, is to go where no man has gone before.




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