Sunday, May 30, 2010

Paying Property Tax - A Spiritual Exercise

What began as a hike to the hills last Sunday morning with three other Yoga students ended unexpectedly with our sitting next to a rocky Shiva temple listening to an elderly man discourse on politics, life and other things. He presented us with a book about a mystic 185 year old saint who had got the temple built and meditated in that area a few decades ago. By default that book was handed to me as the others were too busy to look at it for the time being. And so I spent most of the week immersed in descriptions of stringent penances, terrifying disturbances in the form of cobras and tigers and a series of mystical experiences that the saint had undergone. I also discovered that the elderly man who we had met had been one of the saint's closest and last disciples; he had renounced the world but was apparently back after a gap, active in politics etc. and I found myself dwelling on the strangeness of this world.

This is just an aside, to describe my state of mind as I headed to pay my property tax a couple of days ago. The government had issued a 5% rebate if taxes were paid promptly that many diligent citizens took advantage of, but I had remained blissfully oblivious all this time. I suppose there were some others like me, hence the last date for the rebate was extended- and I found myself trudging along, unwillingly, on the very last day that the scheme was valid for. Don't get me wrong. I had attempted, unsuccessfully, to use the much proclaimed 'online service' for tax payment, but it didn't work as my records had not been entered online by the department. Not only that, but it was also impossible to get a copy of the tax form online.

Anyway, information (obtained by word of mouth) indicated that the relevant office was in a small lane a few kilometres from our campus (each property area has its own office) and though no address was available, I was assured that if I went in that general direction and asked around, I would be able to find the office. Thus began my mission - and as I weaved my way through tiny streets, leaning out of the window to look for the office and dodging other vehicles that were darting in and out towards me, I resolved to think of this as a small penance. What if there are no cobras and tigers roaming the streets these days? The autorickshaws and motorcycles are more than worthy substitutes. And a truck or BMTC bus screeching down upon you is the modern equivalent (roughly) of a charging elephant. It also helped that the sun was beating down fiercely upon us that day, causing a haze of heat and rivulets of sweat (especially as there seemed to be a general power cut in the area).

Helpful shopkeepers pointed out the office, and I soon found myself in a room with a lady behind a small desk and a man behind a larger desk and a third, still larger desk that was vacant. No one was doing any work, which indicated that I had probably found the right place. I was promptly handed the forms (Rs. 5 each) and as I went through them, I got my first biggish shock. There were pages of Kannada print followed mercifully by an English translation - but all kinds of tricky questions were thrown in. For example- did you pay your taxes last year? If so, what colour form did you fill out (pink, green, blue, white)? I clutched the forms in dismay and sat down at the largest desk, wondering what to do. The lady seemed unable to answer any questions and the man only answered questions asked in triplicate (i.e. for every three times I asked a question, I got a reply, that too fairly cursory and most of the time unhelpful). Eventually, the man waved his hand and advised me to go home and pay the taxes online. I had been thinking along similar lines (i.e. of returning home and getting some help to fill out the forms, but the latter part of his sentence really got to me). I decided that this was a great challenge and I would sit down and try and make some sense of those forms.

I sat down and the man flashed a disbelieving look at me before burying himself in some papers. I took a deep breath and resolved to look upon this place as a temple of spirituality and every being as a beautiful embodiment of the spirit (that my physical form could not recognize)! Then, I curbed my temper, which has a tendency to erupt like a small flash flood and I actually began humming a small tune under my breath, gazing with utmost concentration at the forms and my previous year's receipts. After an hour of this, I found that I was able to answer most of the questions (a little help came my way in the form of a 'supervisor' who demystified a string of numbers connected by hyphens for me). I figured that most people would not be able to recall which colour forms they had filled out over the last two years, so I avoided that and similar questions. The supervisor announced that he was taking the rest of the day off, so I accelerated my speed of filling lest all the junior staff vanish after him. Once this strenuous task was done, I handed in the forms to the two junior staff members who were seated silently, unresponsively, like deities in a temple (where one is never sure that one's prayers have been heard and wonders whether one needs to repeat them in a more compelling way). The supervisor, an angel in human form, came to my aid and told me to go to the last room in the building, to submit the forms.

Agreeably, I trundled off and came to a much more crowded and sweaty area, filled with staff who were gossiping and sipping tea. By this time my throat felt terribly parched, but I reminded myself that this was part of the modern-day penance. An officer looked at me in amazement as I stood with the forms in hand, and asked if I had actually filled them out! As I spoke confidently (in my recently learnt Kannada), another lady looked at the forms briefly and pointed out that I hadn't filled in the receipts. Obviously I hadn't, as that was what the government was supposed to do. Anyway, I balanced the papers on my knee in a tiny space, using my Yogic postures to full advantage, and filled out all the receipts. Finally, the forms and cheques were accepted and I returned clutching the receipts (in my familiar handwriting) tightly.

Back in the car, I broke my fast with a few sips of warm water and thus ended my penance with a darshan (holy viewing) of my receipts. I think I was one of the last few to avail of the generous 5% tax rebate for this year. The matter, I thought, ended there.

Just today I read in the newspaper that in certain offices, all the computer records of registered properties (which were saved on a CD) have been corrupted and cannot be accessed. No back ups were made and no hard copies retained by the gracious Government. Therefore, there is no way to check any property records for these areas. I glanced nervously at the list, before realizing that my records never were available on the computer. Thank heavens for small mercies!

No comments:

#Header1_headerimg { margin: 0px auto }