I recently ran into an old friend whom I had not met for some years. The moment I called out to him he turned towards me and asked me my name. It was obvious that he couldn’t remember me. But to his credit, he invited me to have lunch with him after I told him my name, seeming to be rather happy that I had recognised him. Indeed, I would not have recognised him for he had gone bald and his waist was what one may describe as a perfect circle. But it was him all right. His way of waving his hands while talking was just the same as it was earlier at the college where we studied together.
But he seemed to be happy, too happy. I flattered myself that he was happy to meet an old friend. But the mystery soon unravelled. “So you have come to know that my name is among those who have accounts abroad?” he asked. Taken aback, all I could say was, “Do you figure there?” and mentioned that the list wasn’t out in public. “It is not,” he agreed, but pointed out that governments had a way of providing information unofficially and that his name was part of the “unofficial” list doing the rounds all over India. “Nothing official about it,” he added, reminding me of the cold drinks advertisement.
I expressed surprise that he was not disturbed and indeed seemed to have an almost joyous approach to life in the face of trouble. Uneasily, I looked around to see if we were being watched. But my friend seemed unconcerned. With some hesitation I asked how he’d handle the situation as the SIT would be breathing down his neck.
To my surprise he threw his head back and laughed. We’d had some expensive wine and he was a bit loquacious. “I have hit a gold mine,” he finally said. When I asked him what he meant he said he had just a few dollars in his account that he had opened when he once went abroad. Now that his name figured in the list rumours would spread that he was very rich! “Good for my business. Politicians will also wait for things to cool down and meanwhile quietly establish contact with me.” He expected friends to treat him with respect and banks to be more than ready to offer loans. It’s quite likely that the licences he sought would soon fall in to his lap.
“But what about the ED and the Income Tax authorities?” I asked. “They’ll never bother me. They know that I have no money and am more or less bankrupt. So do many other government agencies. But my name has appeared in the list and the media will take care of the rest. There may be a few raids and they may take away my grandson’s piggy bank. I will be forced to buy him a new one. That is about all the damage they can do to me. But appearances do matter and they seem attractive. Rest assured I am headed for a good time for a few years.” Wishing me a good day he called a radio taxi and left. Had to keep up appearances, I suppose.