The three wise monkeys – a Review
Have you ever laundered money? Do you know how to evade tax, cook the books, open benami offshore accounts, and turn black money into white? Well, Jeet Gyan, chartered accountant and author, in his second novel The Three Wise Monkeys, tells you how. He even draws diagrams to explain it.
Do you think accounts are mind numbingly dull? And auditors are the most boring of people? I did so too, till I met the three wise monkeys, the protagonists of the novel, Amar Akbar and Antony. These three idiots are, like the author, chartered accountants, but probably unlike the author, passed with great difficulty, are naive, jobless and not very competent. They are also idealistic, and aspire to be honest auditors, which it appears, is an oxymoron. Moreover, the figures they study are not only the ones found in dusty ledgers.
But fortunately, like most males, the blood does not reach their brains when in the presence of attractive women, and other more vital organs take up the job of thinking. Thus when our heroes meet three ladies who send temperatures soaring, their life changes, and they are thrown in the middle of the rollercoaster real world of dirty finance, and their world turns topsy turvy.
They meet up with sleazy businessmen with feuding wives, conniving girlfriends, shady brokers, bought awards, sibling rivalries, policemen, income tax sleuths, both straight and crooked, bar girls, musclemen, cows, and a variety of other interesting creatures.
They audit desolate dockyards in Kutch, dairy farms and even dance bars and end up in jail, on breaking news headlines, in glitzy parties and exotic locales they would not have dreamt of in their previous, innocent and impecunious existence. This world is a far cry from the Irani cafes, their previous home from home.
The book takes you through the bumpy ride of the three idiots or wise monkeys who see hear and speak very little evil through the wonderland of the dark world of high illegal finance, with a fair sprinkling of babes, bosoms and bimbos for glitter.
I would rather not reveal more of the intricate plot and let the suspense remain as to if and how the trio survive the ride and whether their dreams come true.
One word of caution though; the author attempts a breezy comedy style of recounting, and it seems he tries too hard. The effect desired is the comic thriller, but it seems to fall a bit short. A straight thriller may have worked better.
Category Archives: adventure
The three wise monkeys – a Review
I was in my final year in the University. I had virtually dropped out, not attending classes, and doing everything else possible in those laissez faire days of Delhi University.
By a stroke of good fortune, a classmate, a minor Dada or Don at the University, had decided to mentor me not only in nefarious activities, but also in had through his unique logic persuaded me into taking a few competitive exams. He in fact paid the fees, as I had spent all my allowance in less productive activities, and even woke me up and dropped me to the exam centres. I will write about him in a separate story.
Having taken these exams without preparation and barely awake, I had little hope of clearing any. But I did get interview calls, but having previous experience of how I tend to offend the interviewers with my general appearance and attitude, I had no expectations. I was certain I was unemployable and that I would fail my exams too.
But on my return from a crazy adventure in a forest, about which I have written earlier, in Close encounters of the Wild Kind, I found an appointment letter waiting for me.
Receiving the appointment letter was a godsend. My concerns regarding a bleak future of unemployment and poverty being allayed, celebrations started on a serious note. The relevance of the final examinations thus becoming negligible, I gave up all pretence of studying.
My colourful friend, unconventional philosopher and extreme lifestyle guide, who, as I said earlier, was instrumental in getting me employed, was also selected by the same organisation, and posted to my hometown, Calcutta. I was posted to Madras as it was then known, in the Deep South.
The joining date was a few days after the final exams, and it was a two day journey across the length of the country by train. In order to avoid confrontation with my going to be disappointed parents, who wanted me to study further and prepare for the IAS, I decided to join first and inform them later.
Now that my creditworthiness was established, as I was about to become a class one officer in a government organisation with what seemed in their impoverished state a princely salary, I jointly with my friend threw a party involving crates of bliss which lasted through the weekend. This merged into another farewell party that our friends threw for us, and a few very hazy days later, my friends uploaded me, barely awake, on the South bound train along with my Spartan possessions in a rucksack.
When I finally woke up the train had reached the badlands of Chambal, and the deep gorges and ravines and steep banks took me straight to the stories of the Wild West that had fired my imagination as a schoolboy. The men around me had spectacular moustaches and colourful pugrees, and the women wore brightly hued sarees with thick silver jewellery and veils pulled over their face. A number of men carried muskets. They spoke Hindi with an unfamiliar lilt.
Next morning I woke up to a new world. My co passengers had changed and everyone around was speaking in a strange incomprehensible guttural tongue. There also was an unusual smell, which I later identified as a mixture of coconut oil, jasmine and camphor. The women wore long skirts and had flowers in their hair. The men wore white lungis. The calls of “chai, garam chai “ was replaced by “kaffee, kaffee”. The vendors sold coffee, and tea was nowhere in sight. The breakfast or tiffin being served was in banana leaves, and newspapers in an unfamiliar script, and consisted of idlis, vadas and curd rice.
This was the first time that I had ventured South of the Vindiyas. It was almost like being in a new country. I could not communicate with my neighbours except through sign language.
Early next morning the train rolled into Madras. I was bewildered and lost in a sea of humanity whom I could not understand, and was being solicited by a mob of touts shouting “Hotel! Taxi!” and a string of incomprehensible words.
Suddenly out of the gloom there emerged a beacon of joy, in the shape of a man in white uniform and chauffeurs cap carrying a banner “Welcome Mr Mukherjee”
This completely unexpected angel of mercy guided me to a white Ambassador car, with white seat covers, which a very grimy boy, covered in two days worth of the dust of the nation, was afraid to soil. This scruffy untidy unwashed being in much stained tees was thus bourn regally to a hotel in Maylapore, my home to be for the next six months.
The novelty of being in a hotel, getting a wakeup call with tea served in the room along with the morning newspaper, proper meals served buffet style with plenty to eat in a proper restaurant, seemed like a dream, just out of my university hostel.
A telegram home informed my parents of my latest whereabouts and career choice. Two thousand kilometres protected me from their displeasure.
I got used to waking to the strains of ladies practicing Carnatik music in the neighbourhood, and the sound of temple bells. I got used to men in white with foreheads streaked with holy ash. I got used to demure women with jasmine in their hair. I got used to polite people in buses, who would not sit in a ladies seat even if it was empty, in sharp contrast to the uncouth louts in my earlier city.
I discovered a new country, the Deep South
Balancing the books
I had been battling the auditors these last few days, a real challenge for me, given that my understanding of the subject was, if possible, negative. I could not acquire the highest professional qualification in my field as I could never better the financial management paper. It has been my responsibility to sign the final accounts of the unit I had been heading for more years than I remember, and I merely signed where I was told to, and depended on the professional accountants in my team to decipher what it all meant.
My domestic finances are managed by a professional, who handles my tax, budget, expenses, savings, investments and everything without charging anything, as she is married to me, and manages all aspects of my life as well.
But this was not always the case. This is a story of my early struggles with managing the budget.
I had to manage my own funds for the first time when I left home for the hostel. The first skill we learnt in college was writing home for money. In those days money arrived by money orders. When this arrived, a notice was put up outside the hostel administration office. Expenses were always on credit. The canteen, cigarette shop, chai wala, dhobi, laundry, everyone extended credit. The arrival of the notice brought them all to the door of their debtor, and chaperoned by all, I would claim the money, clear my accounts, and be left with nothing. So I would pick up the pen and start writing home for money afresh. How the money disappeared was a mystery I could never fathom, and the vicious cycle continued.
When I was gainfully employed by the benevolent government, I thought the problem would be solved. Four friends shared a flat for economy, and it was decided that everyone would record whatever they spent, and accounts would be cleared on month end, or whenever everyone was solvent.
Initially this worked fine, but as expenses continued to surpass incomes by a distressing margin, an analysis was done.
Immediately various objections were raised.
“How does auto fare get included in the common expenses?”
“How would I carry back the weekly groceries without a rickshaw?” was the retort.”And the nearest wine shop is miles away”
It was agreed that reasonable costs incurred towards procurement of shared commodities would be part of the common budget.
“When did you get toothpaste?”
“I brought it from home and all you guys were using it, so I added it to the costs “the cleverest roommate explained.
“But it was already half used “someone protested.
“All right, I will add a depreciated amount” this brilliant economist conceded.
Incidentally, this enterprising economist is currently a millionaire merchant banker running his empire from an international financial hub.
“The kitchen and bar expenses are way too high; four of us can’t spend so much”
“It’s all the partying! We have too many guests eating and drinking us to bankruptcy”
“From now on whoever invites a guest pays for him. We will add an extra man day per guest to him” the smart economist decreed.
“Not fair!”protested the popular guy from the fashion industry “You guys hang around flirting with all the girls who come to see me while I slave away in the kitchen! You guys can’t talk to the girls in that case!”
The economist found the solution. Male guests will be debited to the host member, while ladies were common guests and could be entertained from the common fund.
A while later I acquired a life mate; and my roommates moved out to make space for her in our tiny flat.
This time it was truly a common fund and neither of us cared who spent how much on what. However, one aspect continued; we still could not make the funds last till the next salary, and were clueless where the money went.
We therefore decided to keep an account of all that we spend under various headings. At the month end an analysis would show where the cash disappeared.
On auditing the accounts we found the two heads of accounts that were the guilty parties.
One was GN or God Knows. It was the money spent without the slightest recollection as to where it went, or the inexplicable gaps between cash drawn from the bank and pittance left after accounting for all the expenditures we could recollect. This mysterious Bermuda Triangle that swallows up our hard earned moolah continues to plague us to this day and we have agreed that this is one of the mysteries that are too complex for the human intellect to solve.
The other was Experience. Any absurd, unproductive investment or expenditure we made, like buying gadgets that did not work, or trying money saving methods that ended up guzzling our spare change, which we swore that we would not repeat again, we debited to experience.
Over the years we have learnt that experience is a black hole, it will swallow every penny we don’t keep tied down, but give nothing back in return.
We finally decided to give up trying to balance the budget, and follow the national economy in deficit financing. This was made possible by two brilliant inventions, the credit card and the EMI. Now we do not have to live within our income, but earn just enough to cover the interest, as all major economies do.
Thus I have progressed way beyond those stony broke days in the hostel. Now there is no needing spend keeping these short term earnings in mind, but the hope of all possible future earnings. So I continue to live happily ever after in ever mounting cycle of debt, certain of being remembered when I am gone.
Cooking my Goose
I am a foodie. My girth hints at it. I take a keen interest in the creative process of cooking too, but all strictly theoretical. I also enjoy cooking as a spectator sport. The glamorous cooks on television make it look so sexy. However, the actual mechanics of it have eluded me so far.
Having grown up in the strictly feudal atmosphere of a Bengali Bhadralok family, I learnt to appreciate fine food, without ever wondering about the process that creates it. Our kitchen was presided over by a family heirloom, the venerable Maharaj from a neighbouring state, who dished out delectable repasts ala Anatole of Blandings fame but jealously guarded his domain, where even my mother was denied entry.
When I finally left the comfortable cocoon of home and later hostel to venture out into the big bad world to forage for the daily bhat mach or pizza, this shortcoming became a problem.
I moved into a Barsati with some friends, a typical bachelor dig. Those of you who have seen Chasme Baddoor will get the idea even if you have not lived it.
For economies sake, for we were impecunious bachelors, we decided to try cooking at home. The onus of providing dinner came by turns. When my turn came I thought that khichuri will be a simple enough dish, as you could add rice dal vegetables eggs sausages spices and everything one could think of in the pot with ghee and add water and boil and it’s done. The subtleties of proportion and timing and controlled heat escaped me.
The net result was that the mix turned black and started emitting a foul smelling smoke. Adding more water in a desperate bid to salvage my creation turned it into a thick black liquid broth. I dared not taste it.
I tried calling my creation Hungarian Goulash and try it out on our most gullible roommate, but even he saw through it. I was demoted to procurer of ingredients, leaving the creative side to my more skilled roomies
When I lost my single status and my partner moved in, my roommates moved out. My wife was a superb cook, and my attempts to help out were quashed on the grounds of slowing down the process and leaving a mess in the kitchen. My guilt regarding my inability forcing her to do two difficult tasks, cooking the books at the workplace, and a multicourse Bengali Punjabi fusion cuisine at home continued to niggle, and we arrived at a compromise solution of hiring help in the kitchen, supervised by the LOH.
In due course, kids appeared on the scene, made life a delicious blur, and the years whirred past. Soon I had three militant feminists, who had allergic reactions to my feudal mores, running my life.
The fallout was that it was decreed that all of us would be self sufficient, and at least make our own breakfasts.
Gone were the days of stuffed parathas in the morning, with generous dollops of white butter, which transformed me from the svelte youth to the rotund old man. The dictum was that everyone had to prepare their own breakfast.
The obvious answer was cereal with milk and toast and fried eggs. This I concluded would be well within my limited capabilities. Pouring the cereal in the bowl and pouring the milk on top was done without a hitch. The toaster popped up the toasts unaided, and spreading the butter was the toughest task so far, but I managed it without mishap. The first few days, I stuck to bread and jam, buttered toasts, sandwiches made from sandwich spreads and cereals soaked in milk for breakfast.
Now I came to the real test. I was attempting eggs, sunny side up. I waited till I was alone at home. It looked so easy on screen. The pan is placed on the stove. A dollop of butter is plonked in, and starts sizzling and bubbling. Now with one smooth movement of the hand, the egg was to be cracked on the edge of the pan, and the egg neatly drops in and magically turns into a golden smiley face. It looked so easy, elegant and stylish. The hand holding the egg swooped in. Contact was made with the edge. So far everything was going as per script. But now deviations set in. The pan leapt off the stove, the hot butter splattered me, and the smashed egg was all over the floor.
While I soaked under the tap and danced about in pain, my faithful Labrador cleared up the floor of the mess, shells and all, even cleaning the pan.
Undaunted, I geared up for attempt number two. I tried a less flamboyant method now. Pan, butter all in place, I held the egg over the pan and tried to crack it with a knife, to let the stuff plonk into the pan. It looked really simple on screen. But no, here too, things did not run as per script. The egg smashed and fell in the pan, shells and all.
After faithful Labrador removed all tell tale evidence of crime once again, a third attempt was planned. Robert Bruce tried seven times before defeating England we have learnt, but I had only six tries, limited by number of eggs in the fridge.
This time egg was broken into a separate bowl. After fishing out as many of the shells as I could, the egg was successfully poured into the pan. But the result wasn’t the golden center ringed by a white beach as advertised, but a yellowish white amoeba, brown around the edges, with bits of shell hidden inside.
I have discovered that ordering a takeout is the best for anything more ambitious than bread and jam.
The End, Chapter 30, the Final chapter of Memory, a Novella
Written for Nanowrimo extended
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee
BOYS DON’T CRY
This is one maxim that made life difficult for Boy. Long before it was macho and cool for men to be in touch with their emotions and not being afraid to show sensitivity, Boy had the unfortunate predicament of being ahead of times. He cried watching films.
Not all films mind you. He did not cry at Laurel and Hardy films. But Charlie Chaplin was another matter. Action films left him dry eyed. But not if they were action packed patriotic war movies. Ditto, action films to do with martyrs in the freedom struggle. These made Boy cry buckets. As did the first Hindi film he saw, ‘Haathi mere Saathi’. Anand left him cold, but Fiddler on the roof was a three hankie film, even before Boy had daughters of his own and identified with poor Topol.
This was his shameful secret. AND IT HAD TO STAY THIS WAY! If not quite his life, but his reputation and his young manhood depended on it.
Cinema halls being dark, it kept a veil on this Achilles heel and no one suspected that the snivelling could be coming from the irreverent comedian which was Boy’s public persona. Add the fact that his spectacles and frequent colds he pretended to suffer from hid the symptoms of his shame from the casual eye, and Boy was as successful in keeping this alter ego a dark secret as successfully as Dr Jekyll.
Books were another matter. Boy was addicted to the printed word and spent every bit of free time, in public transport and communal spaces as well, stuck in books. He would completely lose all sense of space time continuum when in the throes of this narcotic world, and would often laugh out loud or exclaim audibly. Giggles were frequent. Now, while laughing aloud while reading is tolerated as eccentricity, with mild censure, and even giggling attracted bearable amounts of hazing, snivelling would have spelled a death knell. Boy’s tastes did not run to soppy stuff, and tearjerkers made him laugh, so one would think that there was no danger of disclosure, but no, not quite. You see, what got Boy’s tear ducts running were stories of triumph against odds, the little guy winning, the new kid scoring the winning goal, the 1911 Mohanbgan victory in the IFA shield in a real life Lagaan scenario and similar stories of heroism and success. Boy used camouflage in the form of loud laughter or eye irritation as a cover up.
But you can go only so far in covering up an overactive lachrymal gland. Rumours regarding his manhood began to circulate. It was only the fact that Boy was an enthusiastic sportsperson, had the advantage of a scathing tongue, and a reputation as a scrappy fighter helped him survive those whispers. Not crying in physical pain helped salvage Boy’s name somewhat whenever he was beaten up defending his honour against any slur of emotionalism.
It was years later that Boy could openly cry with his daughters watching Lion King or Chak De India.
One would expect that this albatross around Boy’s neck would come to his rescue one day when he really needed the relief of letting the tears flow and the howls rise to wash away his anguish and unburden his soul when something actually affected him in real life.
But like Karna’s knowledge, the bitch deserted Boy at his moment of trial.
Boy was keeping vigil in the loneliest place in the world, the waiting room outside the ICCU. The one person Boy hero worshipped in childhood, confronted in the arrogance of youth, and grew distant from in the labyrinths of their own lives, the one person who always supported Boy and was there for him without expectations of reciprocity, who’s debt would forever remain unpaid, was inside, hooked up to a ventilator.
Boy was called inside and it was explained that there was nothing further to be done, and he had to take the final decision of flipping the switch. He was given a moment alone with the patient. Boy desperately waited for the welcome release of the warm flood that heals, but nothing came. He was dry eyed and stony faced. Boy went through the motions of bereavement in automation.
On the one occasion that boys can cry, Boy couldn’t.
That day, Boy finally grew up, and became a man.