The Diary of An Unfortunate Indian Entrepreneur
As always, the strapping 40-year-old swept into his corner room in a Gift City high-rise with the practised, breezy “I love Monday morning” air from his early Manhattan days. He was a celebrated first-generation entrepreneur, but in India he never took his Silicon Valley title of Founder-CEO; instead, he was simply PuFf, a dandy acronym for Pradhan (Chief) Foreman of a billion-dollar unicorn. While in Ahmedabad, do as Gujaratis do!
Both his executive assistants (EAs) walked in, one carrying a steaming cup of coffee, the other a box of chocolate cake.
Click on the player below to listen to the podcast.
EAs (in unison): Congrats PuFf (it was a first-name terms company). You’ve been awarded the Start-up Champ of the Year. We’ve got you some cake.
PuFf pumped the air with his fist. He had done it. But before he could take a bite of his favourite pudding, his harassed cost accountant (CA) barged in.
CA: PuFf, we’ve got this silly notice from the GST National Anti-Profiteering Authority. They’ve slapped a fine of Rs 100 cr; my deep throat tells me that they’ve issued a warrant for our arrest under Section 69 read with Section 132. They could be coming anytime. Let’s get out.
PuFf: Hold on. What are the grounds? We’ve given them such a transparent break-up of our costs.
CA: But they have some peculiar objections. They say you play golf everyday, so only half your cost can be charged to the brand. Then they are disallowing the hedging cost of our ECB (external commercial borrowing); only the coupon can be charged to the cost sheet. At one place, they’ve deducted the rent allocated to the corridors and toilets; according to them, these facilities are not directly used for the brand.
And they are simply removing Anne’s celebrity endorsement fees of $ 1 mn per annum. They’ve read in some gossip column that you are dating her; so, they are treating it as a personal expense … err, please don’t mind, but they are categorising her cost as “escort fees”. So according to them, the per unit cost should be Rs 75, while we are selling at Rs 78, and therefore “profiteering”.
I’ve had it with these illiterates.
PuFf just shook his head. How can an inspector decide what is the real interest rate or rental cost that should be charged to a product? And boy, they must be sure that he’s a sucker, paying a million bucks for an escort! Heck, what does “profiteering” even mean?
But PuFf had no time to fret. He quietly called his Yale classmate, who was the revenue secretary (bless these IAS-types), and requested him to get the GST inspectors off his back for at least a couple of weeks.
But the quiet did not hold; before long, the phone rang. It was Anne.
Anne: Do you know that your Parliament has just passed a new Consumer Protection Bill? Now I can be fined Rs 1 million for saying “I start my day with your crappy orange mix”. And if I say it one more time – what they call a “repeat offence” – I can be jailed for five years! I am filing a criminal suit against you for misleading me. I am going back to Poland.
PuFf slumped further in his chair. Jail for celebrities to endorse products! Was this real? He switched on the telly. And there it was, parliamentarians thumping tables for yet another law that could throw him behind bars.
But the day was not over. It was the turn of his Chief People’s Officer (CPO) to come sailing in.
CPO: You remember the CSR (corporate social responsibility) donation we had given to slum schools run by your cathedral society? Well, they’ve just rejected that saying it’s “minority appeasement”, not charity. They told me that they will charge you under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), unless you cough up another 2 percent of your profits to the local MLA’s shishu bhojnaya (child nutrition diner).
PuFf: What! We can’t put another 2 percent of our profits in one more extortion kendra (center)!!
CPO: Think it over PuFf. See here (jabbing his finger at the telly). These worthies have passed new CSR norms under Section 135 of the Companies Act. These donations are not voluntary anymore; if you fail to pay, you go to the kooler for three years. I quit PuFf, I am going back to Palo Alto.
PuFf was now incredibly morose. It was his third brush with a criminal arrest within three hours. But wait, PuFf’s woes were not done. In came his Compliance Officer (CO), frothing at the mouth.
CO: PuFf, have you seen this SEBI mail? They are charging you with insider trading.
PuFf: What! How can they? What have I done?
CO: Well, as an independent director of No Bank, you chaired the audit committee which announced extraordinary provisions of Rs 5,420 cr, right? And the stock tanked, right?
PuFf: So? I thought what I did was honest and honourable. They were trying to hide that sh*t, but I flung it at the ceiling and told shareholders about it.
CO: Yes, but the stock tanked. And do you remember the million-dollar angel investment you made in those Wharton boys’ online Mutual Funds’ AMC? Guess what, they shorted a ton of No Bank that day. Now SEBI is joining the dots; they are saying you tipped off the boys, and they short-sold the shares. So, you could go to jail on insider-trading charges.
PuFf (now screaming): But this is ridiculous. I don’t run the Wharton boys’ AMC. I am not on the board. I own a mere 2 percent now. How can I be held accountable for their decisions?
Before CO could answer, the chief tax advisor (CTA) came rushing in.
CTA: PuFf, do you remember that angel investment you made in the Wharton boys’ AMC?
PuFf: What! Them again? What have they done now?
CTA: They’ve done nothing, but the tax guys are saying that you bought their Rs 10 share for Rs 100.
PuFf: Of course, I did. Because I was sure that those boys would build a truly innovative company. And I was right. Their last placement was at Rs 1000/share; so, I’ve already made a ten-fold gain on my investment.
CTA: Go tell that to your American IRA. The guys here are charging you with money laundering, saying this premium of Rs 90 per share must have come back to you as cash. So, they’ve filed a criminal prosecution complaint in the Nagpur magistrate’s court. We must take anticipatory bail immediately.
PuFf had had it for the day. He picked up his denim jacket and fled to the basement. He told his driver to take the day off. He wanted to drive around to calm his edgy nerves. He put on his favourite Ragini Tandon Punjabi pop song Lamborghini Chalai Jaande Ho…
PuFf was just beginning to relax when he was pulled over by a traffic cop.
Cop: Oh ho, NRI Lambhorghini, huh? I am booking you under the new Motor Vehicles Act for “dangerous driving”.
PuFf (irritated): Okay, so how much is the fine?
Cop: No more fine, sir. Under the new law, I can put you in jail!
No, cried PuFf, Noooooooooooooooooooo!
Somehow, he paid off the cop, reached home, and switched on the telly. The blue business news screen crackled alive. The smart anchor-woman was talking about “so the latest budget has invested the taxman with the power to arrest without the court issuing a warrant”.
Suddenly there was an urgent knock at the door. Knock Knock KNOCK KNOCK. PuFf shuddered. Had the taxman come to arrest him? Without a warrant?
He opened the front door with great trepidation. His school buddy stood panting. “Have you seen this?”, he flashed a WhatsApp message at him.
PuFf just wilted. Their common school friend, a pioneer who had set up a chain of beverage stores in Bangalore, had committed suicide. The funeral was tomorrow morning.
PuFf called his office, asking them to book two tickets on the early morning flight to India’s tech-city.
EA: PuFf, I can book, but it’s a Boeing 737 Max.
PuFf: Book it. Who cares where it lands…
(This is a work of satire.)
(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)