The power of 11 had a strange effect on this well-known and well-loved Chartered Accountant called Guru Prasad Makam. He also happens to be the founding partner of Guru&Jana accountancy firm which is the top 20 firms in all of India. Very often when I listened to his story, I felt I was not sitting on a desk, making my notes. Rather, I felt I was sitting in a multiplex, watching a movie play before me. Mind you, not just any old movie – a blockbuster! Probably with Thalaiva acting in it. Can a life be this cinematic, can transformation be this dramatic? I found the answers as I spoke to the man who knows every tax law by heart. Here it is – the fun, the anecdotal and awe-inspiring story of a man to whom Life Levied Eleven Taxes. Do ensure, you have paid your GST, before you step in…
Tax 1: Life levied a tax on Guru for notoriety. Guru paid it in full.
Megha: So basically, growing up, you were like a Gunda?
Guru: Not like a Gunda, Megha. I was a Gunda.
And that, pretty much sums up the first few decades of Guru’s life.
Born in Bengaluru, the second son of Manohar and Rathna the word notoriety became synonymous to Guru. Short, chubby, chocolate brown, with a face that could charm the birds out of trees, and eyes that danced with mischief – Guru could be hated, Guru could be loved, but Guru could not be ignored. It was a lower middle class family but the father had a strange “rich bone” in his body and even with the meagre salary of a clerk in the bank – he tried to give his sons Raj and Guru the best that he could. Somehow Guru never “felt” poor. He would have good clothes to wear, quality stationary to use – and yes, their home celebrated the loudest Diwali with the largest stock of crackers.
The house was always buzzing with action. A very kind grandfather who loved Guru roaming around with a stick, a cute grandmother found in the kitchen, parents who did not know what to do with their over-energetic sons and the duo who were the talk of the neighborhood! On the entire road, the first Television came to their home. Telephone line? The Makam home. Cycles? The boys had it. On birthdays the boys distributed only the best of the best: Eclairs! Oh yes! “Rich” is a state of the mind – and even with scarce means, the family felt they are living like kings and queens.
The boys studied in Kumarans school and if you asked any teacher about the brothers they would instantly say, “Oh Raj? What a brilliant boy, I tell you! So well-mannered, so polite, so smart! A-ha, O-ho!” Say the word Guru then. Instantly the teacher’s eyes would widen and lips would curl in an expression which indicated, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” and they would say – he is the height of naughtiness. Total opposite of his elder brother, I say!
Indeed, Raj was a teacher’s delight. Guru was a teacher’s nightmare. And yet, every time Raj was in trouble with bullies, he had to rely only upon his younger goon of a brother to rescue him. Raj was Guru’s soft spot and Guru was Raj’s savior. Thing about Guru was – he was fearless. At age 5 and 6, when most children did not wander far from home, Guru could be caught roaming through the streets of Bengaluru – in absolute darkness and chill. If asked, “What were you doing?” You could expect any answer (depending on his mood) from “Catching lizards, to taking care of bullies or just having fun!”
We have heard the word aggressive being used for children. It usually involves them hitting or biting. Ever heard of the word super-aggressive? Well, I just made it up for I do not know what else would suit Guru. One of those days when he was all of six years, he was coming back from school when someone honked on the road. Little Guru chose to ignore him. But no, the man just was not letting go. Honk, honk, honk! Guru had heard enough. He took his catapult and broke the windows of the Ambassador car – and then ran home and hid under a bed because he knew he would get it. The driver was stunned and came searching for the little mad fellow and said to his father, “You better pay for the damage your son has caused!” The father told him he would do so the next morning. Guru got it good for what he did – and while it did leave some bruises on his body, it further flamed the notorious soul.
The next day when the driver came to claim the money for the new glasses he had put, the father paid and requested him to drop Guru to school. The small Gunda got in the car while the driver kept glancing sideways. He didn’t trust this two-footer. As the school arrived, Guru saw a few of his classmates loitering near the gate. Ah, perfect chance to show off who the boss is. He told the driver, “Come and open the door for me!” The driver smirked and said, “As if, you brat! I have done a favor to you by driving you here – just get out!” With a glint in Guru’s eyes he said to him, “If you don’t, I will…” The driver immediately scurried out and opened the door so the little emperor could grace his subjects. The driver hoped their paths would never cross again as he drove away from the school muttering a prayer under his breath.
Guru’s father had happily divided the responsibility for the two boys between his wife and him – Raj was his, Guru was hers. So, all the compliments that came their way for Raj, the father would lap it like a kitten would milk. All the complaints that came for Guru fell into the poor mother’s lot who was not only uneducated but also the epitome of innocence. During exams, she would see Guru pouring into his books and ask with great glee, “What are you studying, my kanna beta?” Guru would confidently reply, “Math, amma!” In reality he would be drawing or playing tic tac toe!
The result of studying so hard had to show up. His third standard progress report was dismal. He could not possibly show it at home – and yet parents’ signature was a must! He had seen enough papers with his father’s signature. This much only, no – thought the daredevil and signed confidently. The teachers, and the principal (Guru was one of the most regular visitors to her office) knew enough of this child to know the poor imitation of a signature was his doing. They beat him. Crying he said, “What teacher! My mother only asked me to do this!” Aha, they called the mother and watched as she took over the task of beating him. At night she complained to the grandfather and he asked, “Why did you, son?” To this Guru replied, “See Grandpa, now all of you are obsessing over the signature. If I had not done it, you all would have focused on my marks!” No one knew where to look. What do you do with a child like this?
Guru’s mother’s woes were far from over. She used to love singing and had a master who would come to teach her. Little did she know that her singing was so bad that it could give a headache to anyone near or far. On and on she would go – imagining she was on a stage, no less than the legendary artist M S Subbulakshmi. Guru knew there was an urgent need to put an end to this trauma for them, and their neighbors. One fine day he nicked the singing book where she wrote all the songs hoping this would do the trick. Unfortunately, the master taught her a new song which was even worse. As a last resort, he took a blade and cut off the strings of the harmonium itself. He waited and watched what would happen that evening. Fortunately for him, he had not cut his mother’s harmonium strings but the master’s, who got so angry that he promised he would never step into their house again. Peace was restored in the Makam home and everyone silently thanked Guru for this.
One of those days the Makam family saw that their neighbor, Raj’s friend, had bought a beautiful new cycle. The father told Guru, “Not this year – but next year I will buy you one. Happy?” Guru immediately responded with a sweet, innocent smile, “Na appa, not required! Don’t worry!” His father watched him with suspicion. And it was well-founded. Guru had bullied this boy so much that as soon as he would see Guru, he would immediately get off the cycle, hand it over to Guru and come walking. One of those days Raj found out about this and immediately complained to his father. His father took Guru to a room, locked the door and said to him, “You simply shout so everyone thinks I am beating you! Today I am in a good mood and have no intentions of touching you!” Guru smiled. Like father, like son. He screamed and wept, “Enough appa, enough! Spare me!” Raj was happy. The friend was happy. Guru was happy – because he knew, the very next day the wheels of life would turn in his direction. Yet again.
Our dear Guru did not just have traits of Dennis the Menace – but also of Robin Hood. There was this local sweet, brown in colour made of jaggery called Kamarkut. There was also this local friend, a similar brown in colour, called Manju. Guru and Manju were the best of friends because Manju would fawn all over Guru’s strength, courage and intelligence and get all his work done by saying, “Guru I am scared, can you?” Guru had a soft spot for the weak hearted and would immediately rush to rescue. Anyhow, to come back to Kamarkut – Manju always had a few paise and would ask Guru to go to shopkeeper uncle and buy. Guru would pay for two and flick four. Right under the shopkeeper’s nose and no one would even know it. He would chew at it for hours along with Manju and share some with others. Life was going on like this, happily carefree. Until Guru reached the Seventh Standard, and came, eye to eye with his worst fear: The Class Topp
Tax 2: Levied for being a bit too street smart for his own good. Guru paid it in full.
In the seventh standard Guru was made to sit next to the class topper. Topper used to wear white pants, red tie, maroon belt, shining black shoes and make their school uniform look like it was a tuxedo. Everyone adored him. His handwriting was like drops of pearls. Beside this masterpiece sat Guru – unkempt, disheveled, who wrote like drunk ants were walking on a piece of paper. Ask the topper a question, and he would answer two! For Guru – when asked what cultivation was, he would draw a stick figure of a farmer. Further, the way the topper boy spoke and wrote Sanskrit – aha, it felt like lotus petals were falling from heavens. Our guru? There used to be something called Shabda in Sanskrit where they had to expand a word. For example: Ram, Rama, Ramaha. In one exam few words were given and at the end it said “etc”. Our boy thought that had to be expanded too so he wrote: etc, etca, etco, etcanamah. The usually peaceful looking Sanskrit teacher looked like he would either commit a murder, or suicide!
One of those days the topper asked for his place to be changed and said in front of the whole class – I don’t sit next to failures. Everyone began to laugh. Especially the girls. Guru’s ego was bruised and to get back to him, he did not just tear all his books – but also gave his notes to the girl who always came second. The topper still topped, infuriating Guru whose rank was always predictable: second last or last.
The only saving grace for Guru was that he was excellent at sports. The sports teacher adored him and wanted him to become the Sports Captain even though he was only in the seventh standard and this position was usually saved for someone in the tenth. He remembered how he rallied for himself with big tears falling from his eyes before the principal saying, “Anyhow you all don’t give me marks. Now that I am good at sports you are not letting me rise! What is this!” The principal decided to give in because she knew she wouldn’t hear the end of it. However, when Guru failed in the 8th standard, she put her foot down and fired him publicly in the assembly saying – sports are not enough and if you want to continue studying in this school and being captain, you better get 20th rank in the next term! The next exams were just two months away and Guru could not fathom how from 37 he would mystically move 17 places. It was only years later that he discovered that he was dyslexic – at that time all he could understand why the moment he began to read, letters seemed to dance for him. Guru sent his mother to the principal to check if indeed she was speaking the truth. She fired her. He still couldn’t believe (rather did not want to believe) her sentence, so he sent Raj to ask her. She told him, “You are equally responsible! If Guru doesn’t get 20th rank, I will catch your throat, Raj!”
Guru realized this time he was caught for good. He had to find a way out. Problem was, he barely attended school. The school layout was such that there was an entrance then a prayer room where everyone gathered for morning assembly. After that there were steps which led to classrooms. As soon as prayers were done, instead of going up he would head to a toilet, jump out of the window, over the wall and go to watch movies using money “borrowed” from his father’s trouser pocket. Of course, without his father’s knowledge. Now what? He had to come 20th – a nearly impossible feat or bear more humiliation – that too in front of the whole school and the infuriating topper!
That day Guru decided to turn over a new leaf. He went to a Ganpati temple, did an Arti and opened his book. For two hours he read without understanding a word. He thought to himself, “Maybe this place is not lucky for me. Let me try changing my place!” He decided to go to school two hours before it started, by 6.30 am and study there. There was an office help called Pandu who took pity on this cute, chubby boy trying so hard to study at the entrance of the school gate. He told him, “Here are the set of keys child, you open any classroom and study there!”
Uh-huh! Keys! In the hands of Guru Prasad Makam! What do you think happened next? You guessed it! He quickly found the set to the principal’s room where all the question papers lay! (Is this story reminding you of 3 Idiots? I told you – it’s nothing if not cinematic – and to think all this was happening in the 1980s!). Guru realized the answer to his future lay with Pandu. The next day, he took some food for Pandu and said sweetly, “Anna, how much you work Anna! I am here to help you now Anna. From today I will only open all the doors Anna!” Little did the smitten Pandu know that hidden in his bag was a lux soap meant to take impressions of the golden key, which would help him not just in this exam, but in many more to come.