Where there's a 'will', there are many ways

This year, April has been harsher than usual because of two surprise imponderables: inheritance tax and Covishield, writes Avay Shukla

How many do you have? (photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
How many do you have? (photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Avay Shukla

April is the cruellest month, and not only for the reasons given by T.S. Eliot: it is also that dreaded month when we have to turn our minds to filing our income tax returns for the benefit of the lady-who-doesn't-have-money-to-fight-elections but, like Oliver Twist, is always asking for more.

But this year, April has been harsher than usual because of the introduction of two surprise imponderables: inheritance tax and Covishield. The two, my CA tells me, should induce all of us to do a bit of "estate planning" and think of life after death.

It is now undeniable that AstraZeneca's Covishield vaccine had very serious side effects, and that they were actually bedside effects, i.e. they laid you out flat on your bed, never to rise again, not even in Jerusalem or Golgotha. After the emergence of damning evidence in a London court, it was reported on 7 May that the vaccine has been withdrawn globally. That is cold comfort to the millions who might now be living under a death sentence.

The possibility of an inheritance tax has now been mooted by an émigré but influential Congressman, and Mr Modi himself has explained it in his usual simple, crass language — namely, that if you have two buffaloes, the Congress will take one away. He has not, however, explained what will happen if you have two wives. My well-informed CA tells me that will depend on whether wives are regarded as assets or liabilities.

Be that as it may, these developments have led me to seriously consider executing my will, since the aforementioned bedside effect can come into play at any time and fell me in one fell swoop (I had taken two of the ruddy shots).

Bulbul at morning tea (photo by author)
Bulbul at morning tea (photo by author)

Mr Modi, I'm told, has already disappeared from the digital vaccination certificates and may soon disappear also from 7, Lok Kalyan Marg; as the poet said: if Modi goes, can Shukla be far behind? Which is why I'm now seriously considering the redistribution of my poverty (in the absence of any wealth), among my progeny and Neerja.

The first obstacle you run up against when registering a will is to prove that you are of "sound mind". The magistrate, having read some of my blogs, had serious reservations about that in my case. I patiently explained to him that soundness of my mind is a relative thing, has its ups and downs (as the duke told the duchess one unsuccessful night), and has to be seen in its context.

I referred him to Mr Modi's speeches about buffaloes and mangalsutras, Mr Amit Shah's statement about a 5 trillion tonne economy, Surjit Bhalla's claim that the Modi government has ushered in true secularism, Jaishankar's boast that India was the leader of the Global South — and then slipped in the knife: if these jokers could be considered sane enough to decide the fate of the nation, was I not sane enough to decide what to do with the accumulated fruits of my labours? His honour, being of sound mind himself, immediately agreed and signed off with an RO+AC.

For the record, I don't really have much to bequeath to my next-of-kin. The bank deposits and FDs will disappear soon at the current rate of inflation and taxation; whatever little is left will probably go to cyber fraudsters. The cottage in Purani Koti will probably have to be sold to pay off the inheritance tax. The car belongs to Mr Gadkari anyway, what with fuel prices, the highway robbery legalised as toll fees, and the rule that requires it to be scrapped after 10 years.

But to be honest, I don't give a shit, as the honey badger confided to his mate: my family will probably live a better life without me lurking in the shadows. And, in any case, I would like to believe that these baubles do not constitute my real wealth and legacy.

Horse chestnut (photo by author)
Horse chestnut (photo by author)

For, of all my possessions, the ones I am most proud of, and which give me most happiness, are the trees I've planted on my land in Purani Koti, near Mashobra. I, along with my sister-in-law Anjali, had bought about 6 bigha (little more than an acre) of land there in the early 2000s, and I decided to convert it into a little green oasis before the village was taken over by hotels and guest houses.

The latter has happened, but so has the oasis! I had the full backing of Anjali, who was keen to compensate for her otherwise Delhi-based (carbon) footprint, which is slightly bigger than Godzilla's.

I did an enumeration of the trees on our land recently, and counted a total of 209, of both the forest and fruit varieties. An examination of old photographs reveals that there were only about 15 fruit trees when we acquired the land, so we have added almost 200 trees, and they are all doing well, the fruit trees are all organic.

The forest varieties comprise deodar, blue pine, robinia, horse chestnut, oak, weeping willow and chinar; the fruit variety are apple, pear (nashpati), cherry, plum.

I have no guilt in admitting that I have begged, bought, borrowed and stolen to get these plants from all corners of the state — from the Jalori pass, Tirthan valley, Manali. The greenery is now a haven for birds of more species than I can recognise, and we even have visiting species like parakeets, swallows, Himalayan magpies, pheasants and barbets at different times of the year. The bulbuls are permanent residents and have bed-tea with me and Neerja on our terrace every morning.

This, then, is the possession I really value, my own creation without any embedded advantage of birth, education or inherited wealth, something I can be proud of. I would like to consider this my real legacy, not only for my family but for mother earth. It feels good to leave one tiny part of this planet a better place than one found it. And it needs no will — just a dream!

All photos by author

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of Disappearing Democracy: Dismantling of a Nation and other works. He blogs at avayshukla.blogspot.com

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