Scammed – Confessions of a Confused Accountant
About the Book
Hitesh Shah, a diminutive Assistant Manager at Smith & Kline, one of the leading accounting and audit firms, hates his job and his life. Sahil Arora, a batch mate from college who joined the firm with him, has grown to become the Senior Manager and his current boss. Sahil, a savvy and smart auditor was a pet of the Partner, and relies on an overworked and underpaid, Hitesh, to cover his back on assignments. He had an intern to assist him on assignments, Susan De’mello, who occasionally showed up to work. He finds himself in an assignment with a once large automaker in a decline mode. A lot of the senior executives with vested interests want the show to go on. Venugopal Reddy, scion of the family who has owned Supreme Motors for 3 generations wants it to survive till his film production company and real estate business yield results. With the Company burning out cash at a ferocious pace, Hitesh who strikes a good rapport with Venugopal Reddy comes up with creative suggestions for a turnaround. Super Cabs emerges a short while later, with Hitesh at the helm, backed by dubious funding from a minister, G.S. Rao, and with Supreme Motors supplying a fleet of taxis to the new company. Things take off with pomp and show. Affiliates are signed up, branches are opened across the country, and Hitesh is jet setting as a rising star in Corporate India. Soon, the plot unravels. Most of the vehicles have serious mechanical failures within a year, while Venugopal has been pushing hard to grow the business, in order to divest and rake in a profit given a high valuation. Affiliates and employees go on war against the Company. There’s the rumor of an affair with a model, allegations of sleaze, investor fraud, investigations by authorities into company ownership and transactions, and heaps of negative press. In addition the upcoming mass leader, Ranga Naidu, a rival of G.S. Rao is out to make an example of this situation and launch a bid for the Minister’s place. Hitesh, along with his secretary and current love interest, Payal, is on a run from the law. He disappears from the scene, and weighs his options for survival. One arm of the political machinery wants him framed for the mess, and shot in an encounter. On the other hand, there is an option for him to confess and co – operate. What does he confess to? Does he get out of the mess he finds himself in? With his professional degree revoked and being debarred from his professional practice, where does he go from here?
About the Author
The Confused Accountant chooses to remain anonymous at this stage.
Excerpt from the book
Hitesh walked hastily into the office, drenched from head to toe. The guard gave him an apathetic smile and returned to his work. Hitesh regretted not taking his raincoat when he left home; he hadn’t expected a shower on this cool, September evening. He removed his jacket, placed it besides his office bag, next to his desk, adjusted his clothes and walked towards the rest-room. He waved cheerfully to the glum-faced flunkies who were still in office working like machines, on assignments of Sahil’s clients, the way he had been doing for the last three years.
Today was the earliest that he would be getting home, he thought, looking at the big office clock that had just struck seven. Sahil Arora had called him to office to discuss his appraisal. Hitesh hoped he would finally hear some good news. He returned from the restroom and peeked inside Sahil’s cabin. The man was typing away furiously on his laptop, looking serious and busy.
‘Give me ten minutes, Hitesh. I’ll call you,’ Sahil said, without looking up.
‘OK, Sir, I’ll be at my desk.’
Hitesh went to his desk, turned on his computer and waited for Windows to load. He flipped through the pages of his self-appraisal form for the umpteenth time. Twenty assignments in the past year; Clocking over 2,450 billable hours to clients; Chargeability over 120 percent. This might just be the day when he would become the manager, he thought. He turned around and stared longingly at the empty cubicle in the managers’ area. A position had just become vacant, and to many he seemed to be the best person to fill that, given that Smith & Donald, a leading accounting and audit firm, had a preference to promote home-grown talent – people who stayed with the firm for a while.
His experience with the firm now added up to seven years; four years as a trainee, and the rest since he had qualified as an Accountant. He was last promoted eighteen months ago, unlike Sahil, who had started his career in the firm with him, but had moved far ahead. Sahil had managed to qualify a year before Hitesh and, since then, had been promoted every year. He was now a Senior Manager, one of the three that the firm had in the Hyderabad office. And now he was set to become a Partner in the coming three or four years, even before he turned thirty-five. Hitesh was reduced to Sahil’s go-to man, who worked on most of his assignments, managing limited resources and delivering on stiff deadlines.
A colleague walked up to Hitesh. ‘How are things, Sir?’ he asked.
‘All well, Ashutosh. How are you? Which assignment are you working on?’ Hitesh asked.
‘This one is painful, Sir. United Cables, your old client. That joker, Ramdorai, is making my life miserable.’
‘I think the books are in a mess. To top it all, he’s a difficult person to deal with,’ Hitesh said, smiling sympathetically.
‘I can’t wait to finish this and go on my examination leave. I still have one group remaining …’
‘November isn’t far,’ Hitesh interrupted. ‘I hope your in-charge for the assignment is giving you time to study.’
‘Supriya?’ Ashutosh sniggered. ‘She passes the office time either chatting on the phone or doing her nails. As usual, it is me who is doing all the work. If she has her way, I’d be even chopping vegetables in her kitchen.’
Hitesh laughed. ‘You haven’t had your appraisal yet, right? Don’t worry. I am sure you’ll pass this time,’ he said reassuringly.
‘I wish, Sir. But what can one say about these appraisals? This whole 360 degrees feedback policy is nothing but a sham. In fact, it is more like 360 degrees ass-kissing,’ Ashutosh said with a sad smile. ‘Whatever it is, I’m not bothered. All I want is to pass my examination, and put in my papers the very next day.’
‘Oh, is it? What are your plans? Where will you go then?’
‘My brother is in London, Sir. He is trying to find me a job there. Once I clear my exams, it would be easier. Anyway, did you hear who is going to fill that seat?’ Ashutosh gestured to the empty cubicle.
‘God knows. But I hope it’s me,’ said Hitesh, more to himself. He pushed his hair back and suddenly had a good feeling about his upcoming meeting.
‘You haven’t heard then. It is Supriya who is being promoted to fill the position. I heard her on the phone; she was gushing with ecstasy when people called up to wish her. Tomorrow the office mail will also go out,’ Ashutosh retorted, while Hitesh stood baffled and stunned.
‘But she joined just six months ago…’
‘Sir, your boss is very fond of her. He even comes over to the client’s office to pay a visit when she’s around. A lot has been happening over lunch and coffee,’ Ashutosh said with a wink. ‘Anyway, let me finish and leave. I need to study. Goodluck, Sir.’
‘Thank you. But this is … surprising,’ Hitesh muttered. Crestfallen, he walked back to his desk and signed in to his personal email account. Following his daily ritual for the past one year, he browsed through the job openings in the job search portal. In the last few months, he had attended a few interviews and received a couple of offers. But he was waiting for a bigger and better opportunity. His desk phone buzzed: It was from the boss’ cabin.
‘Come fast,’ Sahil said, before hanging up hastily. Hitesh picked up a heap of papers, including his appraisal form and notes that he had made on assignments he had done so far.
‘How is the Ventura Software assignment going?’ Sahil asked, revolving in his chair to face him. He looked smart, dressed in his Tommy Hilfiger shirt and a Zodiac tie.
‘We have a lot of outstanding requests for information. We’re trying to…’ Hitesh began, looking distracted.
‘Get it done fast. There’s another important assignment that’s come up. I need you to leave for Vizag next week. Wrap this up by the weekend.’
‘Sahil, it isn’t that easy. We have a lot of findings. Working papers need to be documented properly. I don’t have the best staff with me. I need at least a week more.’
‘No way! Supreme Motors has to begin next week and finish in a month. Push it, finish kar yaar, salta de.’
‘Hmm…Can we discuss the appraisal?’ Hitesh asked trying to not sound too irritated.
‘Yes, of course! Is this your self-appraisal form?’ Sahil asked, taking the papers from him. He flipped through the pages and chuckled while reading some of Hitesh’s comments in the boxes. He quickly entered his ratings in the applicable boxes and finished up with a stylish signature with his Cross pen.
‘Have a look at it, and if you’re ok with it, I’ll send it off to HR in the morning.’ Sahil sat back in his chair and hummed softly to himself, while Hitesh went through the form. In the meanwhile, Sahil picked up his phone and typed on his keypad, noticing Hitesh’s expression change from hopeful to irritable from the corner of his eye.
An annoyed Hitesh scratched his head and looked up. ‘Can you tell me why I have been rated 2.5 out of five? As per my rating, it should be 3.5.’
‘I can’t give everyone what they feel they should get, can I?’ Sahil grinned.
‘Well, I don’t believe this is fair, and I cannot accept it,’ an exasperated Hitesh said.
‘See, Hitesh, you are making it difficult for me. You’re a friend. Tell me, how do I do that? Look at my ratings; I’ve kept those the same as yours in eight out of the ten boxes. Only in team work and personality you’ve gone down. What can I do? This is based on feedback.’
‘You refused to take on some of Anita Rao’s work while you were doing the DSK Bank assignment. She gave a feedback about you that you weren’t supportive.’
‘She had very little work and even that she couldn’t finish! Why should I take on everything? You know how many hours I spend at work; that girl walks out at six!’
‘She is the Partner’s niece. You should have been more careful. The feedback went right to the top. Anyway, it was an important assignment; there should have been better teamwork. The Partner thinks that you aren’t a team player.’
‘I don’t agree. I’ve done twenty assignments in a year. Who else …’
‘And another: your personality. You need to smarten up,’ Sahil said, looking straight into Hitesh’s eyes, while Hitesh went red in the face. ‘You wear red shirts and maroon ties to work. Learn to dress up soberly. Look a little more professional.’
‘Is this what the appraisal is about?’
‘It isn’t just that. You were on an office trip recently; you insisted on some old ‘70’s music being played in the bus. People are still laughing at your snake dance.’
‘Those were some great numbers by Kishore Kumar. Sahil, please be fair. Appraise me on my work.’
‘I am, and this is what the Partner tells me when I talk about your promotion. Supriya thinks you’re anti-social. You don’t mix around and dress and dance funny. You even threw a fit during the office lunch when there was no vegetarian food. Learn to adjust, yaar.’
‘So what? What if I don’t want to socialize with her? I don’t drink alcohol and eat everything that you people do. I just cannot believe this. Are these the reasons that are pulling my rating down?’
‘See, friend. You’re a hardworking guy and a good resource. But there are things that need a lot of improvement.’
‘Does this mean that I’m not getting promoted?’ Hitesh asked, throwing his hands up in frustration.
‘No. But we will have to wait until we see that you are manager material. See, this long hair and the lime green shirt with the green tie…’
‘Well, I’ll quit then. If I’m not worthy enough to be promoted, I’ll quit,’ Hitesh snapped. He was in a combative mood, outraged at the way he was being treated.
‘Chill, yaar. You’re doing well. Who says you’re not? Give it some time. My hands are tied this time. We could promote only one person and Supriya had better acceptance. Let’s give it six months, maybe I can push…’
‘Sahil, I joined this firm with you, and I’ve done every assignment to the best of my capability. Why am I being held back? This just isn’t fair when people who come from outside become managers in six months.’ Sahil looked shifty and averted his gaze from Hitesh.
‘See, I can’t promote you and I don’t want you to leave. I’ll do something for you as a friend. I’ll promote you to Deputy Manager with a ten percent pay hike. This is the most I can do in this situation. I’m creating a position to accommodate you!’
‘Is this a promotion?’
‘Of-course! And, in six months, we can try to make you manager. Maybe earlier, if someone quits,’ Sahil said, looking at his phone screen and smiling at a message he had just received.
‘What choice do I have?’ asked Hitesh, face creased in anger.
‘Take it up. It’s good for you. Not what you wanted, but still a promotion. I’ll change the rating to 2.9. That’s the most I can do. You know I’ve always looked after you as a friend.’ Hitesh couldn’t recollect a single instance when he had been looked after. He was just an overworked mule in the firm whom people poked jokes at for his dressing sense and dancing style.
‘Okay, let me think about it. I’ll come back to you,’ Hitesh said, staring at the papers in his hand.
‘Let’s finish this now, as I need to send the email to Delhi. They’ll be emailing all our offices the names of those who’ve been promoted.’
‘But you’re saying in six months things will change, right?’
‘We can try,’ Sahil said, looking impatiently at his watch. ‘Look, let’s really finish this and leave. Supriya and I are going over to the Partner’s place for dinner and drinks. I’m also playing golf with him on the weekend and I’ll put in a good word for you then.’
‘You and Supriya are going over to Sundar’s house for dinner!’
‘Yes, yaar, we’ve been invited there for a get-together. Smarten up man; you must learn how to network,’ he said, as he put on his blazer and turned down the screen of his laptop. ‘Aur yaar, ease off the job search portals. Focus on finishing the assignment quickly. You have to go to Vizag for the Supreme Motors audit and you’ll have Sandra to accompany you. Hopefully you’ll be a good team player this time,’ Sahil said and looked up with a wink.
A despondent Hitesh walked back to his cubicle and shut down his computer. Picking up his helmet, bag and the still wet jacket, he walked out and went towards the area where his motorcycle was parked, and saw Sahil zipping away in his Ford Fiesta.
When he reached home, he found his parents waiting for him with expectant eyes.
‘Will you have poori or chappati?’ his mother asked.
‘I’m not hungry, Ma,’ Hitesh said, dropping his bag on the floor and sitting down.
His father, who was now browsing through news channels, turned towards him after reducing the volume from a deafening high. ‘What happened to the appraisal?’ he asked.
‘I got promoted,’ Hitesh replied with a slight smile.
‘Oh, that’s great!’ his mother rushed to hug him. Her eyes beamed with joy; she had been waiting for this moment for long.
‘Good. After all the slogging, they have finally made you a manager,’ his father exclaimed, nodding his head in appreciation.
‘Err, no. Not exactly…’ Hitesh began.
‘What then?’ asked his father suspiciously, leaning forward as Hitesh sank back in his chair and his stodgy mother stood before him, with hands on her hips.
‘Papa, they made me a Deputy Manager.’
‘You said they promoted you.’
‘Yes,’ Hitesh said, turning to face his mother, who looked confused.
‘Aren’t you an Assistant Manager now?’ she asked.
‘Yes, what is the difference? To me it sounds like the same thing,’ chimed in his father, sounding angry and scratching the scanty hair on his head.
‘It isn’t. In six months, there’s a chance for another promotion.’
‘Rubbish! You are a fool,’ his father said, loosening the top button of his shirt and burping loudly.
‘You studied for so many years and still aren’t doing well. Kanchal got married to a banker in the US. Kantaben’s daughter, Hemal, has got engaged to the Vice-President of wealth management in a big bank in Mumbai. Your father is just a small-time jeweler; for us, finding you a match is very difficult. What would we say? -- My son is a Deputy Manager, tch,’ She shook her head dismissively.
‘Ma, I’m not interested in this conversation. I am tired and want to go and sleep. I need to finish my work here in a week. Next week, I have to travel.’
‘What about pay hike? How much?’ asked his father with expectant eyes ‘Ten percent, Papa,’ Hitesh answered with some hesitance.
‘Useless! Inflation itself is more than eleven percent. Those fellows in call-centers these days make more than you. You have to pay taxes also. Find another job,’ he said with a scowl.
‘Why don’t you try in the US, beta? Your cousin Jignesh is also working there. Look at the amount of jewelry your aunty buys. They also bought a new Honda car recently. What do we have? Your Papa’s old Zen,’ his mother said politely, ruffling his hair. ‘Should I get you some buttermilk?’
Hitesh shook his head. His mind was busy figuring out how to finish the impossible assignment in three days, before he traveled the following week. This weekend is also gone, he thought. That bastard Sahil must be having fun.
‘Don’t trust that Sahil fellow. He’s not going to promote you. No,’ his father gesticulated, before he belched loudly and watched Hitesh leave the room.
Little did Hitesh know that the Vizag trip was going to turn the tables altogether, and life would never be the same for him, in six months from the day of his appraisal.