The mock-monk who sold his Ferrari


IT ISN’T a mere coincidence that Mumbai-based politician Bal Thackeray’s name means pubic hair (bal) in Assamese slang. You need to be an ultra parochial frog-in-a-well to concur with him.

But I couldn’t help agree with Thackeray when he said India’s cricket hero, nay god, Sachin Tendulkar does not play for the country. The Shiv Sena leader would perhaps not have slammed a fellow Marathi had Sachin not said Mumbai belonged to Indians.

Tennis great Roger Federer, funnily, reminded me of the Thackeray blast after he posed with Sachin for a photo-op on the sidelines of Wimbledon 2011.

Fed Ex and Sachin had something in common – Rolex watches, of which they are brand ambassadors. But for a moment I though the two were ‘framed’ for Federer to present a super luxury car to Sachin, just as racing great Michael Schumacher had posed with the Master Blaster before gifting him a 360 Modena Ferrari on behalf of FIAT in August 2003.

Though he was the richest cricketer on earth, Sachin had reportedly begged the Indian government for a customs duty waiver on the Ferrari. New Delhi obliged, apparently thinking the cricketer was too poor to pay Rs 11.3 million ($245,000) in import duty for the sports car valued at Rs 7,500,000 ($162,600).

This month, Sachin sold his Ferrari to Surat-based businessman Jayesh Desai. The price wasn’t disclosed, but Desai must have paid extra for the ‘star value’ the Ferrari attained in these eight years with Sachin. After all, even an old T-shirt of his is auctioned for the price of a common man’s car.

Would Sachin now pay the import duty he denied a benevolent Indian government in 2003? God knows, and cricket-crazy India considers him no less.

I have nothing against people who make money selling gifts (free gifts, if you may). But when you are someone many look up to – and the duty on a car is a fraction of what you earn every year – you need to set an example.

Mr Tendulkar, people who play for the country pay their taxes, not plead for duty exemptions because he or she has scored the most centuries and runs in two cricket formats.

And people who play for the country would have rather skipped a cash-rich Indian Premier League after achieving the most coveted goal – ODI World Cup – instead of a seemingly insignificant Test series in West Indies.

People who do play for the country are like Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra. They aren’t as rich, but spend a fortune to train and shoot to the top of the world.

Or they are like (Asiad) golden hurdler Ashwini Akkunji, too poor to buy their running shoes but crazy enough to pursue a sport that doesn’t pay.

So the next time you say you play for the country, think of the tax I – millions of other Indians too – paid to make up for the duty you denied the government. Howzzat?

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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