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Vol. XXX No. 6, July 1-15, 2020
(Wo)MMM, Parotta and Masks
We live in times of gender equality and The Man from Madras Musings, long at the helm in this column is happy to yield space to a new writer, the (Wo)Man from Madras Musings. And no, she is not MMM’s Good Lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, and neither is she MMM in drag. MMM and (Wo)MMM will alternate from now on this space. – Editor
The latest in the line of strange-but-true news is the decisive ruling by the powers that be stating that parottas are not rotis and must therefore carry an 18 per cent GST tag. What an entertaining debate that must have been! The Woman from Madras Musings looked up a few other items that come under the 18 per cent GST slab. In the eyes of the taxman, frozen parottas are now on par with nuclear reactors (machinery and apparatus for isotope separation), perfumes and toilet waters, articles of furskin and also bamboo flooring tiles, amongst many other fascinating items. The topic provided ample grist for wags, as expected. “It’s roti, kapdaaurmakaan not parotta, kapdaaurmakaan, okay?” tweeted one. Others took a rather stern, militant view of the development, terming the move as ‘food fascism’.
(Wo)MMM finds it surreal that this has become a topic of such hot debate, considering that this is not an isolated event – there are enough examples to suggest that taxation is governed by a complex rulebook, the parotta being just the newest example of its whimsies. For instance, a popular chocolate biscuit successfully won its fight to be classified as a biscuit and not a chocolate, to reduce the tax burden; a leading coconut oil brand wants to be seen as just coconut oil and not hair oil for the same reason.
Frankly, as far as the parotta matter is concerned, (Wo)MMM’s sympathies lie largely with the indirect tax consultants who must now, she imagines, hold company-wide work-sessions to debate whether their client’s food product falls under the classification of a roti or a parotta and also prepare extensive documentation supporting their decision.
It is tempting to delve into merrymaking at the administration’s expense on this matter, but, as the better half sternly reminds (Wo)MMM, one must believe that deep thought has gone into creating statutes and framing rules, though the layman may not understand the intricacies at first glance. Actually, (Wo)MMM once had to eat her words while arguing with the better half on this very same subject. It was the time when there was much hue and cry around alcohol being exempted from the GST ambit while mineral water carried a GST tax. (Wo)MMM joined a vocal band of protestors in declaring it ridiculous, which prompted the better half to ruthlessly school her in the logic behind the move. That day, (Wo)MMM learned that alcohol is governed under excise duty and sales tax rules, not GST; and that this is why it is currently taxed at more than 50 per cent, much higher than the slab it would have taken on under GST norms.
All this to say – the parotta matter may sound silly on the face of it, but it is entirely possible that we don’t know enough of the details to make fun of it without sounding like an uninformed chump. So while (Wo)MMM extends her due sympathies to parotta fans who may have to shell out more for their frozen parottas, she hopes that public conversation on administrative policy matures to become an informed debate rather than just a comedy track. Product taxes are meant to govern consumption, after all, and as consumers, we would do well to stay actively informed of the decision-making process.
One would assume that a mask being a simple product with little to no additional features, there is just one way of deploying it. One would be wrong. The Woman from Madras Musings has observed three different ways in which people wear and use the now-ubiquitous face masks. The first, of course, is the widely-accepted practice of covering the nose and mouth as prescribed, with some masks offering users the ability to pinch close the gaps between the bridge of the nose and the cheeks. Users typically don’t remove the masks unless they are indulging in some lively physical exercise. These users make (Wo)MMM feel happy and calm.
The second method of using masks curiously covers the mouth alone, giving the nose a free pass. (Wo)MMM wonders if these users truly believe that speaking is contagious but not nose-related activities like sneezing or blowing the nose. The third method, however, is the one that (Wo)MMM finds jarring. These users cover the entire nose and mouth with their masks, lulling the innocent bystander into a feeling of safety. Then, with little warning, they initiate a conversation by jerking the mask down below the chin so that they can be heard more clearly. It’s honestly quite startling when this happens as one is usually least prepared for this move.
Happily, a new variety of protection seems to be in the market to counter the challenges of the face mask – a foolproof face shield. The face shield covers the entire face from forehead to chin with a clear sheet of plastic while leaving ample room for the user to breathe; it looks rather like a welder’s mask. There seems to be no way of interpreting its use creatively, a feature which (Wo)MMM fully appreciates.
The Woman from Madras Musings finds social media to be a strange animal. One never knows what obscure subject will catch the public fancy and go viral. True enough, Chennaiites recently decided that among all the things happening in the city, the topic that deserved urgent public attention was how a certain politician seems to be wearing a new wig and sure enough, the hashtag trended at the second spot last week. Amazing.