The corporate world — one is sure — has its fair share of drama, scandals and behind-the-scenes intrigue. But such interesting goings-on tend to be well hidden from the prying eyes of the public by the function euphemistically known as corporate ‘public relations’.
Corporate PR teams work extra-long hours to ensure that only rose-tinted accounts of business dealings trickle out into the public domain.
So if you’re a student, corporate newbie or just a curious onlooker wanting to know what really goes on behind the glass doors at corporate India, you must turn to the new breed of professionals-turned-fiction-writers who offer a fairly honest, insider’s account of their chosen professions.
Insider accounts Ravi Subramaniam’s thrillers ( God is a Gamer , Bankerupt, etc.) on banking whizkids who stray from the straight and the narrow, Sidin Vadukut’s stories of the dork who survives the wily machinations of corporate colleagues and Indu Balachandran’s irreverent account of the advertising world are different takes on this genre.
The debut novel Ticking Times: An Accountant and a Gentleman by V Pattabhi Ram, chartered accountant and well-known CA coach, joins this race with a story that has the Indian auditing profession as its backdrop.
Being a maiden effort, this book lacks the nuances and linguistic polish that seasoned novelists bring to the table.
But if you’re wondering how a good story can be crafted out of the dry-as-dust accounting profession, the author does a creditable job of it.
The many twists and turns of fate which have its two key protagonists — auditor Mike Mahi and journalist Tejas Arya — clashing in Archer-esque fashion and scoring points off each other make it a quick page-turner.
The story begins with Mike Mahi (who, we later learn, was christened Muthukumar Mahalingam) prepping for a meeting at his swanky corner office, when he receives news of a ₹5,000-crore financial scandal at the fictional Hindustan Bank, one of his firm’s mega-bucks auditing clients.
Within hours, Mahi — until then the golden boy of the accounting profession — is hounded by the media and given a wide berth by colleagues.
Crisis coming Thereafter, in true Hollywood style, we flash back to his life story. Mahi, the son of a colliery worker is fascinated by finance from his childhood.
While his parents cannot afford to put him through St Annes, the country’s top college for business, he manages to win a place through sheer grit and a talent for playing great hockey.
His frenemy Tejas Arya is the polar opposite. Born to wealthy parents, Arya toys with the idea of becoming an architect, a lawyer and then a doctor, but finally breezes into St Anne’s to study finance and function as Mahi’s bete noire.
At college, it is Arya who repeatedly aces Mahi with his academic brilliance and political skills.
But Mahi’s hard slog, out-of-the-box strategies and networking skills eventually pay off and catapult his firm —Mike, Mahi & Associates into the big league in the world of consulting and auditing.
Though the book starts out with two heroes, it is Mike Mahi who hogs most of the author’s attention, as well as pages in this book. Tejas Arya is relegated to guest appearances with occasional exploits.
Still, the chapters which detail how Mike Mahi juggles the everyday conflicts of auditing, skilfully navigates rivalry between his affiliated firms and gets elected to the country’s top accounting body make for the best reading in this book.
These chapters have the strong ring of realism and obviously draw deeply on the author’s first-hand knowledge of the auditing profession.
That said, just when everything’s going fine for Mahi, there’s news of financial skulduggery at the Hindustan Bank. Reminiscent of some public sector banks today, the firm has advanced scores of small-ticket loans without adequate collateral.
Mahi gets hauled up, not just for failure to audit his client properly, but also for insider trading in the banks’ shares.
Whether he extricates himself from this scandal with his reputation unsullied makes up the interesting climax of this story.
Missing detail Here the author makes several interesting points about the role of random sampling in auditing and how insider trading rules might be applied to the external auditors of a listed company.
However, one complaint with this book is that it devotes far too much attention to building up Mahi’s character and career graph (this takes up nearly 250 of the 300-page work), and too little to fleshing out the scandal that threatens both.
This reviewer, for one, would have been happier with a lot less detail on the accounting body’s election process and a more detailed storyline on how the savvy Mahi turned out to be so neglectful of his personal affairs.
There are also a few supporting characters and side stories that don’t really tie into the central narrative and thus leave the reader dissatisfied and suitably disconnected.
However, I make these comments as a reader of fiction. Maybe aspiring chartered accountants and practising auditors will look forward to the inside track on the profession and the Institute’s workings, more than the actual storyline.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Chartered accountant V Pattabhi Ram is a well-known CA coach and former alumnus of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells and St Joseph’s College. He wears multiple hats: he is a CA, writer, teacher and public speaker.