Accountant’s Memorial

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Ledgers, balance sheets and sepia images of the first accountancy board. But actively missing are the Satyam books

Impossible is nothing. So a day might come when you spot Vijay Mallya sitting shyly in a corner. Or, catch Sonia Gandhi breaking into a jig. Or, walk into an accountancy museum. Which is exactly what we did when we heard the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) had set up an accountancy museum in Noida. We had to. How on earth, we wondered, does one make a ledger look good? And what is the best lighting arrangement to display a balance sheet?

Our diligent guide was the museum’s curator Dr NK Ranjan (curiously, a doctorate in linguistics). It was a dark and cool room with discreet lighting. Like an aquarium, really. Every proudly-mounted exhibit has its own lamp. ‘Good’ balance sheets (more on that later), ledgers, photographs of the first accountancy board, industriously-documented minutes of the board’s first meeting. All momentous events, we gathered, in the accountant’s world.

Enjoying pride of place are the medals won by the first graduates of the institute in 1948. “Made of pure gold,” Ranjan adds, his pride evident. We picture impossibly industrious gentlemen (they were all men) in sepia tones, with stern glasses and suspenders who knew all the tax laws by heart. We are impressed.

There are mounted slides detailing the history of the profession. It’s like an earnest school project really, but we do pick up some quirky stuff. Like the fact that accountants in India devised their own language—the complex and difficult Muria, incomprehensible to most. (Though some would argue we didn’t need a museum to learn that; Satyam was enough.)

Of special import are two “good” balance sheets, specifically pointed out to us. We see two stolidly typed sheets, yellowing with age (they date back to 1929), unexceptional to our undiscerning eyes. “It adds up perfectly,” our curator explains, a little resignedly. We perk up. This is what the Satyam guys didn’t do.

We seize the moment: when are the Satyam books arriving? It doesn’t go down well. “Sensationalism,” Ranjan shakes his head reproachfully, “that is sensational. We don’t want to give in to sensationalism.”

Clearly, this is a monument to the conscientious accountant. “Chartered accountants are called the conscience keepers of business,” says Uttam Prakash Agarwal, ICAI president. “Through our museum, we want to let everybody know that accountants belong to one of the oldest human intellectual traditions and they have been instrumental in the birth of writing systems.”

And nothing has been allowed to interfere with the focus on the good accountant. Not even design. When we asked to speak to the designer or architect, the curator swatted the request aside. “What do they know? Some firms had offered to do everything but we didn’t want that. I am the curator, I have designed it,” he says. “Like there are four sculptures, so I thought we’ll place them in the four corners of the room.” Simple.

To its credit though, the museum is clean and uncluttered. And the history of the profession has been mapped meticulously.

More is in store. The museum will soon shift to much larger premises. And it will now be known by a far grander name—Accountancy Museum of India. “We look forward to acquiring classic documents of historical places, old business houses, of old nationalised and private banks,” says Ranjan.

On our way out, Ranjan hands us a pack of postcards (Rs 20 for five). Sepia-soaked images of the ICAI building, the first accountancy board and more. So now you can scribble a love note on the back of a photo of CD Deshmukh, out first finance minister. Will it work? You do the maths.