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How money and magic overlap in Asia (The Funny Side)

By Nury Vittachi : ALWAYS AGREE QUICKLY with wacky, annoying people who accost you with irritating ideas. It usually makes them go away faster.


But not always. An accountant friend said to me the other day that she had realized that her profession was actually a religion. "Of course!" I replied. "Stands to reason. Wow, look at the time. Shouldn't you be heading off to do something really important right now?"

Unfortunately nothing was more important than delivering me three items of proof for her assertion. Number one: yoga has become a dominant cultural practice in the world (there are now more aficionados of this Indian discipline in the US than Methodists and Presbyterians put together), and modern yoga was developed by an accountant. "Lahiri Mahasaya maintained that there was no separation between his day job as an accountant and his work as a yogi," she said.

Well, of course. Both are about sitting on your bottom for long periods, dealing with annoying people and trying not to fall asleep.

Her second piece of evidence was in her bag: a book on the philosophy of accountancy which said that accounting rules attempt to grow ethical corporations in the same way that religious codes attempt to grow ethical communities. "Accounting is coming to be understood as 'making' the very things it pretends to describe," author James Aho wrote. This was getting too deep for me.

Her third piece of evidence: historians recently translated ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and discovered that the female deity Seshat is actually "the goddess of accountancy". Seshat wears a head piece with seven pointed studs and a leopard-skin dress. I seriously think this should be made compulsory uniform for all accountants, especially the guys.

After listening to this, I responded with the line which becomes second nature to all married men facing strong-minded women: "Yes, dear, I'm sure you're right."

But maybe she actually was. The following morning I was amazed to receive an email from a reader with a link to a news report about a "living god" in Nepal. Chanira Bajracharya, aged 15, had decided to retire from her role as the holy incarnation of a deity to rejoin normal humanity, it said. "I want to study accounting," she told reporters. The article added that she has been living a solitary life of study and contemplation and had no friends of her own age. Clearly, fate had prepared her for life as an accountant.

Money and magic overlap a lot in Asia. The guy who runs the Chinese funerary shop near my office, which sells paper replica products to burn ceremonially for your dead ancestors, has stocked up on paper iPads so that people can send Bitcoins to grandpa. I haven't been able to explain Bitcoins to myself, so have no hope of explaining it to grandpa's ghost.

Anyway, here's a beancounter joke. Q: "Did you hear about the accountant's prayer?" A: "Lord, help me be more relaxed about insignificant details, starting tomorrow at 10.53:16 a.m."

And here's a rather topical "accountants are boring" joke: Q: "What do undertakers do to liven up their Christmas office parties? A: Invite an accountant."

In the end, I told my accountant friend that I would accept that her profession was a religion if she would wear for me the same costume as Seshat wore in ancient Egypt: a seven-pointed crown and a leopard-skin dress. Fingers crossed.

(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent flier. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)

--IANS (Posted on 20-12-2013)

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