[From my Metro Now column]
Discussing New York City's traffic problems on one of his stand-up shows, comedian Jerry Seinfeld wondered aloud why car showrooms didn't have empty pedestals for visitors to look at (in addition to the ones on which latest models of cars are displayed). "I don't need another big car," he quipped, "but I'd be happy to dole out money for a brand new parking space."
Delhi is on a similar track. In most of the posher residential colonies, menacingly moustached guards sit outside houses for no purpose other than to wave batons at people who park where they shouldn’t. And when you go shopping, it's common (even in the once-idyllic Khan Market) to spend more time in the parking queue than in any of the shops.
When my wife and I moved into our new flat, we found there were two parking spaces inside the gate – one for us and one for the gentleman who lived upstairs. However, one car had to be parked behind the other, which was inconvenient because we usually come home very late at night while our neighbour leaves very early in the morning. "Let's each keep copies of the keys of both cars so we don't have to disturb each other at odd hours," he proposed, but though he's a pleasant-looking man this was much too homely a suggestion for my liking. As a compromise, I decided to park my car outside the gate, along the wall but within the borders of our own building so we weren't encroaching on anyone else's space.
It worked for a few days, but one night I returned to find an unfamiliar car sprawled carelessly across most of the wall as well as part of our gate. No driver in sight, of course. It had been a very long, very tiring day and as I contemplated this rogue vehicle barring the entrance to my castle, scenes from films flashed through my mind: a sweet Iranian lady having a nervous breakdown and smashing the windows of an SUV with her jack; Robert De Niro and the baseball bat-brain splatter in The Untouchables. After a few deep breaths I phoned our neighbour to politely ask if the car belonged to someone visiting him, but it didn't. He came downstairs and we stood there for a while, muttering half-sentences, fuming at the interloper. Finally he shrugged his shoulders and said: "Oh well, there's only one thing to do. Let's puncture two of the tyres."
I wasn't too taken by this idea, not because of ethical considerations but because it seemed obvious to me that if the owner of the vehicle returned to find his tyres punctured and my car freshly parked near the gate, he would put two and two together – and perhaps retaliate in kind. I voiced this thought to my neighbour, who was looking around for a long, sharp pin.
"But what if he deflates my car's tyres for revenge?"
"Oh, that's okay," he replied, not missing a beat, "You can always get it fixed early tomorrow morning. The important thing is that he will have learnt his lesson. It's a small sacrifice."
While I was gaping at him in astonishment, a small man came running around the corner, brushed between the two of us, leapt into the offending car and drove off before either of us could react. "I should have punched his face in," my neighbour said, looking at the receding taillights. "Yes," I replied, "and if he had punched you back you could have had your nose fixed in the morning. But at least he would have learnt his lesson."
However, I fear that this Gandhian pragmatism may not work for much longer, and so I'm stocking up on sharp pins. As alien beings studying our dead civilisation a hundred years from now will learn, tyre-deflation is the cornerstone of any sufficiently advanced human society.
[Previous Domestic Adventure posts: Home fires burning, Water tanks and grinning electricians, Tips for a successful marriage]