Friday, September 14, 2007

Domestic adventures contd: lessons in tyre-deflation

[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]


  1. "..outside the gate, along the wall but within the borders of our own building...".
    If that means outside your compound, and along your own compound wall, surely that's a public space, where anyone can park?
    In Bangalore's residential localities, people park along other people's compound walls all the time. Are things different in Delhi?

  2. Grey area. For private houses, there's usually an unstated respect/fear-your-neighbour thing where you don't park along the wall just outside someone else's house (that's assuming of course that there are no guards to chase you away in the first place!). But in this case my point was that the intruding car had covered part of our gate as well, which meant I couldn't park inside and the upstairs guy couldn't take his car out if he needed to.

  3. What? You didn't think of Godard's Week End?

  4. Add John Goodman from Big Lebowski to that list.
    The first time I was in Delhi, my driver flattened three cars. Standard penalty for double parked cars, is it?

  5. Falstaff: also Koyaanisqatsi, with its cars-as-conveyor-belt-sausages, or, for that matter, real-life footage of traffic jams leading up to Woodstock.

    Shodan: can't believe I forgot Goodman. I'm sure there are a few other car-smashing scenes I'm missing.

  6. I have found that even in a place like Delhi, a polite note stuck beneath the wipers works most of the time. Unless the space hogger is an occasional visitor to the colony.

  7. But wait, you puncture his tyres, how does he finally move the car out of the way? This in turn prevents your neighbor from getting his car out either the next morning, as it's blocked by the parking space offender.

    I loved the score to Koyaanisqatsi by Glass. I'm dying to shoot something a la untouchables or something of the sort to it.

  8. Asterix: ref. a polite note stuck beneath the wipers works most of the time, that definitely won't work if you have to go somewhere urgently and there's someone cosily parked in front of your gate. In such a case, perhaps one can leave a polite note under the wiper AND smash the rest of the vehicle to little bits that can then be swept away from in front of the gate.

    Renovatio: Have to do more research, but I think it's supposed to be done in such a way that the guy doesn't realise his tyres are busted until he's actually driven the car some distance.

  9. :-) you are right. There is no solution for that situation.

  10. Have noticed this sort of thing happening often in Delhi where battles over parking spots are taken as seriously as World War II. There ought to be a caveat to buying a car - buy a parking spot first, then the car.

  11. oh man.. that's a touchy topic! I can write epics on my adventures in "pushing out people who park in wrong places, often inconveniencing others deeply". I have come across ppl who gracefully accept their mistake and also (more so) across others who start arguing/abusing!

    And deflating tyres is a necessary step.. especially when you get to realise, that there's just no way you can get out of your premises. I/We have also resorted several times, to calling the police and asking them to remove the unidentified vehicle away from us for it could be as dangerous as the next terrorist threat. And yes, that SURELY works, especially when the offending vehicle is parked for a long period with the owner absconding.

  12. Must add - in the case of police help, a crane transfers the vehicle away and the offender ends up paying at *least* the crane charges, even if no other penalties :). Much satisfaction comes :P.

  13. Thought you might enjoy this snap: