There are only three reasons for a desi security guard, taxi driver or waiter to be polite to you – you’re a foreigner; he expects a tip; both.
Of all the people who want your gratitude on banknotes, the species that irritates me most is the security-guard-who-doubles-as-parking-assistant.
He makes his appearance right after you have eased your car into a slot. You could have done with his help in finding space among the cars parked across two slots. You could have done with his help in making sure you didn’t scratch a car on your way in.
But he manifests himself right as you’ve turned the engine off and are about to get out – he whistles in panic, striking out his free arm, his facial expression reminiscent of Sunny Deol in one of those films where he’s about to rescue the heroine from a fire (caused, of course, by a bomb blast, courtesy Kashmiri militants).
When he reaches your car, he positions himself behind your rear windshield, frowns in concentration and flutters one hand toward himself, while the other supports the whistle, which is working overtime.
“Back, back. Slight left,” he calls.
“Why?” you ask.
His whistle answers: “Puhishoo, puhishoo, PUHISHOOOOO!”
You sigh, and reverse. Before you’ve moved six inches, his eyes bulge and he bangs on your windshield to ask you to stop. He then runs to the front of the car, and wags his panicky hand at you. You edge forward and stop. He glares at you impatiently, willing your car to move a micro-inch forward. Then, his eyes bulge again and he bangs your bonnet in horror, because an extra micro-inch will end the world.
“The bonnet!” you shriek, “You made a dent!”
He ponders for a second, and then yelps and draws one knee to his chest.
“Madam, you ran over my leg!” he moans, and then, adds magnanimously, “but it’s okay.” He limps off.
You meet him again an hour later, just as you’ve pulled your car out. Holding up his panicky whistle and panickier hand, he throws himself about your car and then grins ingratiatingly, while saluting you clumsily. “Good evening, madam.”
He then places his foot just behind your wheel – a clever reminder of the damage he has already accused you of wreaking, as well as a preventive measure, in case you intend to leave without paying him for his unsolicited services.
You roll down the window. “What?”
“Good evening, madam.” Salute.
Now, you enter a battle of wills. You raise your eyebrows. He raises the obsequiousness of his grin. You smile and begin to raise your window. He raises the stakes by jamming his foot against the wheel.
Finally, he decides the games are over. He holds out his palm and demands, “Tea, madam.” He then points at his foot. “You even ran over my leg,” he says, as if he were indulging you in some kinky, sadomasochistic role play.
Having lost all my small change to the vandals of my car, I contemplated carrying around a flask of tea with me. However, an objective analysis of my driving skills suggested that my seats would consume most of the beverage, and I abandoned the idea.
I decided the only way to stop paying these self-appointed parking assistants to do what they’re paid to do was to outrun them.
Since then, my motto has been: “Carry on, regardless.”
I have lost a heel from my one good pair of party slippers. I have nearly lost my toe to a tip-demander who decided to prove his worth by banging my door shut before I had got in. I have nearly squashed the foot of another during a race that was headed to a photo finish until he fell over. I have left a few square inches of my sari under the boot of another.
But, one day, I met my match. He guided another car to halt right behind my car, blocking my way. He then marched up to my window and banged on the glass. Salute. “Tea madam.”
“One minute, madam.”
He did take a minute to whistle till I nearly went deaf, urging the driver of the other car to move till I had a whole micro-inch of extra space.
“Ask him to move some more.”
[quote]”Sir, move a little bit. Madam needs more space. Lady driver”[/quote]
“More, madam?” he gave me a long-suffering glance, and then hunched along to the other driver and said, apologetically, “Sir, move a little bit. Madam needs more space. Lady driver.”
When ‘Sir’ had sighed, shaken his head and moved his car forward another micro-inch, enabling me to squeeze past, the parking assistant banged my bonnet again. “Tea, madam.” With a flourish, he indicated the luxurious space accorded to me.
“What for? Isn’t that why they pay you your salary?”
“Madam!” he gasped, appalled at my grasp of corporate economics, “I could have just been sitting in my chair.”
As I parted with my last coin, I thought wistfully of the many appraisals at which I could have used that line.