The parking guys in Delhi: Meet the men who handle your cars
Last year, Delhi’s municipalities announced parking attendants would be trained in “good behaviour”. Complaints from motorists and a judge, who called the attendants “rude and unprofessional”, had prompted the decision. But many vouch for their driving skills -- the ability to squeeze in a car in cramped parking spaces. At one glance, they can distinguish your car key among a bunch of others.Updated: Mar 10, 2019, 00:50 IST
The unmissable sight of two dozen keys bunched together in a black metallic loop carried by parking attendant Ravinder Kumar is not reassuring for the owner of a Toyota Corolla to trust him with his own. Kumar knows the reason for the distrust. “I have heard of parking attendants taking imprints of car keys and preparing duplicates”.
While Ravinder is used to ‘suspicion and abuse’ in a city where more than three million registered cars, and many from other NCR towns, jostle for space, people like him are a key to finding a parking spot.
The parking attendants battle the notoriety of being rash drivers and rude. They face allegations of leaving dents in cars, and eating and relaxing in parked air-conditioned vehicles. In November 2017, a pregnant woman was fatally mowed down by a Honda City being parked by an 18-year-old attendant in Noida.
Last year, Delhi’s municipalities announced parking attendants would be trained in “good behaviour”. Complaints from motorists and a judge, who called the attendants “rude and unprofessional”, had prompted the decision.
But many vouch for their driving skills -- the ability to squeeze in a car in cramped parking spaces. At one glance, they can distinguish your car key among a bunch of others.
“We can accommodate 500 cars here. You just have to trust us,” says Yamin, who works at Khan Market. The parking space is spread over 1,800 square feet with an authorised capacity for 78 cars.
Yamin is cut short by his colleague, Afsar, who calls it an “exaggeration”. “But we surely can find space for 250 cars here,” says Afsar in between parking cars in three layers. And this, they will tell you, requires great parking abilities.
For Ravinder Kumar, who took up the job after dropping out of school, it took four months to get into the groove. When he started, he dented a car and barely escaped paying heavy compensation.
His senior, 34-year-old Sudhir Kumar -- a man with rough hands and dirtied dress -- has little time for conversations. He just moved two cars – a Toyota Fortuner and a Swift - to empty slots so that he can bring out a Hyundai Creta parked at the rear. The attendant from Baliya in UP then fills the gaps, ensuring the front spot is vacant for a new car.
Hopping in and out of four cars took Sudhir about 90 seconds as he deftly reversed them back and forth in the first gear, filling the air with screeching sounds. “I have never brushed a car against another in my 12 years as a parking attendant,” says Sudhir, with a hint of pride in his voice.
But Piyush Tewari, founder of NGO SaveLife Foundation, which works to save lives on roads, is unimpressed by such skills. “I am always afraid. I don’t know when a parking attendant will crash into me,” says Tewari. “There should be a minimum basic training before they start working. Many parking attendants are minors and many others do not even have driving licences,” says Tewari.
Sudhir, meanwhile, is working at a space where cars are parked in five layers, leaving the two attendants little time to relax. “Do you think we have the free time to switch on air-conditioners of cars and relax inside? I won’t spoil my body with air-conditioning,” Sudhir says, before running away to catch a fleeing driver.
Learning to pick the right key from a bunch is easier. Since the keys of a particular brand of cars usually look same, the first process is sorted out. “But distinguishing between keys of cars of the same brand is what requires effort,” says Raju Kumar Singh, an 18-year-old school student, who is a part-time attendant at Tilak Nagar.
Singh plans to study further after passing his board exams. Belonging to an impoverished family in Bihar, he hadn’t thought he would ever dream of owning a car. “But now I see everyone has a car. It is easy to get a car loan,” says Singh who will prefer any small Maruti car because “it is affordable and can be parked easily”.
But until Singh is in a position to quit this job, he will have to deal with the bloated egos of car owners. They abuse, slap and threaten police action over the smallest issues, says Amit Jha, a 52-year-old attendant in the same market.
The usual troubles begin the moment a car rolls into a parking space. Many motorists refuse to buy parking slips. “Jisko bulana hai, bula lo (Call who you want),” is the most common challenge.
“They know we are powerless and won’t call anyone for a few rupees,” says Jha, who worked at parking spaces across Delhi for three decades.
So, how do they deal with troublemakers? “If I know that a car owner has left a car but not collected the parking slip, I immediately drive another car in front of it and pull the hand brakes. Sometimes, I surround it with three cars to prevent escape,” says Rajan Pandey, a man from Meerut who works in Karol Bagh.
In Tilak Nagar, where Jha has only a single lane of cars to manage, he is luckier than many others. A busy roundabout 100 metres from his workplace often prevents car owners from getting away without paying.
A Ford EcoSport owner tries to get away during our conversation. Jha chases the car until the roundabout, knocks at the window and recovers the money. “He owns a car worth Rs 10 lakh but behaves like a thief when it comes to paying Rs 40,” says Jha, trying hard to catch his breath.
Akram Khan, a parking attendant in north Delhi’s Rani Bagh, avoids confrontations. “Years ago, a car owner I had quarrelled with had brought a knife and slit the tyres of some cars,” says Khan.
But aren’t parking attendants often rude? “We stand and work for 12-14 hours every day, and that sometimes makes us feel irritable,” says Anuj Kumar Yadav, who works in Karol Bagh.
Yadav says car owners are “unforgiving” when it comes to their vehicles. “When I handle 500 cars a day, there is bound to be a mistake once in a while. But I have often been blamed for dents I have not made,” says Yadav.
The fear of damaging a car is even greater in Khan Market, where they have to handle expensive vehicles. Afsar takes over the wheel if the car is not chauffeur-driven. “I do not own a car, but I frequently park BMWs and Fortuners. For some reason, owners of expensive cars are more willing to hand over keys compared to those with smaller cars,” says Afsar.
But almost all of them will tell you that Delhi’s car owners lack basic parking skills. “Most of them are clueless how to park parallel or reverse drive a car into a parking spot. But some of them have such big egos that they don’t trust us with their cars even if they struggle to park,” says Pandey.
Most attendants are paid between Rs 300 and Rs 500 every day. The pressure builds when some are allotted certain slots and have to meet a certain monetary target every day. Jha says he has to pay his contractor between Rs 500 and 1,000 every evening, depending on the footfall. Whatever remains stays with Jha.
Until five years back, the earnings, he says, were good, but not anymore. He used his savings to buy a small house in north Delhi’s Wazirabad, but has far not realised his dreams of owning a car. “I will live with the joy of handling the most expensive of cars,” says Jha, adding the inclusion of sub-contractors has eaten into their earnings.
An attendant in Khan Market, who is on NDMC’s payroll and under no pressure to meet daily targets, says his willingness to accommodate cars on the busiest days has won him many friends, including politicians and journalists.
“On Saturdays, when many car owners go round in circles in Khan Market before finding a parking space, I manage to find a spot for my friends. They value me,” says the attendant, not willing to share his identity.
Pandey in Karol Bagh too has found little joys through his work. He can tell the registration plate of many cars by merely glancing at their number plates. “If I am in a good mood, I greet the car owner and tell him he belongs to a certain place. I smile on seeing the surprise on their faces.”