February 11, 2005

Garage for nothing

At a building near where I live, two brothers share guard duty. The older brother's wife, a total of four kids (each man has two sons) and the pair live in a small room at the back of the property. The brothers are very anxious to see their sons do well in life, so they work hard so the boys can attend a good nearby school. English medium.

For some years now, the boys have used an empty garage to study in every night. One of the residents of the building installed a bright fluorescent lamp there so they'd have enough light to read by. So every time I've visited, I've seen all four poring intently over their books, at least looking far more industrious about their schoolwork than I ever was about mine. One of the fathers also usually sits there, and in fact spends the nights there after the boys fall asleep.

But suddenly, all that's changed.

The empty garage belongs to one of the absentee owners in the building, I'll call him U, a doctor who has lived in the Middle East for some years. On one of his visits to Bombay, he explicitly allowed the guards to use the garage like this.

Another of the residents, let's call him V, bought a flat in the building only a few years ago, and made some alterations to it as soon as he moved in: illegal alterations. But he made them quietly, so that when the other residents noticed and brought up the issue, he replied: "Well, now they're done and nothing can be done about it." V has also had some trouble with tax authorities. Because not long after he moved in, notices suddenly appeared all over his front door and the entrance to the building, saying the Income Tax department was "attaching" his flat because he had not paid taxes amounting to some ten million rupees. V must have found his way out of that predicament, because he and his family are still in the flat.

In any case, V is now the Chairman of the "cooperative society" formed by the residents. V owns a car whose butt sticks out of his garage, it's that enormous. He has now bought another one, not quite as big, but he wants a garage for it as well. Can't have it sitting outside, of course not.

And all these strands -- the garage, the cars, the boys studying, the absentee owner and the slightly dubious Chairman -- now begin to come together.

V has his eye on U's garage for his second car. Only, there are these boys studying in there, this watchman spending the night in there. But V is nothing if not resourceful. He calls a meeting of the Managing Committee of the society. As Chairman, he presides over it. The Managing Committee passes a resolution saying they do not approve of the guard "sleeping" in the garage at night. To stop this, they resolve, they will "allow" the Chairman to park his car there.

Being abroad, U -- whose garage this is, remember? -- doesn't even know that the garage has been smoothly taken over. Nobody has asked him his permission. On a recent quick trip here, he doesn't even notice. Because while he is here, V doesn't use the garage.

But now that U is gone, V parks his car there every night. No place there for the guard to sit. No place for the four boys to study. But place for the car. Only part of its butt sticks out.

Naturally, V only did all this to stop the guard from "sleeping." He was worried for the security of the building. Sure.

The good thing is, he's not alone in monitoring the guards' activities. His second-floor neighbour once complained in writing to the Managing Committee that the guard was "taking a bath every day."


The Tobacconist said...

dear dilip,

As a son of someone who made it big in life after starting pretty small I feel sick when I read about people like V.

Is there nothing that can be done about it?

For me education is a priority and I respect a person who values the importance of this. I am seriously disgusted by what happened with the man and his children. I really wish there is something we can do.


The Tobacconist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
amit varma said...


V is in the wrong, no question about that. But he is in the wrong for no other reason than he is using U's property without his knowledge or approval, and is violating U's property rights in that regard. As Neela suggested, the key here is to get in touch if U and to inform him what is happening, so that he can decide what should be done with the garage, as it is his property.

If he wants the kids to study there, good for him. If he wants V's car parked in there, that's his choice. If he chooses the second option, there will be nothing morally wrong with that, as it is his property, and he can do what he wants with it as long as he is not affecting someone else's rights. If you feel more strongly about the kids than about V's behaviour, you will surely be able to make alternative arrangements for them. Your own home is nearby, isn't it?

I don't see why you need to mention V's "enormous" car or the income-tax notice (and the amount) in your post. All that is rhetorically manipulative, and irrelevant to this case, the merits of which can be judged by itself. Also, you imply that V must be a tax defaulter, while the opposite might well be true, as obviously no action was taken against him and he is still living there. Do you have evidence that he is guilty? I wouldn't ask, but you yourself have spoken out against "conjecture without evidence". Speaking of which, are you sure that he hasn't spoken to U already and taken his permission? Or is that an assumption you choose to make so you can lambast another middle-class villain in a self-righteous piece?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sanky, there are things being done about this. They were not relevant to the story, I felt. I wrote this much really to underline obliquely something I've always felt: cooperative societies are rarely cooperative.

Anonymous said...

Dilip D'Souza: you wrote - "cooperative societies are rarely cooperative". Smart line, but seems to me that they were quite cooperative with their chairman here.

Having said that, I agree entirely with Amit's insightful comment here, V is certainly the guilty party, purely because he was violating U's property rights. But if U, who owns the garage, was to mandate that V's car should be in that garage, I would see nothing to argue with. Your concern for the children is touching, but rather than shift the onus on others, why don't you let them study in your living room at home?

Perhaps I speak too soon, and you have already worked out an arrangement for them. If that is so, well done, and do let us know what it is.


Dilip D'Souza said...

> why don't you let them study in
> your living room at home?

They have.

> let us know what it is.