The Man from Madras Musings was one of the many innocents who lauded the installation of automated parking meters all along North Mada Street. He hailed it as the coming of a high tech dawn to this international city of ours. Alas! Those meters have, like the proverbial Arabs, long folded their tents and vanished into the dead of the night. Those that remain have ceased functioning. And, so, matters are back to where they started from – a man who claims to be an employee of the Corporation (and to prove it, he wears a faded luminous jacket with the civic body’s logo) is now controlling the parking.

Shopkeepers who do not want vehicles in front of their outlets have long since squared him up and so, within the narrow space that is available, there are slots that are out of bounds for the average vehicle. The man does not issue receipts for the fee that he collects and woe betide anyone who has the gumption to ask for one. The rates quoted are arbitrary as well. A placard above the once-upon-a-time space for a parking meter has it that the rates are Rs. 5 for an hour, Rs. 10 for two hours and Rs. 15 for three. But the man on the ground does not recognise anything but a ten-rupee note and multiples.

The other day MMM was guided into a slot by attendant and then asked to pay Rs. 10, which MMM did without a murmur. Returning after a half-hour visit to the temple MMM got into his car and was reversing (with, it must be acknowledged, much guidance from the parking attendant who, from the way he shouted and waved his hands, could have been a coxswain on a boat) when his eye fell on the placard that clearly spelt out the rates. MMM then made bold to ask the attendant for Rs. 5 as he had parked his car in the slot for less than an hour.

The attendant could not at first believe his ears. Then he looked rather pityingly at MMM for his audacity in asking for a refund. Seeing however that MMM was rather persistent about it, he said that MMM had been away for two hours and so there was no question of any return of money. To this MMM (the honking traffic that was building up notwithstanding) said that he would call a neighbouring vagrant as witness. The vagrant, sensing that he could make money immediately, turned up and nodded.

The attendant knew he was beaten. He paid up grudgingly and muttered under his breath about cheapskates that came in cars and sought accounts for a paltry Rs 5. MMM was not bothered about it and gave the money to the vagrant who went off happily. Well, at least someone benefited from the whole matter.

However, what is sad is that our Corporation, having taken the correct step of mechanising the collection of parking fees, has gone back to such a primitive system that is prone to chronic misuse.