Difficult situations inspire ingenious solutions and we Indians are excellent at this. The saying: ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’ fits us perfectly. A recent trip to Mumbai has me blown away by the resourceful and shrewd methods used to tackle parking woes.

It is the same old story everywhere in our bustling mega cities. Finding parking space in any city is a big hindrance. Mumbai has also become one of the most helpless cities drowning in a sea of vehicles while battling with its never ending parking problems. While some residential areas offer parking area, it is extremely difficult for an average middle class person to afford dedicated parking space.

If you go by the statistics, the city is home to 15 lakh cars and has parking space for not more than 8000 cars. There are some hundred pay-and-park areas in the city. The average vehicular density per square metre here is 591 which is way higher than average national density which is 300. This makes crises and conflicts an integral part of your driving experience.

Perhaps the most acute problem in this space-starved city is the paucity of parking spaces for car owners. From parking on roads, which leaves cars open to vandalism, to hiring pricey chauffeurs simply to avoid the pain of finding a parking space, Mumbaikars are finding different ways to tackle this problem. There isn’t much option when it comes to parking space as most lanes get filled with cars before you even return from work.

People have tried all kinds of stunts from staying awake to keep a watch on the car and stop people from damaging it to giving keys to the watchman to alternate the parking and avoid the car from being towed away.

People prefer using bikes due to parking issues and use the car only under duress. During those times, a family member usually keeps sitting in the car so that it doesn’t get towed away. I was jokingly told that at times the cars didn’t move for months or even years and if they did, then the next best option would be to leave a family member standing in the parking space with their arms extended till they returned!

What was most interesting to see was old, broken-down and junked two wheelers – be it scooters or motor-cycles being used to book parking slots. This is how it works – you roll out your car from your parking slot and drive a little ahead and park on the side. Then you bring in say two or three old two –wheelers parked on the cark into your parking slot and chain them in a line, thus blocking your space for your return.

This ensures that nobody can use your space or park their vehicle in the interim period you are away! You then drive off with not a care in the world. It is quite a sight to see when you drive through the lanes and by-lanes of Mumbai that house imposing structures, clustered buildings and new high rise developments.

The streets though exude a welcoming air and feel like an urban village. Such neighbourhoods are typical of affordable, low-rise development schemes, which old-time suburban dwellers can relate to well. Areas are affected by high traffic congestion and all through the day, heavy traffic runs through these areas, and the footpaths off the main roads and the by-lanes are busy with pedestrians and hawkers.

The local watchman usually keeps a set of keys to these two-wheelers and one call from the owner galvanises him into action and the bikes are quickly put back on the curb just in time for the car to drive into the parking slot. The bikes are mostly in dilapidated conditions, extremely rusted and some resemble pieces of scrap.

These have been bought from ‘Chor Bazaar’ - the automobile section of the thieves market. This is where you find various old scooters, bikes and cars being brought in and chopped down into small pieces and their spare parts are collected and sold to other small traders and shops in the market. It takes only a few minutes to chop down a second hand or a stolen car by four people in this market.

Various car and scooter parts like engines, car doors, bike mud guards, scooter tyres, car tyres, metal frames are collected and sold to other shops. These spare parts, brakes, horns, engines are then sold to people wanting to buy them at throw away prices.

From this junk yard you could rescue broken down parts and build your own scooter/mobike/car. This is a paradise for the automobile industry and automobile makers who want to create their machines from scratch…or better still…use them as ‘parking tools’…which is the need of the moment!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Mumbai resident owning a car will always be in search of parking space. The hunt for car parking is, of course, not limited to Mumbai, but is the common frustration with which most major cities of the world grapple.

Mumbai has circumstances which exacerbate the problem further, being an island as well as a commercial hub, making for an exaggerated density of both humans and vehicles. Compound that with the public assumption that the government and city corporation are our ‘mai-baap’ and must provide free parking space to all vehicle owners, and you have set the stage for an urban nightmare.

While some residential and office complexes have car parks, the average middle class citizen, who can today afford a car, has nowhere to park. For most, therefore, the solution is to park on the streets, sometimes double and triple parking. This obviously makes life difficult for drivers and for the traffic police who are unable to clear congested roads, making traffic jams inevitable.

Mumbai needs a two-pronged strategy to tackle the problem. First, is to accept that the government and BMC can and should charge for parking vehicles in the streets, as they do in many cities worldwide. Second, private enterprise must be encouraged to build car parking tower blocks across the city to ease the problem.

In the developing world, domestic migration is driving the move from rural to urban living. Almost everyone wants to live in cities, which were not always properly planned and developed to accommodate the millions of new residents. Globalization pushed these cities into newly realized economic hubs.

Along with economic growth is the rise of new car owners, ready to burn rubber and itching to find their perfect parking spot … if they can find one at all. Mumbai City has many moods. From flashy nightclubs to local chaiwallas on their humble bicycles, the quirks of the city are varied. And adding to its character are some unique traits that define parking.