The entry to our building in Delhi was watched twenty-four hours a day by a daytime guard and a nighttime guard, both of whom sat under the tree just beyond our entryway on a plastic chair ripped out of a 1970s bus station waiting room.
But our neighbors in our building clearly worried that the guards might fall asleep or perhaps look the other way while would-be burglars snuck in to murder the lot of us. That’s why our building was protected at night by a secondary means of security: a big ol’ metal padlock on a big ol’ iron gate.
The padlock was affixed to the inside of the gate promptly at eleven every night. Hanging it on the inside was convenient for the neighbor in charge of locking it; but for Jenny and I, who often stayed out later than our entryway’s curfew, the padlock was usually an almost insurmountable obstacle between us and a good night’s sleep.
Arriving home later than the point at which the night had officially been deemed too dangerous to leave our stairwell unprotected, we’d be forced to reach through the bars and contort our wrists in an effort to insert our key upside-down and backwards, the iron bars making deep rusty grooves in our cheeks as we pressed forward to see the tiny hole for which we were blindly shuffling.
Difficult enough to open when sober, that padlock was even worse after a festive night on the town.
One evening when I was out of the city for work, Jenny arrived home at two in the morning. It was two hours later than she’d intended to stay out, but the friendly chap who’d offered a ride home from the party ended up holding her hostage during an emergency trip to West Delhi: just as they’d driven out of the parking lot, one of the other passengers received word that his mother was “refusing to eat until he came home”, and this passive-aggressive parenting was apparently so urgent that dropping Jenny off at our house two miles away from the venue was time the driver simply couldn’t waste.
Nor would the hyper-chivalrous driver pull over and let Jenny find an auto—“Not at this time of night!”
So Jenny was forced to endure a miserable midnight driving well beyond Dwarka. When she finally reached home hoping for nothing more than to fall into bed, that’s of course when the padlock mistook her key for a burglar’s lockpick and refused to accept it. As the neighborhood guard slept behind her and, presumably, criminals of all manner prowled about looking for innocent maidens just like Jenny, the lock simply wouldn’t open. The stairwell was well protected, yes — but locked outside of the building, Jenny was exposed to the elements and the evil of the night.
A small price to pay for peace of mind against the dangers of the Delhi night, right?
Our neighbor Amba was very kind to answer Jenny’s panicked two AM call.