The Great Indian Lift
This column appeared in Femina Magazine dated Aug 7th.
There stands a 12-storey building where my ancestral home in my “village” in Punjab used to be. At the entrance there is a watch man who needs your name in his sekutree (security) book- a pile of papers so filthy I can see the germs on it dancing on it, the way they are in the microscopic shot of Domex ads.Cars of the residents are Tetris-ed into any possible available walking space.
It’s like any other Bombay building. I pensively look up into the sky and bemoan the concretisation of our country and only realize it when I walk cheek first into an actual concrete pillar. While rubbing the slaked lime off my face, I lament about how we used to play in the gardens and now kids and neighbours don’t even know each other’s names.
It’s then I hear a familiar ding, and see the metal elevator doors open to release a tube full of people into the lobby. Some looked relieved to hit the fresh air, some just shuffle out while looking at their feet and some sprint walk out of the lift while carrying 2 babies and 7.5 shopping bags. I get into the lift with the group waiting in the lobby. It made me realize that the further we recede into our rented flats, the more The GreatIndian Lift* remains the last bastion of contact. Physical contact, mental contact and sometimes Cue Alok Nath…emotional contact. There are 5 types of people you meet on The GreatIndian Lift*
- The Lift Man. Color me middle class, but I’ve been in more buildings that DON’T have a lift man who’s exhausting job it is to ask “Which floor?” and then press the corresponding button. Contrary to The Big Bang Theory stereotype, the averageIndian cannot be trusted to know numbers apparently? I wonder what qualifications you need to get that job.
- The Hold Uppers
These can be sub-classified into 2 more:
- The forgetful ones: They will always forget something as soon as the lift opens to pick them up on their floor. They will then make the entire lift wait because “I can’t remember if the geyser is off, let me check again, one sec plz.”
- The ones who are saying good bye: In the old times, this would be that neighbor who would stand at the door of your house and chat with your mother for hours. She would not come in, but in some weird paradox not say good bye either…just stand at the door and chat for hours. Thanks to The GreatIndian Lift* they can now hold up several people while they discuss weather there was too much aamchur in the daal or if they are definitely going to be at Sushil’s party this weekend or not. Nothing like standing squeezed up next to a stranger while 2 women are recounting the sordid details of what happened the LAST time they made it to Sushil Uncle’s party.
III. The hurry-uppers
Just like there is someone who needs “one second,” to keep the lift waiting, there is the person on the lift who NEVER has that one-second to spare. Every time “The Holder Uppers” make them wait, they are the one’s in charge of making the “TCCCCCCHHH” sound loudly. That TTTTTCCH, is my favorite Indianism, it perfectly encompasses our attitude towards public confrontation- we want to have it, but we don’t, so we’ll just make do with this sound spitty sound. It ALWAYS gets the point across.
- The lift is my make up room.
Women of course, are very guilty of this. No time better to whip out your compact and wipe out that oily sheen then the 1-minute down from the 7th floor of the building. These are also probably already bathed in enough perfume to cause the hair in your nostrils to burn up. Men, not to be left behind, will rush intolifts with ties in their hands and undone shirt sleeves. The all essential function of getting ready happens then, in the lift itself.
- The lift is my dining room
I only know the girl on the 3rd floor as “boiled egg girl” because she enters the lift every single time with one single unsalted boiled egg shoved into her hands by her mother. Occasionally people will have a piece of toast stuck in their teeth as if someone flung it at them like a Frisbee and they had to catch it with their mouth.
As the lift dings back down to the ground floor, I wonder if I’ve just done the creepiest thing in the world by riding an elevator of a building I didn’t even live in anymore. I didn’t know any of the people I had got into the lift with, but knowing the types of people that we see in The Great Indian Lift they all some how seemed…like home.