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Confessions of a lift man

india Updated: Jun 29, 2008 00:07 IST
Praveen Donthi
Praveen Donthi
Hindustan Times
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I am fascinated by lifts. I don’t exactly know why, but I thought I should try and be the lift operator for this column.

“Most boring job,” my colleague remarked. “Yeah I know,” I said, and bit the bullet.

I suffer from a watered-down version of claustrophobia but still I love lifts. As a kid, it helped me distinguish between the words ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’. But I actually had to wait till graduation, my first brush with a city, to enter a lift.

“Come clean shaven please,” said the corporate head of the facilities of the building, after giving the permission. I probably had a two-day-old stubble.

That set me thinking. There are rules to follow. I thought it would be better to go prepared, so I befriended a lift operator (let’s call him Rajinder for convenience) to learn the written/unwritten rules.

He answered many of my questions, but he suddenly stopped, looked at me and asked, “Aap naukri ke liye aaye hain kya?” (Are you here for a job) I smiled and said no. “Sir,” he explained, “the fellow in the next lift is a graduate and is also doing a computer course.”

The lift men, I found out, work in 8-hour-shifts, and only take super-quick breaks for relieving themselves once or twice. You can make small talk with the ‘passengers’ but within limits. “You should have an eyesight of a pigeon.” And so on.

The next day, I reached after the peak hour rush.

The operator was to stand next to me. Rajinder had warned me that the lift could get stuck. “Kamzor dilwalon ke liye nahin hai yeh kaam” (This is not for the faint-hearted). But Google assured me the safety record of lifts — moving millions of passengers every day with extremely low rate of accidents — is unsurpassed by any other vehicle system.

I sat on the long-legged stool and it felt like a cockpit: me the pilot and the lift-operator the co-pilot. I stumbled a couple of times as the passengers told me where they wanted to go:

Tenth floor, dus, fourth please, paanch dabaade bhai, sixteenth floor please.

“South Indian khana hai,” said a man to his friend looking at the bags carried by two delivery boys.

The lift has its own weather, the smells and sounds take their roles so seriously that you wonder if it’s a run up to the Oscar season for them.

“What do you do in case of bad smells?” I asked my co-pilot. He got the drift: “I open the doors for sometime. People are smart, they understand.” I prayed it shouldn’t happen during my shift.

As the crowd thinned, I could only listen to the sound of a gigantic bee humming in my ear. I looked at the fan above.

“Ek, do mahina lagta hai sir aadat padne ke liye,” said the co-pilot. (It takes a month or two to get used to). They can read minds. As soon as I have enough money, I am going to produce a TV show, ‘Kya aap lift-operator se tez hain?’

Two hours into my job, monotony was the weather inside. I took my creative licence and drifted away from the boring beige walls into a technicolour film world.

Lift was a character in that cult French noir film, Elevator to the gallows and that song from Kamal Haasan’s Ek Duje Ke Liye. Lift is used to keep the suspense alive or surprise the viewer. Salma Hayek’s bold guest appearance on the TV serial Ugly Betty is a great example. Few were shocked, but many were only pleasantly surprised, including me. I should revisit my YouTube again.

My thoughts were interrupted by my co-pilot. Our ‘reliever’ had come. I tried to get up but my left leg was numb by then. The all-knowing smile again made its brief appearance on my co-pilot’s face.

I walked out of the museum of moods in search of the sun I never acknowledged otherwise.