Staying in a highrise with three lifts, of which two are perennially out of service, or if in service, two are perpetually being held hostage on floor 11 of our tower, the lift situation does get rather tricky during rush hours, aka morning and evenings.
The morning is when one waits and presses the buzzer going down with the misplaced notion that more frequent pressing of said buzzer will have one lift glide to a miraculous stop at ones floor. But no. Life has other plans, which does not take into account a six year old being dragged unwillingly to school and makes one wait interminably in the lobby, giving said six year old ample escape opportunities to run back into the house and slam the door shut, and climb up and latch the door to prevent fanatical parents from hauling him off to said font of knowledge and education. So one waits. And presses the up and down call buttons now. Frequently. One make desultory comments about how someone has kept the lift on hold for ten minutes on the 18th floor, and yes, that said lift is finally moving down, so maybe it will deign to stop on our floor. We wait with bated breath, as the lift moves down, slowly, slowly, hanging on to the collective offspring of our egg and sperm with a death grip, and it stops. We throw ourselves into said lift, only to leap back in horror as a Hound of Baskerville, with same drop dead red eyes at level with yours truly, jowls all aflutter and two men straining at the leash to restrain said hound from going after the child who has already taken himself out of the lift at a speed which if nurtured by a proper track coach could guarantee him a spot in track and field events of international importance.
All shaken, we wait for the next lift to meander our way, and after much collective button pressing and praying, during which I swear the child grows a foot, and the spouse gets a five oclock stubble, never mind he’d emerged from the home with Gilette smooth skin, a lift stops at our floor. Only, it is going up. And two irate workmen, complain bitterly about people who randomly press up and down buttons and make the lift stop at every floor, while we immediately adopt collective deafness.
At this point it has been 15 minutes since we stepped out of the house, and we almost think of starting the long trudge down via the stairway, when a lift finally condescends to stop and open for us. And heavens, it also happens to be going down. It also has four very serious residents accumulated from various floors, who have their laptops, briefcases and such accoutrements to a professional life hanging off their persons. The child will attempt to draw them out into random conversation, given that he considers it his godgiven duty to ensure no lull in conversation, any place, any time. Of which, two will respond to him cheerily, and two will not, which will have yours truly shoot dagger looks at said rude people, regardless of whether said rudeness could be ascribed to momentary deafness, immediate due payments of EMIs, or lack of morning bowel movement. Of course, the adults will smile a small tight smile and nod at each other, and make a grand show of moving around to create a space enough for all the folks wanting to get into the lift to do so. By the time the ground floor is reached, I need to be carried out on a stretcher having passed out from the fumes of aftershave and perfume all congealed into an assault of masculine, sensual olfactory overload.
I return home in the afternoon. I generally get a lift to myself. Sometimes, our building complex being home to minor television and film personalities, I find a sudden hush descending the building lobby where the watchmen and assorted drivers are normally engaging in hectic debates peppered with choice amicable expletives being used to add emphasis to whatever points they might be making. I know, by the immediate collective glance that goes past my divine presence and focusses on a spot directly behind me, that a celebrity presence is making an entry. And given the likelihood that I am likely to now share a lift with said celebrity presence, I get a little unnerved. Because it is very difficult. Do you smile politely as a fellow resident? What if they look away or refuse to acknowlegde your smile. Makes you feel like the pigeon poop on a statue. Happened to me one momentous lift trip when I smiled broadly at a 20th floor resident, who is tall, slim, impeccable and supposedly a popular television actress. She, without a momentary change of expression, turned to look intently at the ceiling of said lift. I had a Mother Earth Swallow Me Now moment, and busied myself with my phone. Some television celebrities are considerate enough not to put you in such a spot. They refuse to share a lift. They wait until they get a lift all to themselves, leaving me sniffing my underarms wondering whether its the BO that did it.
And of course, there are some nice ones. Who actually are pretty regular. Like the tall guy from the 11th floor, who always makes it a point to make polite conversation, or India’s ex-best loved bahu who is so simple you could miss her in a flash if you didnt look at her face, and think, hey, she looks familiar and ask her if you’ve met her before.
And there are other residents. Some of whom you do know, so you can carry out a casual conversation while you wait for a lift, and while in said lift. Some whom you dont know, but who are familiar, so you smile at and are excruiatingly polite with. And ask what floor they will go to if you happen to be near the controls rather than have them stretch themselves across your person to reach the buttons. And make neutral conversation about the Mumbai weather which is so wonderfully hot every single day of the year, that it remains a guaranteed conversation starter.
And there are some who regard themselves bubblewrapped with invisi-wrap from contaminants like fellow lift travellers and keep a painstaking five foot distance between yours truly and selves, and give you a truly indepth demonstration of the phrase Personal Space, when entering said lift. And keep a studiedly neutral gaze and pained pinched expression of permanent bad smell under their nose which prompts you to look at them like Prize Exhibit A and wonder how they manage such neutrality, when you are the kind who bounds up like a puppy picking up random conversation with any random lift sharer.
Sharing a lift in the evenings is rather a lesson in the need to carry deodorant in Mumbai’s muggy weather. And then the last point of this article. There are some folk I absolutely refuse to share a lift with. And they know who they are. Purple faces and all.