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Monday, November 21, 2011

The elevator diaries

How I learnt to make peace with the building lift


There’s something about lifts. Stepping into them is like giving yourself over to a malign god who takes pleasure in torturing you in unexpected ways. This is especially true when you live in a high rise building, a ‘skyscraper’ in Gurgaon. I live on the 19th floor of a fine tower. I love the view, I like that I can sit in my balcony and look down on the world, feel far removed from the tiny people walking on the road and can successfully pretend that I’m above it all, above the troubles, the complexes, the yearning and endless striving of the folk living closer to the ground. It’s a nice illusion.

Those people whose curry recipes I can replicate through faithful observation, whose washing I've watched flapping on rooftop lines, whose marriages I can observe unhindered through my sons' toy binoculars (I swear I've never peered!) actually have such blissful lives. They know nothing about the many terrors of taking the lift multiple times a day. Indeed, it sometimes feels like I spend a large chunk of my life travelling up and down in an enclosed metal coffin. I have nothing against metal coffins. They are spacious and clean enough and effectively move one from point A to point B. If I had been a more cheerful person, all sorts of nudge-nudge wink-wink sexual lift metaphors would have made me laugh. Instead, I'm the joyless type who thinks Sartre is great fun. So the building lift reminds me of death ceaselessly sliding up and down a string in a deep shaft. Seriously, this is the horrible claustrophobia-inducing image that leaps to my fevered neurotic mind every time the lights go off – and they go off many, many times in beautiful Gudgava -- and the lift noisily groans to a halt between floors.

The first time that happened, I immediately lost all my memsahib savoir faire and was reduced to a wailing nutcase comforted by an army of domestic help who tried every language to get me to shut up. Since all those languages sounded like a variation of Bengali, which I don’t speak, I continued to blubber uncontrollably. At first, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking of such fantastic mood boosters as Kamalahasan and Rati Agnihotri grooving in a stuck lift and romantically throwing Hindi film names at each other.
"Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram!"

But soon I grew convinced that I had approached the end of my life. What a terrible fate… especially when a whole unopened box of kaju katli was waiting for me in the fridge at home. Now, I’d never get a taste. I was about to hurl myself at the door, attempt to break through those reinforced metal sheets, which really seemed like the last chance in my state of delirium, when the lift started working.

Since then, I have become a veteran of the Stuck-In-The-Lift syndrome. The curious thing about SITL is that, like the Stockholm syndrome, it makes the victim sympathise with the captor. It’s all about perspective, see? When you have no choice you view your fearsome aggressor as a benign much-misunderstood person worthy of respect, even love. I have also introduced a certain yogic all-Indian mumbo-jumbo aspect to my relationship with the lift.

Now, when I step into the metal coffin, I give out good vibes; I exude love and positivity like some deranged baba. And voila, it’s worked! The lift now gets stuck between floors ONLY once a week. I can live with that.

These days, I don’t even look around fearfully at the others in that familiar death trap; I no longer jab the intercom and scream frantically at whoever dares to pick it up at the other end. Instead, I immediately sit down cross-legged on the floor, take a deep breath and chant silently to myself. This has had the not-unexpected result of making the other residents jittery whenever they are around me and the battalion of domestic helpers, that considered me a brainless bimbo after the first lift episode, now fairly bows when I pass.

To add a whiff of dangerous tantric madness to the whole mix, I sometimes also step out of home with uncombed hair and a fantastically wild look in my eye.

It works with the lift; it works with the super-competitive neighbours; it works with the suddenly obsequious domestic help. A memsahib cannot ask for more.

Note: The accompanying picture isn't mine. I'm too nervous to peer down the lift shaft AND click.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant!! The analogy of an elevator to an enclosed metal coffin & death ceaselessly sliding up and down a string in a deep shaft takes it away for me. On a lighter note "Elevator jokes are incorrect at so many levels".