Elevator Enlightenment: The Many Wonders of the Indian Lift

Social Commentary

Elevator Enlightenment: The Many Wonders of the Indian Lift

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

You would make a poor learner if you failed to draw lessons from the innocuous elevator. The lift is a microcosm, however imperfect, of the lives and minds of the Indian Homo sapien. From cultural existence to social milieu, from economics to leadership — how much there is to discover and discern! What’s more is that it is free and you don’t even have to submit to a hairy messenger of God for a piece of this enlightenment.

Thanks to the lift, I now find greater acceptance among peers. It all started when a woman colleague huffed and puffed her way to the seat adjacent to mine one day. Apparently, she had had a rather harrowing journey from the ground floor to the eighth. Trapped in a claustrophobic chamber, she had to deftly balance on one leg while using all her grey cells to differentiate between deviant behaviour and the science of volume. Being an expert in lift psychology, it was a cakewalk to quell any suspicions about the numerous “body touches” she seemed to have suffered.

“Tch tch. No re. It’s not that,” I said. “Indian males are just a bit emotional and hence, ‘touchy.’ And you will be surprised to find out they are quite liberal, never discriminating between man or woman. Hell, they shower their affection on inanimate objects as well.”

My colleague stared at me like a wide-eyed student who suddenly realised that her annoying neighbour, who perennially reeked of tobacco, was Gautam Buddha reincarnate. And so I continued.

Why, only last week a guy barged into the office elevator, squeezing himself into a space that could make a walking stick uncomfortable. Then finding himself entrenched firmly on my feet, he immediately made a grand display of remorse by tapping furiously on his cellphone.

Or take my friend’s example. A rather diminutive character, he found himself caught between two fleshy gentlemen who were making their way up to the first floor from the ground with Superman’s steely determination. Suddenly, he discovered his crotch was pinned to one guy’s leg — the gentleman didn’t seem to mind this at all — while the other hero indulged my friend with aroma therapy from the wet patch on his armpits. Such benevolence.

“That’s not all,” I told her. “A lift is a great educator — of issues economic and social.”

Take the lady who looks like Bappi Lahiri in my building lift, for example. She was in an animated discussion with a like-minded neighbour about the sheer absurdity of maids needing salary hikes every year. After all, these hikes and Diwali bonuses were eating into their BMW-driving, iPhone-wielding  husbands’ meagre income. A few intelligent exchanges later, they decided to cap future hikes at ₹300, once in three years.

Class considerations also determine which lift you take. Once a dapper gentleman and I struck up a conversation about traffic in the building compound. I remember him saying something along the lines of “another ten minutes and I would have peed inside the car”. So, I found it rather surprising that he preferred to wait than get into a lift used by maids, cleaners, and the coconut vendor.

“The lift is also a great arena for observing how to be a leader,” I said sagely. “Watch and imbibe.”

Class considerations also determine which lift you take. A gentleman I know preferred to wait than get into a lift used by maids, cleaners, and the coconut vendor.

Middle-aged people often barge inside an elevator barking orders into their cellphones. You get two insights here: This is a business that cannot wait, and that these cellphones have state-of-the-art networks that can work inside elevators and that this high-end tech isn’t offered to plebs like you and me. These leaders don’t smile at each other, and if they aren’t talking on the phone, they are checking emails.

Leaders in a lift also open your eyes to the world of business travel. There was this one titan who yapped on about his recent travels — Hong Kong, Japan, China — his pitch slightly rising when a young female entered. Such titans not only speak a combination of American and British English, but also know how to go back to their roots when required. The travelling gentleman once unleashed a verbal volley in Hindi to his driver, demanding to be rushed to safety the next time a famous politician’s death threatens unrest.

My female colleague was not looking amused or enthused in the least. So I decided to tell her about the CEO who got me interested in gastronomy analysis.

This man and his tough demeanour once burped in the faces of me and a friend. In this benevolent act, he stimulated our intellectual and aromatic senses into wondering what was for breakfast. I was convinced it was mooli-ka-paratha while my friend thought gobi was the chief ingredient. What we did agree upon was that garlic and onion raita were present at the scene of the crime.

My colleague was desperately trying to look busy, but I had one last lesson to impart. “Debate and discussion are integral aspects of elevators,” I told her. “Learn from it.”

A neighbour and his wife once got into a debate about my physique to my face inside the lift. The wife thought I had gained weight while the husband said I was perfect. I must admit it was embarrassing, but, I did appreciate the healthy exchange of opinion that is sorely lacking on social media these days.

The next day, the lady and her sorority formally recognised me as a praiseworthy human. The issue they’d been discussing was the upcoming Diwali contributions and how miserly the world had become. So, digging into my reserves of community feeling, I flipped out my wallet and also promised to edit any pamphlets they may bring out. Praise was the order of the day, and thereafter, the eminent lady looked upon me as Bollywood’s next sensation. And I only had the elevator to thank for it.