Going up

April 16, 2006

One of the features of apartment living which no builder talks about, but which is an everyday occurrence, is the interaction of the residents, not in the clubhouse, swimming pool, gym or lawns, but in the lifts.

Every apartment building has three types of residents: the “Push-the-Button-Even-to-Go-Down-One-Floor”ers, the “I-Avoid-Lifts-Look-How-Healthy-I-Am” ers, and the general majority, who use the lifts and go to the stairs when the lifts don’t work. While in the process of going down or up in the lift, it is, to me, a microcosm of life….there are sometimes strangers and sometimes friends, sometimes people from the workforce whose space coincides with your own for just those brief few minutes that you share the lift.

Sometimes people feel awkward about even these few minutes…should they smile at the other person in the lift? What if s/he doesn’t smile back? Where should one look while the lift is in motion? Stare into space? Often one has to stand facing the other person…avoiding eye contact is sometimes raised to an art form, until one or the other attains the blessed nirvana of the desired floor! What a strange intimacy it is to be for a few minutes in a completely closed space with a total stranger!

Sometimes, too, one may be the only outsider in a group of people using the lift; here, one is privileged to listen to tantalizing bits of conversation that never get finished, leaving one speculating about what it was all about. If you hear scraps like “You know, it was that operation that he didn’t like”, or “ I always prefer it toasted, you know!”, or some totally random comment like that, as you get off, your mind keeps wandering back to the remark and wondering what the context could have been!

Lifts in several buildings make excellent physical specimens of the residents by working erratically. If you live on the 6th floor and the lift has a tendency to stop at, say, three-and-a-half floors, you will walk the rest of the way up…and on later occasions, you may actually start walking up all six floors! In the same way, stranding of the lifts in between floors fosters goodwill in ways never envisaged by the builder…as you stand there, wondering why the alarm bell didn’t work, and yelling for help, you feel very friendly towards the neighbour you never knew before, who helpfully went and brought the security guard who ultimately helps you out!

A lift would give a very accurate picture of what has been happening in the building in the immediate past. There are the drops of milk from the morning’s delivery bags. Yes, you nod to yourself as you spot the leaves, the “Soppu” seller has been by today as well. Debris from the flat on the third floor, whose occupants have gone to San Jose( like twenty three other couples in the recent pas)t…you wonder how much the rent will be hiked up for the new tenants!

Lifts also seem to bring out the artistic, and less-than-artistic self-expressions of their users…who has not seen the ubiquitous “Pooja loves Kumar” messages as well as drawings that rival anything the ancients thought of in Khajuraho, before an exasperated residents’ association have the graffiti erased or painted over?

Writing about lifts reminds me of the cub reporter who was told by his editor to be as terse and to-the-point as she could in reporting on someone’s death. His news report read: “Mr Swami looked up the lift shaft to see if the lift was coming down.It was. Age 48.”

Think of me when you step into the next Otis or Johnson lift…and may your spirits get a lift as well as the rest of you!

This was inspired by a post in 's LJ about lifts..thanks !