The Liftman

Monday mornings were white for him. White backgrounds, white walls, white collars and white shirts and all white fresh young faces around him with their white eyes and in them all a fairer dream. The rush used to be usually more rigorous during the start of the week. And all the time he felt jitters as the door opened as being the first person to connect them to their professional lives. He felt proud to be an usher. He knew everyone well, even if the person was completely unaware of him. He knew very well who got down on which floor; he was an expert of that fact. He also could determine who the person was by just smelling their scent. And that’s what he elementally did, he never looked into any persons eyes unless the position of people asked him to and he guessed who was present in the lift with just their scents dispersing off. And there were some people who he looked into their eyes and just smiled, wishing them a ‘good morning’ and a ‘good day’ with just his brown honest eyes, pure smile and slightly bowing his head. He was everyday dazzled by the atmosphere with early ringing phones, friends having a slightly casual talk, people saying good morning to one another and all the warmth of the circle in the lift which revolved around him every time. He smiled and wondered like a child.

And when the rush hour used to pass his day would be filled by carrying a little score people scattered scantily over time until evening. So in the middle of the day he used to do errands, like helping the employees to transport the photo-copier machine, help the handicapped recruits up the floor and sometimes even some lowly jobs like bringing water or coffee. He never minded these jobs, he always felt happy to be productive, to help people in any way he could. Today’s day was also all the same.

It had been ten years since Ramnaresh Yadav worked as a liftman. He had seen two phases of his company- the former as an offspring, the latter as a growing youth. Formerly he had a lot of work to do. They used to have those old styled Johnson and Co. lifts the rusty gates of which had to be dragged mightily. And the liftman had sturdy hands for the job. He opened the lifts with agility yet as sensitively as he could. He considered himself acrobatic in that art. He still remembers those moments when there used to be any problem with the lift, how he with his workman tools used to quickly fix things and how people admired his skill. He used to switch on the generator swiftly whenever electricity was off. He was exceptionally skillful in his work. The company back then really valued his work. But now the new modernized lifts had made his work almost nullified. Everything was new; the lifts, the office and people.

It was lunch time now and hence there was nobody in the lift. The liftman reserved twenty minutes every day for lunch. Every day he would sit near a corner table in the canteen near the kitchen and would eat his lunch and would have a formal talk with one of the waiters. Then he would reach back as soon as he could. And that day also the same things happened.

After lunch when he was in the elevator in the afternoon, he saw Mohan the newly made clerk enter the lift. Mohan was a peon once, the one who used to provide prints to the employees whenever they required, and used to serve them coffee and tea. He was once the liftman’s acquaintance. He had learnt a little about typing lately and had asked for a favor, particularly he had begged. And due to flattering one of the officers he had become a typist and from then his life took a drift. Mohan was dressed crisp and white, his hair was oiled and styled old fashioned. He tried to avoid any talks with the liftman. But the liftman didn’t stay silent. He broke a cord-

“Mohan Babu how well you look! How are you doing?”

Mohan in the first sight tried to ignore him.

“Where are you these days Mohan Babu?”

“Hey you…stop calling me by this name. Don’t you have any respect for your seniors? You filthy illiterate villager!”

The liftman was numb, he couldn’t say anything. He had observed the change in Mohan’s behavior, how it transitioned periodically. When Mohan used to be a typist, he would still have the courtesy to say hello, but now he considered himself too superior to afford this friendship.

“But Mohan Babu I was just…”

“Just shut up and stop calling me that. I am not Mohan Babu anymore. I am not a peon anymore. I am an officer now! Look from where to where I reached and you stayed where you were! Learn to respect your seniors Yadav!” said he and left as his floor had come.

The Liftman was distraught. They both had been friends once, but now they couldn’t even have a conversation. The liftman thought Mohan was right some or the other way. He hadn’t completed his education and he deserved to be where he was, while Mohan had knowledge and with it he progressed.

People came and they went while he was still there sitting wistfully. He saw them all in their whiteness, their fancy clothes and their aristocratic ways. But above all it was their eyes which appealed most to him- Guilt-free, joyous eyes which had a dream in it. He had dreamed too, but could only dream. If only his father understood the value of education, he wouldn’t have been here. The fragments of his unfortunate past flashed before his shadowed eyes and he was lost…

At the tender age of thirteen his father had resolved to withdraw him from school and make him work in the fields as a farmer. The family was poverty stricken. He didn’t know what to do or how to respond and helpless as he was he toiled in the farm with his father laboriously. He shed his sweat and blood and wearied his body but he was in the end he was despair. At seventeen when he was full of verve and of a strong nerve, he urged his father to put him in a college. Their village wasn’t resourceful enough for a proper education so he requested to send him to the city. The family had observed some debates like these earlier, but had always ended in the heavy favor of his ignorant father. But that day he was determined and fed up by the family he left his house with a dream in his eyes. Knowing not where to go, with a sunken soul and all but hope he had reached the worldly city. Having nothing to support him he worked wretchedly for his life. He learnt how take out punctures and worked mending tires. Then he trained himself little at an electrician and came to know little things about fixing electrical appliances. And then he got recruited in the company where he was offered work as a liftman. While working he always thought to work for some years and then settle himself properly, pursue his dreams. He used to sit whole day, work, fix things up and dream. But he was only left dreaming. He just sat everyday as a liftman, while everyone walked ahead.

The doors of the lift opened and he woke up from his involving delirium as soon as someone came inside. It was a woman, it was Maya.

“Hello Yadav” she said as soon as she came inside.

He was surprised.

“Hello…Madam-Ji”

Maya was a beautiful lady. She was kind. The liftman had a soft corner for her, but he was always shy. Maya kept on telling him how beautiful life could be and at the same time make him realize how lonely his life was. And then she was gone, fading away. And he was left thinking.

The thought of Maya brought one more memory to the Liftman’s conscience. He was new and young to his work and his kindness was just the same. It was when he wasn’t in the lift that someone was trapped inside. He heard the cries and rushed towards the lift. A woman was trapped inside. All people from the staff had gathered from clerks to executives to see what had happened. Nobody could figure out what could be done until the Liftman came and like a hero resolved to save her. He went downside taking a great risk on the ground floor and opened the gate with his tools and bravely took out a rod that was obstructing the lifts flow. The woman was saved. And the liftman had saved the day. Everyone praised him and it was the most beautiful day of his life. That day he was bestowed the one thing that he all his life needed- the feeling of importance.

He smiled wistfully when he came back to the present. Yesterday he had been thinking of today, but today he was futureless, he didn’t reflect on his tomorrow and that’s what made him little content about himself. Tomorrow… well tomorrow was a different day.

It was dawn now. The score of people approaching to the lift indicated that. Every day he used to wait for the mornings and the evenings, but today he was thoughtless. There was no thought to ponder over, only empty despair. People came and they went, and he was left there unnoticed.

It was just then an old man with a heavy voice signaled Yadav. He looked familiar, just old and wore a suit and trousers like those of the executives.

“Yadav…my son, is it you?” exclaimed the old man in doubt.

The liftman replied in affirmative.

Then soon after hearing a few more words he recognized who he was. It was an officer of old, from the old office. He was there when the liftman had saved that woman’s life. The liftman called him Bade sahib.

“Oh Bade sahib! How have you been?”

“I have been old…” said he humorously.

“So how is your work going on sahib? You were transferred right?”

“Yes… I was. And I am retiring a few days later so there’s nothing much to tell about work. I was here for some documents”

“Okay”

“Well how have you been? How is the elevator job going on?” asked he cheerfully.

The liftman seemed still. He knew what he had to say. With stern eyes and a playful smile he said-

“Sir…There have been ups and downs”

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You know what, all you writers out there, all you artists or… lets just say creative people, let me add we in here. We all are plagiarists. Nobody of us can rightfully claim any work of art to be ours. For the men who dont steal from other men, definately steal from nature.

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And look who is here! Come in son” said the old lady.

“Hey granny” said I as I entered inside.

I had been in my college the whole day and when I suddenly remembered about the old lady, I rushed to her house. I went without any planning. I had procrastinated long enough and now I had to face the consequences of my carelessness. Granny’s house was a little room, all well maintained and clean. The house was crammed with old looking things like  books, vintage vases and some classical Indian musical instruments and well it was all equipped with the typical old  stuff that one old lady could possibly fill a tiny room with.  

She seemed to have been reading the newspaper. The crumpled newspapers on the little coffee table suggested me that. I laughed with a nay nod. I believed she could never read the newspaper, she just pretended to. All the times, while pretending, she would hold the paper onto the edge of her big thick glasses, with god knows what power, and would just try to read a word. Well her incapability for reading the newspaper was for her own good, by the way. I definitely think that she would be disturbed by reading the news .Many a times, when I visited her, she would request me to read her the newspaper, and I happily did that. Carefully editing it.

“Mind for a coffee” she asked.

“Sure” said I steering my eyes all over the house just like a guest would do when he went to anybody’s house. I was finding an appropriate place to sit, although there was one sole wooden chair which seemed granny’s.

Granny went over the kitchen. She seemed to have trouble finding the coffee powder. She seldom made coffee for herself and to others, mostly me, who came to her little one roomed cottage. She finally found the coffee powder onto the deck above the stove. She wiped the dust from the deck to make a clean way through, although wiping would eventually make her hand unclean. She was at that grey period of time, too tired to think practically. She was all the time bound emotionally with her surroundings and anything she saw outside, would then make her remember about her past, and there would she go deep, into the memories.

“How many spoons?” asked she.

“Four” said I, as I liked my coffee to be sweet.

She came, served me the coffee along with some biscuits. Nobody of us spoke a word, she because of her stable oldness and I because of my coyness. For some time, I thought that she forgot that I was there. Then finishing her coffee and finally resting her eyes upon mine she asked-

“When is the train?”

“Twelve o clock” said I quickly and plainly. I, then, had been used to lying. It was easy for me to deceive this poor old lady, but always doing so would hurt me. I lied to make her happy, which made me sad. Anyways I cared about the old lady and would lie myriad times just for her declining days to be happy.

She seemed happy a little. She so much wanted to show excitement but her old age would bring her to a halt. She was going out after many years. The last time she remembered was going to Kashmir with her son and daughter-in-law who were, at that time newly married. It was nearly five years ago. Since then she had never seen a single place except her own house and the market. I was the person whom she knew since my childhood. I being a mere five year old was called little Chintu then. I used to stay next door to granny and used to do a hell lot of mischief. I was a menace who was the reason for granny’s Joy. I had no mother then and knew not a single thing about mother’s love, even though I craved for it. I found the same compassionate love in granny’s. I was really sad when granny had left me. I was told that granny had gone faraway and she would never come back. I got really sad. I had no one then. I had become all alone.

“How is the climate over there?” she asked with interest. “Is it raining heavily? Because I do not have any umbrellas nor any rain coat”

Granny had lost touch from the outer world.  She forgot how the raindrops felt when they fall on the skin, the warmth of the sunshine, the relief of the winds and all that. She was lost into a world of her own. It was January and so it couldn’t rain. She did not know it. One reason could be that she couldn’t read the newspaper and the other reason could be that I read the newspaper; carefully edited newspaper.

“Don’t worry granny, I will take care of that” said I, as I was too tired to explain her again this time.

She had started to gain interest back in the present now. Her dull wistful eyes and wispy smile transitioned onto an enthusiastic glow and a large smile. It was a situation just like one who hears sad music at first being pensive, then hearing  loud funky rock music would go all crazy! Granny’s talks gained life and quantity now.

“How is Ashish and Neeta, do you meet them?”

“They are fine” I lied again. I knew not of a single thing about Ashish and neeta. They both were her son and her daughter in law. I had developed utter disgust for them. They were the ones responsible for granny’s poor and lonely condition. They were the ones who took all the property of granny and dumped her in a home for the old.

“Well, I wish, I stayed there. I so much dearly want to live in those shady trees, the red soil and the cal flowing river. You see, Chintu, we in our childhood had these streams passing through our house. Sometimes, I  with all my brothers and sisters and moti, our dog used to play in the streams. In summer season we used to play the whole day and in the evening we used to cool out in the streams, then Bade bhaiyya would go to the mango orchard and would steal quietly some mangoes. Bade bhaiyya(big brother) would bring mangoes and would distribute among all siblings, even if he gets one or not. He used to adore me a lot, and sometimes he would give me two mangoes instead of one. When our father, who was a strict man came to know about this menace, he would tie my brother up with a rope for hours, and I would secretly go and free him out!” she stopped and gasped “oh god! Those were the good old days” said she looking elsewhere but not my eyes.

Granny was really engrossed into her memories. She was talking as if she was watching a movie on her childhood or something. Her mind was dissolved into the strong memories of her childhood, her life into Bhavani wadi – the place where she almost spent her whole life there. She was speaking as if she was the only one who lived there. She forgot that even I grew up there, living next door to her.

I really felt like crying. How shall I tell that the place that she is so eager to go, now doesn’t exist. How shall I tell that the trees that she is speaking of is now industrial coal, and the streams she is talking about has transformed into filthy gutters! How shall I tell her that her son and her daughter  who without her notice are out in some other country living in total luxury and don’t care about her; and her grandchildren, small and innocent don’t even know their granny is alive. How shall I tell that the place that she is now going to is sold out to a company and is a mere wasteland and nothing. How can I tell her that the place of her sweet memories has become overpowered by dump and scrap. I was really feeling angry.

“Chintu, here take this. I packed this one specially for Ashish. These are special coconut sweets that he loved a lot” said granny handing me over a tin of sweets. “My hands have become too frail to keep them” Even I liked coconut sweets a lot.

“Yes granny” said I with a low despondent tone. I was drowned, I was melted, I was burning, I was shattered, I was totally ripped, I was devastated with agony, mental anguish.

She then handing me the box of sweets went to her small wooden wardrobe and took out a peculiar looking box with a Kashmiri design. It was polished, probably for this very moment and was fragile.

“This is a very important box. My husband had given this to Ashish on his birthday. He had broken it and gave it to me. I fixed it, although I never got the opportunity to remember to give it to him. It is very important for me. Please keep it with you also”

I said that I would keep it. Now, it had been ten thirty and I knew not what to do. I decided finally to tell her the truth. But instead something else came out of my mouth-

“Um…Granny I’ve got a message and it says the train has been delayed for tomorrow” said I pretending to check my phone. It came out instantly; I had no control over my mouth. Well, I guess it save me a day.

Granny said nothing. She just twisted her lips saying ‘O.K’ and nodded. She took the box away from me and let me go. And that is how I saved that day. I was feeling bad when I went home. My mind was too restless to speak but my tired body didn’t agree. I was torturing myself to be awake and be pensive looking at that blank night, but I fell asleep unknowing.

The next day I woke up with a spark. I checked up my watch, and it was eleven. I just decided to tell granny the truth. That decision came too instantaneously, as I made decisions like whether to have a jog or not with that speed.  I got all ready mentally and head out for her house. The sky was overcast that day. There was an air of sadness all over, even I was breathing heavily. I came close to her house, it was like getting close to inferno.

When I approached her house, I found the door open. That was weird as granny never kept her door open, she was all secluded with her door tightly closed for days.

I went inside. There was complete blackout. An air of stillness. Dust hovering into the frozen air showed its path through the window, gleaming in the sunlight. It was warm and black inside. She was sitting on her chair unmoved with her head resting upon the support of her arms. I thought she’d been sleeping. But she did not gasp and nor did she snore. She seemed so still. She was dead.

                             I did not know what to do. I just laid on the ground staring at her blankly in total surprise. I was in more of an awe than of agony. I was too unready to digest her death. I hoped that I was dreaming. I felt enormous pain at one point and then felt enormous unbelief. She laid there motionless, having no expression on her face but eyes that would strike fear and terror in the eyes of the glancer. She held a box in her hand. The same old Kashmiri box that she had given me the other day.

Knowing not what to do, I opened the box and found a note lying in it, Nothing but the note.

I was terrified when I read that note. I couldn’t think. She said that she loved me a lot.

  She could read the newspaper!