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.
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”
“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”