As a liftman,our correspondent learns how to get it right on his way up and down

Written by Rohan Swamy | Published: March 29, 2009 11:50:55 am

As a liftman,our correspondent learns how to get it right on his way up and down
I remember reading it in an O. Henry story—“The homing instinct survives,even if the home is a park bench”. It was said in reference to a tramp who would scout the city but return to the park for a good night’s sleep. Now,I am not comparing myself to the tramp but it just happens that after having visited every big shopping centre and every starry hotel,I had to come back to my office building to work as a liftman.

I was a little infuriated,owing to the fact that the owners and managers of those big hotels and malls had dented my pride in several places. One smart-alec mall owner had even said I was under-qualified for the job. I mumbled as I took up my position in the rickety office lift muttering evil chants at those who shooed me off. Nevertheless I started to rise.

My boss for the next couple of hours,Sachin Salunkhe (the original liftman),got down to business immediately. “On the ground floor,keep the door open using the DO button,take in only nine people at a time and most importantly do not stop on every floor. People get irritated if the lift moves slowly,” he warned. And so I pressed the DO button on the ground floor as people barged in. I began counting slowly. “One Mississippi,Two Mississippi,Three Mississippi.’ By the time I had reached nine,there were close to 13 people crammed in the lift,including me and Sachin,who slapped his forehead in desperation.

I punched in the numbers—one,two,three,four and five as the lift crawled its way to the stops on each floor. When the last of the office-goers got off at the fifth floor,Sachin reminded me with a gentle pat and held up nine fingers on his two hands to indicate the number of people that I could take in. “Nine,not 13,” he said. I had to leave the Mississippis out.

The return leg from top to bottom was fun. This time I took in just the right number of people. It earned me a smile from my new boss and I felt like a million bucks. But as soon as we touched ground level again,a new army awaited me. There were mothers and babies,infants and harrowed moms. This time I ushered in nine people.

Sachin reminded me,stop on the first floor at the paediatrician’s office. The little children and their mothers (who were also accompanied by their mother-in-laws) were to get off there. The man whose shirt had the charm of yesterday’s socks was to be dropped off at the third floor and a really pretty girl asked me very politely to stop the lift on the fifth floor. She was a little amused on seeing an overdressed liftman,which she promptly expressed with a thin giggle,as I said,“Here we go ma’am,this is the fifth floor.”

It became a regular riot after this. I went up and down,and up and down. Sachin stood patiently behind me,guiding my careless hands whenever I erred. As the rounds increased,the guidance reduced.

En route I encountered college students who had to be dropped off on the second-floor coaching class,more students at the computer centre on the fourth floor,a couple of sour-faced men and women,who never smiled,at the office on the fifth floor and,of course,little infants and their nervous mothers at the paediatrician’s office.

Going up and down was making my head swoon and my fingers were hurting as I had to keep the DO button pressed on every floor.

Concerned over my discomfort,Sachin offered to give me a five-minute break,an idea that I stubbornly refused. But he countered my pig-headedness with some street-smart advice. “Sitting in the same position for too long can do some damage to your back and also to your health. So take a walk every half hour,just stretch your legs and come back.” Having seen the sense in his advice,I obeyed.

I had counted 48 trips in the last two hours. On my last trip up,I spoke to Sachin about his job. He had been working there as a liftman for the last four years,a job that he took a lot of pride in doing. He said,“I operate the lift that’s why people go up and come down.”
As I stepped out of the lift for the final time,I gave him a thumbs-up sign just as the door of the lift closed shut.

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