Raosaheb Mane looked down the crease of his grey trouser of the uniform he wore. On his way to work a commuter from a passing bus had spat beetle juice from the open window. It had barely missed him but a few red spots had gathered from the ricocheting missile on his trousers. They were barely noticeable but the habits of his fellow citizens left him with disgust. The city had changed around him from Bombay to Mumbai in the 26 years of his service. He had graduated from an ex-serviceman of the Indian army on short commission, to beingthe security guard of Mehra Chambers in South Bombay. Today his advanced age saw him as a liftman, a position he occupied for the last 3 years.
Earlier he had stood outside near the gate of the building keeping watch and today he operated the lift inside it. The elevator was recently changed from the old clatter-trap ribbed cage to the swanky steel cubicle in the building renovation. The tenor of the building too had changed though most of the original occupants were the same. These were companies in financial services, broking houses and a few engaged in the textile business amongst others. Modernization had seen that the offices above became air-conditioned including the lobby and the occupying staff growing younger by the day. He was retained by the managing committee of the building. Nobody likes rampant change and it is still a comfort to see a familiar cheerful face from old times and Raosaheb’s was one such. He never talked much but smiled a welcome and nodded when someone wished him back. His sons had often teased him about his job and what had he seen of life when all he did was stand in one place; Both when he was in security to now when he was virtually inside a steel box of nine feet by six feet. He just smiled to himself on the callowness of youth. Was it really necessary to have travelled the world to see it? He had seen it zip past his station as a security guard and now it came to him inside his box. Oh, his world too was rich in its tapestry; one only needs to be a discreet yet respectful observer to view its vividness.
Just in the morning today hadn’t he seen Mr. Sinha from 1402 make eyes at Ms. Seema from 1218 over the crowded elevator to meet him for dinner and she had nodded with a smile. This was a romance that had blossomed under Raosaheb’s keen eyes and began in the elevator four months ago, progressed from half smiles and polite though interested nods to a dinner date tonight. They made a good couple and he wished them well. His associations with people were their office numbers and he had been relatively good at figures. This did not mean that all figures that went up or down were presentable.
There came Mrs. Gupta rolling across the lobby in her sari and he was horrified to see a crowd of young staffers on their way up. The capacity was 13 persons including the liftman and Mrs. Gupta was person number 12. Predictably she squeezed in and stood beside him and rammed his face against the far wall. His glasses started slipping down and her corpulent arm was against his shoulder. He almost fainted from the fragrance emmmited by her raised arm resting against the elevator door,despite the air conditioning she sweated buckets and the shoulder of his uniform had a wet stain on it as they swept to 5th floor where she stumbled out. Suddenly the atmosphere inside the elevator lightened and one typist quite cutely asked another “kitney yards ki sari lagti hogi usey?”And they started giggling. Youth has no mercy as he stifled a smile. Another such incident had happened with the heartthrob of the building Ms. Rosie the PA to Mr. Damani. Rosie was an extremely comely girl who wore short skirts on a good pair of legs.The young wolves of the building and even a few old dogs would time their entries to hers. To be in the same elevator as hers was a good omen for the day. Raj the joker had made a comment when the building was being painted and everybody got white dust on their shoes. Rosie too got her share of the dust and after she alighted he said to his companion, “Today she isn’t wearing anything under that skirt, did you notice?” What? Aghast his companion had enviously looked at Raj, "Did you actually see?" "Nope" said Raj, "But I did see the dandruff on her shoes" and his laughter echoed in the lift all the way up to the 14th floor.Nasty and below the belt is also another sign of youth, tolerance comes with age. But that devil did have sensational timing and a wicked choice of words, he thought to himself.
On the 18th floor where the lift emptied out its last passenger out, in came Lakhan Dhumalia the peon of 1805 with some papers to be delivered to their second office on 7th floor. A sweetly minty flavor of his chewing tobacco tickled his nostrils. On 17th floor Chunni the sweeper came in and Lakhan started flirting with her. She too gave him the glad eye till he extended his luck and fondled her rear when she shrieked and gave him one resounding slap followed by a few choice words invoking his mother and sister. Raosaheb stared steadfastly at the buttons of the controls and the polished steel surface reflected the action behind him. Lakhan was nonplussed but nudged her again and smiled shamelessly at her;she too pinched his waist. This was a routine as he slipped a hand around her waist and dragged her close and gave her a kiss. This time his watchful eye was on the approaching floor.When the doors opened on the 7th floor he had slapped her rear & very smartly jumped out with a victorious smirk. A swear word followed his laughing back. She too coyly fidgeted as the lift reached the basement where she collected her things and moved to the next building. Raosaheb knew these two; they were sleeping partners in an apparently amorous joint-venture.
Rangya Patil the driver of the Mercedes belonging to Mr. Shah in 1705 came on over from his car park. Raosaheb and Rangya were friends and he fished out an amla supari and offered to him. Raosaheb took a couple and chewing on the same chit chatted a while till someone called the lift up. Three sub-brokers were on their way to lunch and were discussing the solid gains made by one on "Reliance" which he had “shorted”. He planned to double his position when they were back by playing long. The secretary group from 16th floor came on down and one had discovered the super store where they got genuine leather purses at 40% discounted prices and the lift was full of the din of their shrieks. He enjoyed this noise, it was happiness in action. The doors opened on the ground floor & their shrieks suddenly stopped as their GM Mr. Kamath stood quietly with a stern expression. The girls had been transformed into mute mice who speedily in a file escaped the building. Kamath was an old hand and he enquired about Raosaheb as he stood up from his stool and greeted him. Without another word he departed into his office. He was stern but kindly and he actually was fond of his tribe of secretaries but he could never let them know it. Raosaheb saw it all. Mr. Bhupen Choksey was waiting on the 15th and as soon as he entered the lift he gave a resounding fart that bounced across the steel walls and Raosaheb reacted instantly. His yoga helped him hold his breath all the way to the ground floor, where he for the first time since morning, got out of the elevator and exhaled. Then he kept the doors open to air the compartment. Looked like Bhupenbhai’s wife had packed in a solid lunch full of spuds and he in his own unique fashion had announced the menu. The one who said a job of a liftman was safer than the army had definitely not endured this bizarre stink attack in closed confines. It was a daily hazard and unpredictable, some didnt even purr a warning, they just hit you.He put the elevator on auto-mode in which it would function over the next half hour. He unwrapped his lunch and sat in the maintenance room and chewed on the roti subzi with pleasure. It was 3.30 in the afternoon and a bunch of young sales executives came down for their tea and smokes and they talked about the latest movie in town. The ecosystem in the elevator was always rich and he saw his slice of the world all sitting on his stool till 8.30pm every day. Silently he would lock his elevator from the manual to the auto-mode and make his way out following those working late in the building. His life had a routine but within that routine existed an excitement that he savored. Would he ever be able to articulate this thrilling side of his job to his sons, as they sat and teased him over their one meal together in the night? Possibly never, thought he as he lay down to rest in front of their new color TV.