In Powai, my office was located in a very posh building. Unlike the other buildings I had worked in, this one had an impressive façade, a fancy name, and Greek grooves and moldings on pillars.
It was a modern building. As is the case in the province of ‘modern’, several thoughtful outrés were provided. There were huge mirrors on both sides of the lobby, so that you could quickly look at yourself and primp up before getting to work. There was the marble floor over which heels clicked in refinement as they made their way to moneyed alcoves. There was also a huge, bright chandelier that lent the requisite whiff of opulence proper for multi-national companies.
Another example of a thoughtful, modern service was the lift system.
This building had four lifts to accommodate the hundreds of people who used them. You could call any of these lifts by pressing the panel of buttons.(In this regard, this was like the other lifts all over the world – except for this building in Bhubaneshwar where there is a lift but no corresponding buttons. You call the lift by tilting your head, looking up into the shaft, and yelling ‘LIIIIFFFT!’ Your voice resounds through seven heavens and if someone is pleased, the lift comes down. If you’re naïve, the ‘someone’ is God; if you’re not, it’s the toothless liftman.)
This modern lift, however, could be beckoned using an additional ‘disability’ button. This button was to be used by the handicapped or the disabled. It is unclear how this button actually worked but speculation was that when you used this button, the lift came straight down. It would bypass the other floors where people waited for the lift to stop.
The idea of this button was to perhaps reduce the waiting time for a handicapped person. As commendable as the intention was, it would’ve been better to see a few ramps built at the entrance. While there was consideration given to a person on a wheel-chair waiting for the lift, not much was done to ensure that such a person got to the lift easily in the first place.
Anyway, one appreciates the sentiment.
Now, the interesting thing is that I hadn’t seen too many disabled people using the lift at all.
During the rush hours, around 9:30 or so in the morning, huge groups of office-people (not disabled) would stand impatiently waiting for the lift. To speed things up, they’d press the ‘disability’ button. As a result, the lift wouldn’t stop at any of the other floors. People on these floors would be left waiting and cursing or they’d take the stairs.
One day, however, a young girl in a wheelchair waited for the lift. It was again one manic morning hour when everyone wanted to rush to office and swipe their cards early.
This girl had several people ahead of her. One person in that crowd pressed the ‘disability’ button. He did that out of habit. It had come to be such a ritual by this time that using the ‘speed’ button was the de rigueur way of calling the lift.
In any case, the lift came but the girl in the wheelchair couldn’t get in. The other people, the ones with no disabilities, deftly moved around her and filled the elevator.
She looked on a little helplessly as the doors closed. Expectedly, people inside the lift avoided her eyes.
She continued to wait and kept pressing the ‘disability button’ numerous times. The problem was that people on the other floors, who were habitually bypassed before, had resorted to the button trick as well. They too pressed the ‘disability’ button to call the lift. But now this button was of no use because it was equipped to handle an exception and not to shoulder the rule.
After some wait, the lift finally reached the ground floor. By this time, again, several people stood around the girl, almost breathing on the elevator doors. However, when the doors of the elevator opened, they moved aside and let the girl get in. They waited patiently until she had maneuvered her wheelchair. In fact, a couple of people stepped out so as not to overcrowd her.
The girl smiled and acknowledged the old-fashioned consideration the modern ‘disability’ button had failed to provide.
I have thought of this incident often and more frequently in recent times. It’s interesting – the effortless use and abuse of a well-meaning mechanism.
Is it just me or does this remind anyone else of the reservation issue?