Tuesday, April 25, 2006


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?


madhavan said...

Well, it is slightly more complicated than that. Much as Ram Vilas Paswan reminds me of a buffoon, I was stricken by something he said: Most institutes, including and especially medical ones, have a quota for people to get in through donations. Isnt that then a reservation for the rich? Dont the best schools have the children of the wealthiest? For example, would you have expected the Ambani brothers to get into Stanford or Wharton on merit. Isnt that reservation?

Reservation exists anyway; one more for a set of people who are still the most deprived of all is cool with me. Ever wondered what caste the kachrawala in your building comes from - SCs; the people who clean sewers - SCs; who work in crematoriums and morgues - SCs; people who die starvation deaths - STs.

Of course, reservations will be misused. Perhaps, your kachrawala's son/daughter will never see an IIM or IIT but it is important that the avenue be open to even 1 among one million of them. I had rather that than some businessman's idiot son/daughter playing doctor-doctor.

Anonymous said...

jab tak insaan ke andar insaan nahi jaagta, there should be a liftman by the lift, at least on the ground floor. and everytime someone goes for what's not for them, they should be shouted at, in public. and slowly, it'll be in their blood, running in their veins. fir wo bhi ek aadat hee ban jayegi ... theek kaam karna.

-J [teerathyatra]

karmic_jay said...

Did they have/design the diability button because India has a "Indians with disabilities" law (like in the US) that mandates that work places should accomodate the disabled amongst Indians?
I am guessing not because there were no entry or exit ramps to get in to the building.
You usually will not see say parking spots for disabled people being misused. If you do there are fines.
As for the people using the disabled button to summon the lift faster. Did someone bother to complain about it the office managment or the office management?
Maybe an easier solution would be to have an operator or make the disabled button operable with a key given only to the disabled or left with the reception/security so that only disabled people could use it?
I wish people were kinder to the disabled. It's a humane and the right thing to do.

Seeji said...

Nice analogy to the reservation issue. I have gone through the reservation blues. When 'good for nothing" people whiz fast you, you can do nothing but to sigh. But now a look back shows i have been stronger and more matured after going through those phases of frustration. Nice post anyway

Anonymous said...

are you talking about the spectra building? yeah thats weird. I had given some interviews in spectramind.

When you press the button for lift, machine(indicator) tells you which lift is gonna come next A/B/C/D. Say indicator tells you Lift A is coming down, then by that time lift A reaches ground floor, B,C,D already on floor, people getting in n about to leave other batch.....even if you are first in queue waiting, you end up getting ur lift machine last.....all depends on luck:)

n abt the girl, look in the other way (as a friend and not as a emotional / senti chap ).... people might doesn't want she to feel that she is different well an handicap or a dependant....she is just among one of them, an employee. well yeah one should not break queue.

I know my statement is rude, but as a gentleman, any female should get preference to go first.

doubtinggaurav said...

y. o. u. r. u. l. e. (OK I am not talking about (de)merits of reservation system, but you analogy is apt)


Blythe Spyryt said...

Yup...now that you mention it, it does remind me of the reservation issue. It's a prime example of how something that's probably done with good intentions can be misused by freeloaders.

the harlequin said...

Spectra. Or Olympia.

Schindler elevator.