MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD
The Wind Chime was a 10 storey commercial building whose first two floors consisted of the car parking while the 8 storeys above were different offices, clinics, coaching classes and warehouses. There were no retail shops in the building though there was a gym. The hustle and bustle of this building was commendable on weekdays. However, that was a Sunday morning and hardly a soul was to be seen inside its gates apart from the lone watchman who pretty much slept all day.
Usually, there were at least three watchmen and a liftman present at all times at the building but on Sunday they were all on leave too. Yet, a few of the daily visitors of The Wind Chime were headed to this building for their own reasons.
On the ground floor, stood a girl in her twenties, waiting for the elevator. She wore jeans and a long sleeved red kurti that ended just above her knees. She was not wearing any accessories apart from a plain wrist watch neither did she wear any make up. Her hair was pleated and kept on her right shoulder. Anyone who knew her or would’ve seen her before would think she was not well. That was something that always happened to girls when they ditched their eye pencils.
As she waited for the lift to reach the ground floor, she was joined by a thirteen year old boy, wearing the t-shirt of his coaching classes. She observed he had joined the best coaching that produced guaranteed IITians. He stood staring at his feet, clearly uncomfortable because of the heavy bag on his shoulders.
The lift stopped on the ground floor and they got in. Just as it was about to close a man came rushing towards the door. The girl stopped the elevator door from closing automatically by pressing a button and the middle aged man entered the lift. He wore a crisp three piece black suit and a black and white striped tie and panted slightly till his breath got even.
The young boy had to get down on the 6th floor while the girl had to stop on the 5th and this middle aged man’s destination was the 9th floor. The numbers were pressed, and the three of them stood in
silence as the elevator headed upwards.
All of them entered the same building every day, yet it was the first time they had seen each other. As the lift crossed the second floor, it gave a slight jerk and call it co-incidence; the three passengers muttered in unison, “God save us!”
They gave each other a small smile as they realised they’d not said a prayer only for themselves but also for the other two passengers in the lift. How often did that happen that someone you’ve never even met before includes you in their prayers?
The lift stopped jerking but it had only moved one more floor when it came to a complete halt. The three of them looked at each other. The lights in the lift started flickering and in a few seconds there was sheer darkness inside the 6 by 6 box.
The suited man panicked and started pressing the emergency alarm button but to no avail. He then resorted to banging the door and crying for help. The lift and the staircase were located in a deserted corner of the building and were separated by a door which was pretty much sound proof. Here they were stuck between the 3rd and the 4th floor and the only watchman in the building was either sleeping or doing anything other than his job. There was a closed circuit camera inside the elevator but no one knew since when it had stopped working.
After banging the door for a while, the suited man realised that he was the only one of the three panicking in the whole situation. The girl and the kid were still and silent. Not even attempting to get out of there.
It was a moment of realisation. He wasn’t panicking for himself. Hell he didn’t even want to be at his office in that moment. Neither was he claustrophobic or afraid of darkness. All this while he panicked because he felt obliged to protect the woman and child inside the lift. He panicked because he thought they may be scared of darkness or closed spaces. And if nothing else, who liked being trapped anyway?
He smiled at himself as he answered that question. At the moment, he didn’t mind being trapped in the elevator at all. He was tired. Really, really tired. His shoulders had so many responsibilities to carry that it felt like his arms would detach themselves from his trunk under pressure. He just didn’t have a minute to himself. He was so confused at all times. He tried. He tried so hard to be a good son, a good husband, a good father, a good friend, a good boss and a good human being but he seemed to have fucked it all up altogether. Nothing he did ever went right.
He was headed to his office on a Sunday because an employee had foolishly scheduled an important meeting on that day. He’d burst on that employee and would’ve pretty much fired him had his secretary not reminded him that the employee was supposed to arrange this meeting by hook or by crook on his own orders. And so, here he was; stuck in an elevator, totally late for his appointment and at the same time missing his son’s interschool badminton match. This was why he’d lost his temper on his employee in the first place when he’d scheduled a meeting on a Sunday because he’d promised his weekly off to his family.
His wife was trying since a week to share a cup of coffee with him but he left too early and returned too late. His son had invited him to witness his badminton match while his daughter wanted to go to the kids play zone with him. And after fulfilling all their wishes he was supposed to make the grandma and grandkids get together happen. And now, since he had a work commitment his family was going to do all of this but without him.
It took him only a minute to contemplate all of this and he stood there wondering in the darkness of that lift that he probably only wanted to break down at the moment. He was heading where he had to be, he had turned his back to where he wanted to be and the neutral grounds where he was stuck right now seemed like the ideal place to let off some steam. He was exhausted by the constant battle of balance his life was. All he wanted was some peace. All he wanted was a place where he could go to without hurting anyone.
And so when the kid said, “why are we standing? It maybe a couple of hours that we’ve to spend in here. Let’s conserve energy!” and he settled down on the lift floor, he felt weirdly relieved. It was nice to not be supposed to take care of someone out of social or moral or emotional responsibility and to be helpless and finally suck at it. It was good to just… BE.
As the three of them settled on the floor of the lift, their backs rested on adjacent walls; the girl left a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
“Looks like none of us mind being in here!” said the man in the suit.
“Oh yes! Mr…..” the kid said as he stopped to catch his name.
“Arvind. Arvind Aggrawal.”
“Mr Aggrawal, she and I both saw the desperate attempts a minute ago!” the child continued.
“Well….. Mr….?” he really liked how this kid almost mocked him with words. He also had a kid his age at home, who probably was as smart or sassy as this one, but he never really knew. He could never spend that much time with him.
“Rajan Desai.” the child introduced himself.
“So Mr Desai, I was more worried for your and her sake and as soon as I realised you both are fine, I settled down!”
“Said every man ever who was caught panicking! You know what Mr Aggrawal, it is okay to be scared. Being a grown up and a man doesn’t mean you can’t feel basic human emotions! I mean, all that crap about men not crying… huh!” and then he rolled his eyes though Arvind could not see that in all the darkness.
“Not that you’re wrong but don’t you think you speak about stuff that’s totally beyond your age?” he asked wondering at the same time if his son did the same.
“Well, I do a lot of stuff that is beyond my age for example IIT coaching!” he stressed on the word IIT with a hint of sarcasm that almost touched bitterness.
“Hmmmm… So lets see, you don’t want to be an IITian!”
“How would I know? I am THIRTEEN!”
“Then why do you attend these classes?”
“Because I am thirteen!”
Arvind was puzzled by his reply but before he could ask anything, the girl who was quietly sitting with them, her phone rang suddenly.
She panicked and cut the call!
“Oh God! A phone!! Why didn’t it strike me to call someone?” Arvind was hit by a sudden realisation.
“Because when we panic, the first thing we lose is our common sense!” Rajan chuckled as he said this.
Arvind was really enjoying being defeated by a sassy kid at the same time missing his son a lot.
“Okay Mr Commonsense, why didn’t you use a phone?”
“Who said I wanted to get out of the lift so soon?”
“Because who likes to attend extra lessons on Sundays? There are literally only 2 other kids with me for these lessons because other students gave their monthly test well and I got below average marks. What they don’t know is that’s because I was too bored to mark the answers!! My parents don’t understand a simple thing, I don’t know what I would want to be but the way they are going about it I definitely know what I DON’T want to be and i.e. an IITian! At least I have a rebellious streak but there are so many like me who’re thinking they’ll get awesome jobs and happy lives and are sacrificing all the social life to one day become workaholics who don’t know what their children look like! And all of this when they’re CHILDREN themselves!!”
Arvind was bewildered for a moment. There was a child sitting right in front of him, going through hell because of his parents; yet fighting for his own identity. And wasn’t he the same workaholic parent this kid had described? He didn’t know what his kids looked like anymore. He hadn’t marked their heights on the wall or taught them to ride a bike. He was absent for most events and moments. Though he was glad that at least he wasn’t forcing his kids into anything.
“Why don’t you talk to your parents about it?”
“Ha. They’re not even approachable. I told you, I come here because I am thirteen. The day I turn eighteen, I am going to change this…..” and then he kept on ranting about his awesome life plans. How much ever matured the situations had made him, he was a teen after all; who dreamed and dreamed so much that it really hurt to break his bubble.
However, Arvind wasn’t even listening to his rants and his plans anymore. His mind was stuck on a sentence this little kid had used. ‘They are not even approachable!’ He wondered if he was approachable to his kids.
“Are you lost Mr Arvind?”
“I was just wondering if I am an approachable father!”
“If you’re wondering that, then you’re at least trying to be! My parents think they’re the perfect parents in the world!”
“I don’t know! I am here on a Sunday, missing his match, missing my work; enjoying being in an elevator! What the hell is wrong with me!”
“You panic a lot Mr Arvind!”
He exhaled a deep breath. There was silence in the lift. The pitch black darkness and the silence were weirdly soothing, comforting. They sat there for a while.
“What’s your name?” Rajan slightly nudged the young girl with his foot who had not uttered a word since the beginning.
“Avantika” she said.
“We guessed you don’t want to leave the lift either because of course you cut that call. So what’s your sad story that brought you here on a SUNDAY morning?” he said, “By the way, I’ve got chips, we can munch as we hear her story!”
He opened his bag of chips and passed it to them. Now being completely cozy in the lift environment, the girl began her story.
“I’d have never opened my mouth kiddo. Definitely not in front of a kid. But you both have shared pretty personal stuff here and I’d love to get rid of the burden on my chest too.”
“Cut the chase girl! You wanna tell us or no?” Rajan spoke with feigned aloofness. Deep down he really wanted to know her big secret. Even Arvind was completely oriented towards her.
“My boss wants to get into my pants!”
There. She’d said it.
And then for a while, there was a serious silence in that 6 by 6 cube.
“I worked really hard for securing this internship. It is a part of my course and very few students get a paid one. And the pay as high as here, I won’t find it anywhere! I’ve to finish four months here. And I really need the money and the job! If I quit for any reason I’ve to start my 4 months again and it just adds to a bad name on the resumè. My mom isn’t well and she’s the only family I have. And this guy, he knows it. He didn’t hire me. His boss did. But that guy is on leave and this boss of mine has finally created an occasion where he and I would be alone in the office. He’s already sabotaged my personal space so many times and called it casual co incidence. He’s sent me texts that are no way appropriate between a boss and an employee yet they are just “casual jokes”. He does any thing and everything from breathing down my neck to touching me inappropriately and calls it some or the other innocent thing. His vibe creeps me out all the time. BUT I CANNOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!!!!!!”
“And guess what? Even if I complain about it to ANYONE, I have no proof. He has a way of turning everything into my own dirty thoughts. He has a way of proving that it was MY fault and all he did was a mere innocent thing. He “accidently” touched me. He was “teaching” me something when he smelled my hair and breathed down my neck. He was just “fooling around” when he sent those texts to me. His boss would obviously listen to him, the police would not even form a case and all these men will laugh about #metoo, talk about pseudofeminism, real feminism and top it with some dirty sexist jokes which will then go down to only dirty ones after a while and the whole incidence would be forgotten. The insensitive jerks wouldn’t even try to so much as understand how it feels to be violated like that! They wouldn’t know the fear, the anxiety and the effort it takes to handle this. And why should I even handle this? Did I come here to handle harassment? Does he pay me for his entertainment? Am I his prostitute? I came here to learn. I came here for a job which I totally qualified for and which I am totally good at. How is this even fair to me??” with this her strong facade came apart and she broke down.
She kept crying for a while. And both the males in the room could not speak a word to comfort her.
All the three of them were helpless in weird ways. All of them could not do anything to save themselves. But they had all got up in the morning, dressed up and walked to a building they hated walking to.
Was it gutsy or cowardly?
Well, we can have an endless debate there.
“Where do you work?” Arvind asked.
“Starling brothers and Co.” she said.
“And who is this boss of yours?” he asked again.
“Subhash Singh.” she said with as much bitterness as possible.
“Consider him fired! And after your internship, I offer you an interview in my office!”
For a moment, she could not utter a word!
“You.. You can fire him?”
“Not technically, but I’ve ways.”
“Thank you! Thank You, thank you, thank you, Thank you soooo much!! You don’t know what this means to me. Not having him around for the next three months!! And Sir, thank you but I’d rather earn a job on my own. I don’t want to come off as a damsel in distress.”
“I just offered an interview. And I won’t be the one interviewing anyway. You’ll get it only if you deserve it!”
“Mr Arvind, it’s been 2 hours, I think now its time to call for help!” Rajan was clearly getting awkward with too much emotion at display.
“Your class was for 2 hours, wasn’t it?” Arvind laughed.
“Seee. You CAN be a good father! You get teenagers. But you really have to quit working on Sundays. I think children can live with a Dad who’s there on weekends.”
“I am so gonna take that advice. I anyway fall into a conflict every time I ditch anything. But I think I can always make the Sunday rule.”
“And important days rule,” Avantika added, “children want their parents to be there on important days of their lives. I mean my dad died pretty early, but I remember the kindergarten graduation party very well!”
All of them smiled.
“And you young man, you’re the sorted one. Don’t let anything get you down. It’s just 5 years to rebellion!!”
“Aye aye captain!!”
And then they used Avantika’s phone to call the watchman, who called a mechanic and within forty-five minutes they were out of the lift. It had become a huge racket in the building in those 45 minutes and all of them got a sympathy consideration for getting stuck in a lift. They didn’t have to go to the places they didn’t want to go to, after all. As they pretended to be low on oxygen while others carried them to a well ventilated place, their eyes met and sparkled with mischief. After a while they headed home with lighter heads and genuine smiles.
Indeed, God had saved them all.
This wasn’t a story of Arvind, Avantika and Rajan. This was the story of almost every man, woman and child out there. Our men, or rather our gentlemen; they’re burdened, confused and exhausted. They don’t know what their roles are anymore. They’ve never been taught how to be a gentleman but they’ve been expected to behave like one all the time. The other men, who don’t seem to know how to deal with their lust or ego or arrogance or the need to establish superiority over a woman; they go around victimising women and exploiting their rights, emotions and peace.
Our women. They’re still battling gender stereotypes. Establishing, defining and redefining feminism. Some are too confused to be rational in demands while some are too helpless to raise a voice. Some are in between, struggling to lead a simple, non-judgmental, normal life.
And our children. They are burdened with expectations more than they can handle. Their life decisions are not theirs and this is making them either puppets or rebels. But mostly rebels because even puppet show has an expiry date. They ARE going to rebel one day!!!
Where are we going? What are we up to? And will we be saved?