It was with a lot of hesitation that the old man got into the lift. He would rather have gone down the steps. It was just a matter of two floors. But the young man’s good natured encouragement made him change his mind. ‘Let it be so’, he thought and stepped into the lift. The old man was not accustomed to all this. He had only a faint memory of using the lift once, long ago, during a visit in his son’s office.
As soon as he entered, the doors of the lift closed. Two people stood inside, still and silent, like two statues. He was relieved that he was not alone.
The lift was as large as a small room. With a long subdued drone it started moving. The movement was so smooth that he couldn’t feel it except for a slight push under his feet. He couldn’t even feel whether it was going up or down.
It stopped at the next floor. All of a sudden, those inside came to life and got out and many others rushed in. The old man stood hesitant, unsure of himself. Suddenly, as the lift started, it dawned upon him that the lift was actually moving up and that he had made a mistake. He should have asked before entering. Now it was no use getting out since the lift may be many floors higher. He cursed the moment he had decided to step inside the lift. Just a few steps down, he would have reached the ground. He thought about the foliage of trees and the garden with a fountain in front of the building. The thought itself filled in him a feeling of cool freshness. Actually, as he entered the compound, he had decided to relax for some time in the garden on his way back.
The lift was getting crowded. He felt hot. He noticed that the young men around him were wearing thick dark colored woolen clothes. Are they not feeling hot? He wondered. Besides, a strange smell that he never experienced before, filled inside the lift.
Some were talking about some serious matter in subdued tone while some others laughing explosively which made the old man shudder.
As the lift went up higher and higher, the old man’s mind was clasping the earth far below harder and harder. The images of his little thatched roof house and the surrounding land full of mango, jackfruit and coconut trees in his village far away filled up in his mind. The cool mud walled rooms, the cool freshness of the dark foliage of trees…and the plenty of fruits showered by them without giving anything in return, the ecstatic chirping of birds feasting on them…
The old man was in another world. His only son whom he brought up giving top education by toiling hard in his land has gone up in his life somewhere far away. He stuck to his land abandoned by all. All the yield from it, fruits, vegetables etc., he distributed among his neighbors and passerby like the trees themselves. Though his wife passed away long ago, he never felt he was alone. Not only his neighbors and their children but birds, animals, trees, plants…as well, were his comrades. He shared the fruit of his toil with all. And he was more than satisfied with it. Being of a pleasant constitution the old man didn’t have much health problems. He actively participated in all the social activities in the village. He was almost an indispensable part of them all.
Where this metal box is going, he wondered. The lift was getting more and more packed. The commotion became unbearable. Even if he could somehow get out of the lift it is useless, he thought. The lift would be by this time many floors up. People were packed to the limit. He felt suffocating. Some were getting out at the far end but more were pushing into the lift. All were in a rush as if something disastrous was going to happen. All the while the lift went up, unhindered in its duty.
Where is my land? Where am I who came to protect it?
This journey started from a highway supposed to pass through the village. It was coming like an unquestionable order. Yet protests raged for long. However, the old man couldn’t make out how everything slowly subsided after a few months. But, however he tried, the old man couldn’t forget the fact that, if it came somehow in the end, his land will be submerged under the concrete.
It was after many people pressed him that he came to the city for a last attempt. Somehow, after enquiring many people, he found out the concerned office.
As he entered the busy office, he stood aghast for some time not knowing what to do. Then he sat on one of the chairs in the waiting area. People streamed steadily in and out. The counter with the sign ‘Inquiry’ was empty. After some time a lady came and sat there. The old man got up hurriedly and approached the counter. He explained to her the purpose of his visit as briefly as possible. As directed by her he returned to his seat and continued waiting. It was very noisy in the office due to heavy rush of people. The old man felt uneasy and restless. For a moment he thought of discarding the whole idea and was about to leave the office when a young man with pleasant expression came and sat beside him. When he inquired about the matter the old man explained to him his story in detail. With this itself the old man felt greatly relieved and hopeful. At least he got somebody to listen to what he had to say. And he felt that all the trouble he took to come so far hadn’t been in vain.
‘Please be seated. I’ll come in a minute’, the young man said and disappeared behind the crowd. The old man again settled into himself. After sometime, the young man appeared again and led him to the manager’s office.
‘Be seated. What is your problem? What can I do for you?’ he asked.
The old man once again repeated everything he had to say about his house and the land. The manager listened attentively. The old man was pleased and grateful for his goodwill.
‘I will try my best. More than that I cannot give any assurance.’ The manager said in the end and got the old man’s signature in a paper.
The old man felt greatly obliged and left the room thanking the manager profusely.
The young man led him to the lift.
‘Don’t worry, everything will be alright!’ he said and left hurriedly into the office.
Once inside the lift the old man’s state of mind again turned upside down.
The stark realization that after taking all the troubles and coming here so far away from his native place he didn’t achieve anything other than submitting an application, overwhelmed him with frustration. At the same time, it is wrong to except much more than that all of a sudden. Everything has its own course. He hoped that his house and land will somehow be redeemed from this cruel fate. At least this much he could do. The rest, leave to the destiny. Whatever comes will come, he tried to console himself.
The lift had become almost dark with people. He tried to move slowly through the crowd towards the door, but in vain. The rush of people coming in pushed him back to his corner. In the end, helpless, he stood still where he stood. He took deep breath in an attempt to remain calm. Anytime the lift is free he would get out peacefully, he tried to reassure himself.
The lift went on with its mechanical duty. The old man felt he was moving farther and farther from everything he considered his own. He was overwhelmed by the helplessness of a man who somehow got to the topmost branch of a giant tree and not knowing how to get down. Down below everything was blurred and hazy. His house and land, his village with its colorful spectacle, the nature’s divine music and the sweet smell of the earth, all became, like a childhood dream, a distant and vague memory. He didn’t know where he was or what was happening around him. And suddenly, for a moment the old memories came back to him in a flash like the dawn breaking out over the horizon and then disappeared into the darkness. Now there was only darkness around him.