India - The Stairs of Scares

It's time to swing the comfort pendulum far back in the other direction. Come along with me as I take you up the office stairs and demonstrate why this is one thing in Mumbai I just cannot get used to. And I've been a pretty good sport about assimilating to the culture, trying new things, and putting on a "Sure, let's do it!" smile every time somebody suggests heading out for an Indian experience. My coworkers will back me up on this. They have declared me the most adventurous of the American lot thus far.

But back to the stairs. I hate them. There, I said it. This shit -blunt, but that's what it is -would not fly in the States and what makes it even more ironic/ridiculous/unjust is that these stairs serve as the entry sequence to an architectural firm. "Hello, and welcome to our firm. Congratulations on making it here! Kindly do not use our building's structural failures, filth, and poor lighting as an indication of the level of design we shall provide to you as your architect." Ascending and descending these stairs is absolutely my least favorite part of the day. Aside from the obvious, here's why.

Once you pass the first flight you encounter the Rat Landing. Rat Landing only has a demi-lune window for its light source. At 8am in the morning that makes this area pretty dark. Have I actually seen the rats? No, but my coworkers have and I heard one of them scream on the phone about it during a conference call. The fresh supply of droppings in the corner and the audible scurrying through the walls confirms their presence daily. I have taken to wearing my highest, loudest heels most days so that the clacking will hopefully frighten them back into their nests.

If you make it past Rat Landing unscathed, you then go up another flight of stairs and walk alongside what I am told is a pretty posh art gallery named "Listen To Your Eye." Every time I pass the sign for this place I think two thoughts. 1) Lady, I know what you're getting at but ears play a bigger role in listening than eyes do, no? 2). The glowing blue light of The Eye causes me to feel as though I am being watched by Dr. T. J. Eckleberg.
Ascend the last flight of steps and be careful not to touch the wall. It's been freshly painted but it seems to be a target for spit, as evidenced by the paper sign asking, "Kindly refrain from spitting on the wall," which the painters shellacked into place when performing their task. From here you're greeted by a decent wash of daylight and the front door to our office. However, you must first pass the last flight of steps that serve as some random storage unit. God only knows what lies in those piles.
At this point you may be thinking, "Lord, that is awful." Or you may be telling me to suck it up, things could be worse. But recall that I mentioned these stairs played a staring role on Friday the 13th.

Last Thursday night the gallery owner had an opening. When a few of us left the office around 8pm there was a decent sized crowd hovering around The Eye. The Eye hangs on the wall across from the stairwell railing so this area is no more than about 8' wide, at the most. Yet it was so full of people my coworkers and I found ourselves shimmying through the crowd to get out of the building.

The next morning I trudged my way up the steps and past The Eye. Something felt different, like the floor had dipped. Now if you couldn't surmise this already by the pictures, this place isn't level to begin with but on Friday morning things were feeling a bit fun house-esque. I already felt like I was being rude and overly critical of the stairs by simply taking pictures of the mystery vertebrae so I refrained from saying anything.

Later that afternoon the office manager suddenly got very vocal and was speaking in Hindi quickly and in a nervous tone. A few minutes go by and no one tells me what's going on but there is a growing flurry of activity. Then, I hear the office manager say, "You take care of Catherine and get her out of the building." What the hell was going on? Have a look:

The stair landing was indeed sloping due to a very large split in its main support beam. The office is housed in a very old warehouse space so it's anyone's guess as to when the structure was last inspected and/or augmented. But this was the new state of the world and The Eye had seen it all take place.

We were told to evacuate two at a time, slowly, and with all of our belongings. It felt very Titanic-like, which looking back is rather ironic given what was going on with the Costa Concordia that day, too. Over the next half hour we all gently go down the stairs and stick to the outer perimeter to then huddle on the street as though we were having an elementary school fire drill.

About an hour later three men show up carrying 12' long skinny tree trunks. Evidently these were going to serve as our new post and beam construction! While we waited for more information we debated how to finish up the day. Would we be able to go back inside?

Thirty minutes of discussion and ambiguous head nodding and bobbing led to us (apparently) calling it a wrap and marching down the street to a bar for happy hour. Carson was eager to embarrass me with some 30th birthday celebrations so what better way to kick things off than with a collapsing staircase, 80s music, two towers of beer, and a chocolate cake?

By Monday morning of this week things in the stairwell remained unchanged. And pretty unsafe by most standards. The office manager rightfully wanted things fixed ASAP and after bringing in a 3rd party engineer it was decided that the whole stair landing should be demolished and replaced with steel. Excellent! Let's get started!

Well, that would be a good idea except the gallery owner wasn't cooperative. You see, she plans on hosting a "huge" opening this weekend "for a very renowned artist" and therefore cannot allow the building to be inaccessible due to structural work. Right, because she didn't learn her lesson the first time around. So as we wait for reconstruction to start on Sunday this is how we cope.

Monday morning we are all to report to the coffee shop down the street before going in the building. You see, there is only one stairwell serving the office and that will obviously be out of order. So we are to enter through another office suite, weed our way through someone else's space, and somehow climb over a demising wall or something to reach the back door to our own suite. Should be a good time, no doubt!

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