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Forbidding heights

Some problems appear to defy solutions. Much as one may study the situation and look for options, the answers remain elusive. One such predicament is the plight of those elderly and infirm who live on the higher floors of buildings which have no lifts. Without any independent means to negotiate the stairs, they become prisoners of their surroundings, unable to venture forth for a walk, visit friends, bow their heads before a consecrated fire or buy vegetables in a bazaar. 
Since many Parsis live in three or four-storied buildings in residential colonies built over the past 100 years where lifts were, and are, not mandatory, the quality of life is unfortunately impacted. More so in a community where the average age at death has been 81 years as per data supplied to Parsiana by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP). The death list for the year 2022 showed there were 192 Parsis in Bombay who had crossed 90 years and four who had lived over 100 (see "Bombay: The Telling Figures for 2022,” Parsiana, March 7-20, 2023). How many of those years were spent confined within their four walls, we will never know.
Parsiana thought of drafting a letter to architects asking them if they could suggest solutions. Our letter noted, "Many of the stairwells do not have space to install lifts or even supports for electric chair lifts. Due to heritage regulations, there are restrictions on constructing/erecting lifts on the facades of the buildings. And space constraints, expenses, entry and exit points may hinder construction of lift shafts on the sides and rear of the buildings. 
"Some colonies offer modified wheelchairs to maneuver the stairs but this requires an able-bodied person to assist the resident. 
 "Given the limitations mentioned, is there any other alternative to assist people residing in these buildings?”
Technology is fast changing and we believed new developments could perhaps offer solutions. We also scoured the internet in search of convenient options. But everywhere we drew a blank. Either the stairwells were too small, or the structures too weak to support machinery or supports/guide rails. Expense was another factor but not imminently relevant because the mechanisms on offer were unsuitable. Erecting external scaffolding for a lift would also be problematic. Many buildings did not have the space to put up lift shafts either in the front, rear or side of the structure. Would heritage conservation regulations permit such construction? Where in the buildings would the lift landings be placed? Would one enter through a kitchen or passage door? What about privacy and security? 
And assuming any alternative was available, who would bear the cost of the equipment and installation? Would all the tenants/licensees/occupants contribute to the running expenses? Would they all be able to afford the outgoings, allowing many are retired, elderly, living on limited income and saddled with medical costs? 
 As it is the trusts subsidize a good part of the monthly outgoings, despite many residents owning vehicles and subscribing to WiFi and cable television. The trusts themselves are all hard put for funds. The BPP can’t even afford to pay contracted monthly wages and salaries. In addition, they are defaulting on even reimbursing the 50% cost of repairs to the tenants for trust buildings as was agreed on. And yet the earlier trust board under the influence of former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta magnanimously waived the Rs 750 service charges. Flats under the financially prudent Wadia Management Committee continue to pay the requisite service charge. To compensate for the financial profligacy and declining revenues, the BPP slashed by over 60% the funds allocated on "other charitable objectives” (see "Another year, another loss,” Parsiana May 7-20, 2024). The BPP trustees may be hard pressed with the routine requirements of the trust to take on any additional responsibilities. 
But the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ) has come to the aid of 20 baugs. To assist the infirm they have donated battery powered, levered wheelchairs equipped with tracks to grip the stairs. A physically able-bodied person is required to maneuver these Seedee chairs, designed and manufactured by mechanical engineer Jamshed Dalal. Some colonies like Rustom Baug and Bharucha Baug have encountered difficulties when extending this Seedee facility that is usually operated by trained security staff. If the security staff are assigned new postings or new recruits are hired, training has to be given afresh to personnel who may not be cooperative, BPP trustee and WAPIZ chief executive officer Anahita Desai explained the challenges. 
Occasionally it is the services of the Parsi Ambulance and Nursing Divisions that are summoned to ferry those who need to be transported from one venue to another on payment of a voluntary donation.  Some colony associations arrange for able-bodied employees or contracted labor to carry residents up and down the stairs. As long as the demand for such services is spread out and not excessive, the manual facility serves as a stopgap measure. But it is unlikely to be a viable long-term solution. There is generally a shortage of manpower, absenteeism and a fear of injuring the person being transposed.  
On a priority basis, the community will need to come up with solutions to serve those trapped in their towers.


Villoo Poonawalla