In what witnesses call a miracle, this 40-year-old watchman limped away after plunging vertically down the elevator shaft from the 12th story of his building; after a pit stop at second floor, he tumbled again to the basement
'Look before you leap' may be a hoary truism for many, but for Malkhan Singh, a migrant worker who made Mumbai his home a long time ago, it is a lesson brandished in memory. Especially since non-adherence to the platitude brought him within inches of death, but left him, for life, with an astounding survivor's tale.
Singh (40) works as a watchman at Satya Ki Nagari building in Lower Parel. On the day of Diwali, he emerged from a fatal fall, some 90 feet to touchdown, alive and relatively intact. While witnesses and doctors are amazed that his bones didn't shatter after impact, Singh likes to believe it is the play of Providence.
Malkhan Singh draws open the door to the elevator at the 12th floor of
the building, and steps in
But he doesn't realise that the lift hasn't arrived, and falls through the
elevator shaft to land on the roof of the lift, which is standing stationary
at the second floor. illustrationS/Jishu Dev Malakar
After scrambling frantically in a bid to get out of the dark pit, he slips
through the gap between the wall and the lift, and crashes to the ground,
rupturing his ankles, but intact otherwise
On the wrong foot
On the night of Diwali, October 26, Singh went to the rooftop of the 12-storey structure he stands guard at to check the water supply. After his work was done, he pushed the button to call the elevator to go down again. When he thought it had arrived at his level, he slid open the laterally-sliding corrugated door to the elevator, and stepped in.
The earth must have moved under his feet, for it dawned on Singh that he had stepped onto thin air. The lift wasn't there -- it hadn't moved an inch from its last stop. Singh had treaded on sheer space; the rest was gravity's job.
The next thing he knew, he had embarked on a free fall, right from the 12th floor of the building, down the dark elevator shaft, unable to see where the abyss ended and where he was headed. But he saw the bottom of the void soon enough, when he landed at the top of the elevator, which was parked at the second floor.
As he crashed, he felt searing pain and numbing panic. He had just finished the quickest and most precipitous journey of his life -- hurtling through a distance of 75 feet, at a plane 90 degrees to the ground, accelerating at 9.8 m/s2.
Light at tunnel end
Stunned out of senses at what had just befallen him, Singh scrambled and kicked: he wanted out, anyhow. And in his desperation to escape the dark cuboid, he fell again, slipping through the gap between the lift and the wall at the back, and on to the basement.
The second, smaller and final leg of his ordeal was over. His yelps for help roused residents who rushed him to the civic-run KEM hospital where he is currently recuperating.
Considering the sheer drop, Singh got away with much less than what he seemed to be in for. Yes, he cracked his ankles, but was spared the lethal injuries that victims of such falls are known to sustain. The difference is that between a bruise and a battle scar, doctors said.
"Fortunately, Singh didn't suffer any injuries on his head and spinal region as any impact on these organs would have turned him a paraplegic," said Dr Pradeep Bhosale, head of the orthopaedic department of KEM. Doctors are surprised that Singh is still alive.
Dr Bhosale said, "The reason he landed on his legs is because he was a little conscious while he fell. We have put external fixators on both the legs. He will require physiotherapy. Looking at the surgery results, he will be able to get back on his legs within a year."
Singh's to blame
When this reporter visited the building, the residents said that it was Singh's lapse that landed him at the bottom of the pit.
"After the incident, we called a mechanic to check the lift and found that there was nothing wrong with it. Singh, in his eagerness to come down, had opened the door to the lift in haste, and without realising that there was no lift, stepped inside and landed at the second floor. The moment we heard his frantic cries, we rushed to him and took him to the hospital," said Ajit Jain, resident of the building, adding, "He's lucky to be safe and alive."
Singh cannot talk much because it hurts too much. "It was my fault that I opened the door without realising that the lift hadn't arrived on the floor. I am lucky to be alive today. It must be my family's good karma," Singh said.
Jibendra Dubey, the owner of the private security agency Shakti Security Force for which Singh works, said, "It was Singh's fault he didn't see the lift wasn't there. We are now paying all the expenses of the hospital. Everything has been taken care of."
Singh's younger brother, Nepal, also a watchman, said, "He has been a watchman for 10 years and has never had any accident. His family lives in a village in Uttar Pradesh. The security company is chipping in for his medical expenses, and doctors are treating him."
T N Ghadsi, the duty officer at NM Joshi Marg police station, said, "We have recorded Singh's statement, in which he has accepted that he couldn't spot the lift and that it was his fault. No case has been registered in the matter."
Since a housing society is yet to be formed in the 12-year-old building, MiD DAY attempted to contact Pravin Jain of Kamal builders, the firm which constructed the building. But he remained unavailable despite repeated calls and messages.
May 21, 2011: A young man who was sleeping on the terrace of his building to beat the heat accidentally fell off it, but escaped with minor injuries. Karan Pawar (24) survived with minor bruises after falling from a 40-ft height.
August 23, 2011: The Nagpada police arrested a 13-year-old domestic help after she admittedly threw her employers' one-and-a-half-year-old son from their fourth floor apartment in Byculla. Miraculously, however, the injured child, Rehan, survived the hard fall without major external injuries.