Reminiscing india in the times of typewriter

Exploring how the machine became an integral part of the country’s social and economic lives

Published: 22nd March 2017 10:20 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd March 2017 10:56 AM   |  A+A-

A scene outside a district court in Delhi; a typewriter making unit in 1984;

BENGALURU: In 2009, the last manual typewriter of India was rolled out. It was an end of an era of typing pools in offices and their rhythmic clackety-clack sounds that assues you that some serious work is getting done.

The book With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India documents nearly 150 years of its existence. 

It captures the time when typewriters were not only an integral part of ones social and economic life, but 
also a powerful tool of the print industry. 

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at the Avadi
session in Delhi  Chirodeep Chaudhuri I
Sooni Taraporevala

Vrunda Pathare, a chief archivist and a contributor to the book says, “The information presented was collected by travelling extensively across India and documenting the stories of typists, dealers, typing classes and repair shops - the entire eco-system that developed around the typewriter.”

Dr Indira Chowdhury who contributed to the oral history sections in the book adds, “I think the story of the typewriter in India is related to the story of everyday technologies (to use David Arnold’s phrase) that originated in the West and were introduced in India during the colonial period.

Typewriters like other machines such as the bicycle had a different life in India. The culture to which the typewriter adapted in India was a different one from the culture where it originated. So we find that the typewriter in India is rather ubiquitous - turning up on the streets and not only in offices.” 

Letters to the Editor
It took about five to six years to complete the book. Chirodeep Chaudhuri, the photographer, calls typewriter a wonderful technology story packed with a lot of drama. 

“We had to go beyond the obvious things like the typists outside courts. I was interested in other stories... quirky ones. I have memories of letters to the editor reaching my office at the Sunday Observer on Gandhi Jayanti or Independence Day, with perhaps a portrait of Gandhiji. I used to wonder about the senders. I had wanted to do a series of portraits of authors with their typewriters. There were many such ideas. The challenge was to track such stories down,” he says.

There was a lot of serendipity too, he says, adding, “A mechanic mentioned about a man who had a house, the roof of which looked like a typewriter. Now we all know that there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip so, though this sounded fascinating I wondered whether what was designed to “look like a typewriter” would actually look like a typewriter when photographed.” 

He recalls another fortunate accident. “I spotted a tiny picture - a portrait of Sachin Tendulkar done on a typewriter as part of a series being carried by an English newspaper to commemorate the World Cup, which was being billed as Sachin’s last. And then Vrunda and her team tracked the creator of that stamp-sized picture down. ” 

Sarita Sundar, designer of the book, says, “This cover marries the visual aspect of archival content and the tactile quality of the machine - and also plays on the various idioms and expressions associated with the typewriter.”

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