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Sunday, October 9, 2011

India's government offices finally say goodbye to the typewriter

Over the next few days the last typewriter will be taken from India’s government offices and replaced by the computer, bringing to an end an era that lasted for 80 years. While computers have been gradually replacing typewriters in even the most remote parts of the country, the machine was still used to test the typing skills of aspiring job applicants. The government has decided to do away with such an anomaly.

The “new writing machine” produced by Remington arrived in India in the 1930s and was welcomed by official scriveners who were freed from writing out everything by hand. Just as today – where the iPad is a device many love to flaunt – the typewriter quickly became a status symbol, and those who used it were much envied. Indian government officials used the QWERTY keyboard, so named for the starting letters in the top row. Interestingly, though, it would have been the “QWETY” keyboard until Remington’s engineers made an extra change by moving the ‘R’ to the upper row so its salesmen could quickly type the word “typewriter” to potential clients.

The Remington, however, was itself gradually replaced when the Indian company Godrej produced the country’s homespun typewriter in 1955, a source of great post-independence national pride, especially after Prime Minister Nehru said it had put India “in the league of technically advanced countries that can produce typewriters”.

Towards the end of last year, the (renamed) Godrej & Boyce, India’s only existing typewriter manufacturer, handed in its notice, as its market had dwindled to parts of the country where electricity was unavailable – oh, and small African countries. No doubt Nehru would have approved that India had progressed to the next stage of technological evolution.

Somewhat belatedly, the typewriter has also recently been dropped from the basket of goods of the inflation-measuring Wholesale Price Index, joining other archaic items such as pagers, sewing machines, hair oil and outdated brands of “Indian Made Foreign Liquor”.

But there is still one person in India who hears a clack-clacking of the keys as he writes. and that’s me – since I poured coffee over my laptop in a Dharamsala cafe. Now I have to use an on-screen keyboard on my laptop to write and, believe me, I type slower than the most inefficient 1930s Indian typist. It is a Sisyphean task to complete one paragraph, let alone a 500-word blog post. Like making music on a Stylophone.

I have ordered a new keyboard from Mumbai, but I expect it to take it as long as the slow demise of the Indian typewriter. But at least I can now emphasise with the last of the Indian typists; they can relish every single last typo they make… And, truth be told, I rather like that clack-clack sound.

Sent by Mr. Seshadri Srinivasan 

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the shift to computers is a tragedy in the long list of tragedies in this nation's history.

The twits at the general post office here don't even know how to give change after buying a stamp.

What are they gonna do with computers? play prince of persia, dave and watch *&^%.
November 4, 2011 12:23 PM