I have this completely irrational love for typewriters. In spite of never having owned or used one, I’m overcome by the desire to possess one of these machines. I remember people from my parents’ generation lamenting on the kind of mess associated with the typewriter; ink-stains on fingers and clothes and the inability to erase more than a couple of words being just a few. But those very factors increased their attractiveness in my mind during those days. I secretly admired these quirky machines that could create such havoc in the lives of adults. They too had smudged fingers and clothes !
For a few years in my early childhood we stayed in an old house, with big rooms, a tiled roof and a mango tree in the compound. My father’s office was on the top floor and we resided on the ground floor. Not a very conducive environment from a child’s point of view because of the increased number of adults in the vicinity, which certainly was a dampener for pursuits of a mischievous nature. However my brother and I still managed to circumvent this obstacle. I have fond memories of my brother climbing onto the roof of the two-storey building and getting his foot trapped between tiles. Caused quite an uproar but it was well worth it for the absolutely high adventure quotient. I digress. Steering the story back to my typewriter-love, my father’s office was the first place I met this beautiful machine. We were expressly forbidden from going upstairs and causing havoc in that serious environment. Mostly we followed this rule.
However, there were rare occasions when tootling around in familiar environs got boring and I would sneak upstairs . As long as I stayed out of my father’s orbit it was fine. The uncles would spare indulgent glances for us before returning to their work. My favourite was the diminutive Gopi uncle who was the typist. He had twinkling eyes and the most welcoming smile. I remember gazing with rapt attention at his wizardry with the typewriter.
Staccato taps on the keys let loose an army of alphabets onto the paper. Gopi uncle was the brilliant commander who conquered vast swathes of pristine white paper with his alphabet soldiers. They huddled in groups big and small and a few brave soldiers stood alone. The font was so beautiful and each alphabet had a distinct character, with jovial O’s and straight-laced A’s giving each other company.
The entire process, starting with inserting glossy carbon paper between the crisp sheets of white paper, rolling it smartly into the typewriter with just the ends sticking out, the act of typing, the confident whack on the side of the machine to bring the paper back to the right side, all this combined to form a beautifully choreographed routine. He had a small cloth which he used to wipe his fingers from time to time. Those were the days when somebody would convert the head honcho’s words into squiggles of shorthand which was then typed out into language that could be deciphered by mere mortals. And that was another source of astonishment to me. Myriad patterns crammed into tiny pieces of paper was perused by Gopi uncle before he started firing away at the typewriter and churning out torrents of words. How could I not think that he was anything other than a magician !
I’m amazed when I look back now and realize that I never tried my hand at typing, even though Gopi uncle would surely have indulged me if I’d asked.This speaks volumes for the degree of reverence with which I viewed typewriters, since I was a very curious child and believed in poking my nose into everything.
My next tryst with a typewriter happened when my father gifted a Brother typewriter to my older sibling, who had just started out on a career in journalism. It was a very compact model with its own cover and looked quite sleek. But I had already given my heart to Gopi Uncle’s old machine and the new aspirant to that position was not stately enough to take its place. My brother still reminisces fondly about his typewriter.
Now I live in the hope of getting my hands on a working typewriter. I have wonderful plans of typing out my poems and posts on it and getting inducted in the secret society of typists, where ink-stained fingers are viewed as badges of honour. I feel that my words would be infused with the magic that resides in the keys of typewriters, which can be unlocked only by those who love it.