Key Notes: A New Book Encapsulates The History And Culture Of Typewriting In India

Godrej typewriter factory

Final Mechanic, Danny Jalnawala at Godrej Typewriter Plant pours over a Prima typewriter, listening intently to the sounds it makes while he tests the keys. His colleague, Gopal Shetty, stands a few paces behind him, watching him and making fun of him for working so hard. Photo: Sooni Taraporevala, 1984.

Last year, American sculptor Jeremy Mayer tore up 60 Godrej typewriters to create an installation in the form of a lotus. The sculpture, which occupies a central spot in the Godrej and Boyce office in Vikhroli, is a memorial to the company’s history of manufacturing the typewriter. On Thursday, December 1, the company will release another homage to the machine. With Great Truth & Regard is a coffee table book on the Godrej typewriter and the history of typewriting in India. Edited by Sidharth Bhatia, journalist and founder of the news site The Wire, and with pictures by photojournalist Chirodeep Chaudhuri, the book is a collection of essays filled with facts and anecdotes.

Godrej typewriter

Journalists in the media room at the Seventh Non-Aligned Movement Summit, Delhi 1983. Photo: Godrej Archives.

In his lengthy opening essay ‘The Rise of the Indian Tyepwriter’, British historian David Arnold writes about the typewriter being a pivot in the culture of the Indian workforce. Bhatia provides a potted history of the Godrej typewriter, the first locally made, mass produced version of the instrument. The first model, the M-9, an assembly of 1,800 components, was produced in 1955, a time when the American Remington typewriter had a monopoly in the Indian market. Business was slow to pick up in the face of such competition but by the end of the 1980s, Godrej was selling 50,000 typewriters a year. The last one rolled off the assembly line at their plant in Shirwal in Maharashtra in 2009.

Godrej tyepwriter

Vasudeo Barve holds the record in the Limca Book of Records for teaching people to type in 25 minutes. He makes students type without looking at the keys. Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri.

The most captivating parts of the book encapsulate the culture that grew around typewriting in various parts of the country. Vikram Doctor writes about the Stenographers’ Guild in Chennai, an organisation that ran typing classes and was supported by C. Rajagopalachari, a typewriting enthusiast. Readers will chuckle throughout The Times of India columnist Jug Suraiya’s portrait of the Calcutta bhadralok typist, a man whose grammar was so impeccable he was “Wren & Martin incarnate” but whose accented pronunciation made him an unreliable stenographer. Naresh Fernandes, editor of Scroll.in, recalls the unrest among the staff at The Times of India in the 1990s just before the transition from the typewriter to the word processor.

Godrej typewriter

Around Tis Hazari court, Delhi. Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri.

The essays are salted with photographs of street typists, who were once found clustered around courts; black and white images of the Godrej factory; and old photos of journalists banging out copy. There are also delightful vignettes about people and their typewriters. Mahrukh Calagopi, who runs the Parsi Homeopathic Pharmacy on Mumbai’s Princess Street, still types medicine bottle labels on her green Olympia. Bhide, a former bank employee living in Dadar, makes portraits on his Halda. The Bhandaris, who moved from Kolkata to Gurgaon in the mid 1990s, are reminded of their beloved old hometown by a painting of a Bengali babu lightly hunched over his typewriter.

With Great Truth & Regard, published by Godrej and Boyce, will be available in bookstores across the city and Godrej Archives, Plant 19A Godrej and Boyce, Pirojshanagar, LBS Road, Vikhroli (West) from Thursday, December 1. Rs2,500.

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