India’s nostalgic passion for old typewriters

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In a small room painted a light shade of pastel pink, nearly a dozen men and women are hard at work, leaning over desks lining the walls, their fingers flying at a frantic pace over the walls. keystrokes. The calming rhythm of the strike punctuates the incessant hum of traffic.

For the past six years, in the heart of one of the busiest streets in the southern Indian city of Madurai, Dhanalakshmi Bhaskaran has taught typing to hundreds of students every day, running an institute fully powered by 20 manual typewriters.

Umapathi Typing Institute, named after his son, can teach you to type in three languages: English, Hindi, and the local language of Tamil. The typewriter they use, a model called Facit, is more or less unchanged since its launch in the late 1950s. Bhaskaran students come from all walks of life, she says. Some are still in high school, determined to learn typing to give themselves an edge in a competitive job market. Others are professionals vying for jobs in government-run offices. There are also a few young mothers, drawn to her classes with the hope of resuming their careers after having children.

The institute is one of several government-approved typing centers – at the end of the course, students are registered for exams held every six months. If successful, the certificates issued are useful to job seekers.

But in a world where mechanical technologies have long been replaced by digital technologies, and where laptops, computers and even tablets are now more affordable than ever, why would anyone invest in their typing skills?

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For job seekers who don’t have access to laptops or personal computers at home, learning to type on a manual typewriter can be a lifeline, says Bhaskaran. “Once you practice on this machine you can really improve your typing speed and avoid mistakes. And it’s easy to transfer those skills to the computer, ”she says. The portability of a typewriter is also convenient and appreciated. After the lockdown restrictions eased, students were able to socially distance themselves while typing, which may not have been possible if they had educated people on larger computer systems, Bhaskaran says.

In 2009, Godrej & Boyce, one of the last Indian companies to manufacture typewriters, decided to stop production. At the time, many predicted that the manual typewriter, which once held pride of place in Indian homes and offices, would finally become obsolete – a dinosaur consumed by digital technology.

And yet, a decade later, in the winding alleys of small Indian towns and even in the heart of its big cities, the manual typewriter is still thriving.


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