Learning to type was considered an important life skill for anyone in the olden days. Especially among the middleclass. Even if one did not pursue a college education, knowledge of typing could help a young man get a job as a typist in any company. In addition, If he learnt shorthand he could be a stenographer leading to better job prospects. A whole generation of Tambrahms from Kerala, popularly known as `Palghat Iyers` migrated to Bombay in the mid forties qualified as stenographers to start their lives as personal assistants to big bosses. Most of them did very well in life.
My first job, was also as a PA to a Gujarathi businessman. In addition to a B.Com degree I had passed the `Typewriting Lower` exams. Since I did not know shorthand I used to take dictations in long hand. My boss was not good at dictating resulting in several drafts before a letter was typed and signed by the boss.
The manual typewriters those days came with different brand names. Most popular was `Remington`. The more sleek looking was the `Olivetti`. The electronic versions of typewriters followed much later.
There were several typewriting institutes in every area of the city having scores of typewriters on which the trainees used to be busy learning the skill. `Clickety clack` sound of the multiple typewriters in an institute accompanied by the bell ringing sound warning the typist that the he had reached the end of the typing space on the paper was like music to the ears. The first lesson one learnt was to type `asdf` with the left hand four fingers followed by `lkjh` using the right hand fingers. This lesson would go on for a couple of days before you were taught to type all the alphabets from ` a to z`. Starting with small passages you typed long passages without looking at the typewriter, picking up speed in the process. When the Instructor felt that you had reached the speed limit of 40 words per minute you were allowed to sit for an exam to earn your certificate.
If you wanted extra copies of the typed matter you used carbon papers between sheets. Every time you made a mistake, you had to retype the whole matter. It was very frustrating. Though later on white correction fluids were available to mask the mistake and overtype the correct word, it was messy. Typing was undoubtedly a laborious process those days.
On the other hand it amazes me to see the youngsters of today, who never went to a typewriting institute, type furiously on computers using only their two index fingers or using the two thumbs to key in the messages on their mobiles. I don`t know how they do this. I find even the key board of a PC, which is touch sensitive, a challenge! I tend to overlap the letters when I attempt to type with all the fingers. So, like millions of people I have also learnt to type on my PC using the two index fingers. Keying in messages on my `over smart` mobile phone with only the right index finger, however, continues to be a challenge- with the prompter facility in the phone often deciding to use words which I had not intended to use. Again like millions I have forgotten the lessons I learnt in the typewriting institute. No wonder the traditional typing institutes have almost vanished from this earth!
This article appeared in the 24-30th September, 2017 issue of Adyar Times under my column `Rajan`s Random reflections`