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A new coffee table book traces the cultural impact of the typewriter

A new coffee table book, shot by Mumbai-based photographer Chirodeep Chaudhuri, explores the cultural significance of the dying typewriter

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Jun 12, 2017 09:44 IST
Soma Das
Joseph Pidiath Typists at Picket Road, Mumbai
Joseph Pidiath Typists at Picket Road, Mumbai(Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri )

A new coffee table book, shot by Mumbai-based photographer Chirodeep Chaudhuri, explores the cultural significance of the dying typewriter

Mumbai has a long association with the typewriter. In 1955, the city-based firm, Godrej, became the first company in Asia to manufacture a manual typewriter — the Godrej Prima.

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Coinciding with the arrival of the typewriter were a range of machines that revolutionised work: stenographs, telephones and calculators. The onset of the typewriter also led women to join the workforce as typists.

Mahrukh Calagopi uses a typewriter to label vials at Parsi Homeopathic Pharmacy, Dhobi Talao (Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri )

For Thane-based photojournalist Chirodeep Chaudhuri (44), the typewriter has always been at the periphery of his life. “I belong to a generation that’s familiar with both the computer and the typewriter. At a school reunion, friends told me that we went to typewriting class, but I have no memory of it,” says Chaudhuri.

Almost a decade ago, the typewriter started becoming obsolete as the computer replaced it in all walks of life. And when Godrej shut down the production of typewriters in 2009, it was the end of an era.

The typewriter as an element of decor at Smoke House Deli at Phoenix Mills (Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri )

Over the last five years, Chaudhuri has been juggling his day job, as the photo editor at National Geographic India, with shoots documenting the final traces of typewriters. His images feature in a new coffee table book, With Great Truth and Regard. Edited by journalist and writer Sidharth Bhatia, it features essays by journalist Behram Contractor aka Busybee and media critic Santosh Desai, among others.

“This is an in-between phase when typewriters are still in use. It was an opportunity to capture history,” he says.

Mumbai-based typewriter artist Chandrakant Bhide (Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri )

The typewriters of Mumbai

Chaudhuri started shooting pavement typists first, the ones who make affidavits and petitions outside courts. “Pavement typists are the last foot soldiers, preventing typewriters from going redundant,” he says.

Through a tip-off from a friend, Chaudhuri was able to find a store that still uses a typewriter: the 30-year-old Parsi Homeopathic Pharmacy on Princess Street. “The owner Mahrukh Calagopi uses a typewriter to label vials, so that the writing could be read easily. And if a bottle dripped, the ink wouldn’t smudge,” he says.

Typing exams at Maratha School, Worli (Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri )

While typewriters are largely obsolete, Chaudhuri says typing exams, as part of certain government entrance tests, still exist. “When you apply for certain government jobs, they want to know your speed on a machine. It is one of the lovely absurdities of life in India,” he says, adding, “It was a unique experience walking the corridors at Maratha School, Worli, and hearing the tapping of keys.”

Chaudhuri also came across a typewriter artist, Chandrakant Bhide, who makes portraits of personalities, ranging from actor Dilip Kumar to cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. “He worked at the Union Bank as a typist. On his retirement, the bank chairman allowed him to buy the machine for a token amount of Rs1,” says Chaudhuri.

Chaudhuri recalls the overall mood of the people he met: “Some people were philosophical about it, while others were cribbing. The typing institutes would tell me that typewriters help you gain speed, as opposed to a computer, an argument that I could never understand.”

With Great Truth and Regard — The Story of the Typewriter in India, edited by Sidharth Bhatia, Rs 2,500. Publisher: Godrej & Boyce; distributed by Roli Books. Will be available at bookstores from December 1.

Photographer Chirodeep Chaudhuri (Photo: Aalok Soni )