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Updated: June 21, 2013 20:19 IST

Chasing the carbon trail

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Carbon chronicles: The frill-free carbon paper today has diminished roles to play Photo: S-Ramesh Kurup
The Hindu Carbon chronicles: The frill-free carbon paper today has diminished roles to play Photo: S-Ramesh Kurup

The simple carbon paper which teased our imagination interprets itself in newer ways to survive

A flip through old records, notebooks and scrap books always bring back fond memories. Hidden in them one may find a once cherished and forgotten peacock feather or a peepal leaf or a 10-rupee note. And perchance, while turning a page — a thin paper, black on one side and grey and blue at the other, might slide out.

The present generation of youngsters may vaguely remember watching with awe the sheer ingenuity of producing an instant copy, merely by inserting a carbon paper between two plain white sheets. That and the delight of fingers slightly smudged with ink. Later in college, as victims of ragging, some of us have used it to make copies of assignments for a bunch of pesky seniors. But that was the last of it. Carbon paper never made its way to our office desks.

When the typewriter became obsolete it took away the market for typewriting carbon. By and by as all the big offices started switching over to personal computers, the demand for carbon paper began dwindling. Yet carbon paper, though weakened, continues to be around in newer avatars. Once an office essential, now its main takers are the business class who use bill books. Some of the oldest stationary stores in Kozhikode like P.K. Brothers, K.R. Brothers, P.M. Kutty and Victory Traders have considerably cut down on their procurement of carbon paper as the demand is low.

Carbon varieties

“We used to procure 1,000 packets of pencil carbon a month earlier, now we stock only 100,” says Shyam Nath, owner of P.M. Kutty. “Pencil carbon,” he explains, “is the normal single impression carbon paper that is generally used by people.”

There are other types as well such as colour carbon which has a niche market and is used by tattoo and other artists who make designs on fabric and clay pots with it. Then there is the one-time use carbon used in computers which is directly supplied to the industries, he informs. There is also the double-sided carbon which is used by the government to prevent any tampering with receipts. The government insists on its usage to prevent malpractices and this has caused a slight surge in its demand, he says.

Shyam Nath is the third generation owner of P.M. Kutty which was established about 110 years ago. Shyam took over ownership 18 years ago and upgraded the store’s technological prowess. He recalls taking home as a little boy stacks of carbon paper from the shop just to play and have fun with. But nostalgia doesn’t run a business. And so, the bill book system which was maintained till his father’s time, was replaced by computerised billing facility.

“Now only small-scale traders and few people like me prefer to remain old school and maintain a bill book,” says 62-year-old Mani, owner of Victory Traders.

In fact, some distributors have even stopped selling the item. “We used to be distributors of Camlin carbon paper, but two years ago we stopped distribution because of dying demand,” says N.R. Nair, owner of Kerala Trade Wings.

However, the market for carbon paper will never completely fizzle out — at least not as long as trade flourishes and bills proliferate. May be, not in the form of the A4 sized pencil carbon sheets, as we knew it.

Rolls of carbon paper are still consumed by many shopkeepers, even those who have switched over to computerised billing. “We purchase custom-made computer printer carbon from distributors and use it to keep duplicates of the bills,” says Sasiendran, a salesman at Malabar Pharma.

According to Biju Abraham, in charge of the St. Francis Press that locally distributes Kangaroo and Camlin carbon paper, “Business has never been better. The sales figure has actually increased from the previous year.”

There is a possibility that St. Francis Press might have cashed in on the market that its competitors bowed out from, but that’s just speculation. As for the demand for carbon paper, Biju says, “The only threat is if carbon-less paper becomes a hit in the market. But so far that has not taken off in India because carbon-less paper is quite expensive.”

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