Business is relatively low-key for typists in the city. Athira M. discovers how typists are reinventing themselves

The place is quiet while I wait for Subramania Iyer in a building on the bustling road that leads to the Western entrance of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. After a while, Subramania Iyer, the proprietor of Fort Technical Institute, arrives. He tells me apologetically that since classes are in the evening, there is hardly any work during the day.

Shift three decades to the past. The Institute’s heyday when studious youngsters gained the keys to a new world by training to type on sturdy typewriters. The Institute was started in 1919 by Appu Iyer, Subramania Iyer’s grandfather. “Classes were from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.. Each batch had a one-hour session. Some 300 students used to learn typing here. Now, we have just a morning batch and an evening batch and have typing classes in English, Malayalam and Hindi,” Subramania Iyer says.

Shift to the present

Once a ubiquitous presence all over the city, “job works executed” used to be the calling card of the typists. Today one has to search for them. That is how one comes across Anitha Job Works on Tutors’ Lane, Statue, run by 79-year-old Somasundaram who has still not lost touch with his Godrej typewriter. “This has been my life for the last six decades. It is a passion,” he says.

Elsewhere, near the Housing Board Junction, Lathakumari S. is waiting for a client. For the last 25 years, she has been a typist for English and Malayalam. The paucity in work has not made her shun her machine.

A few of them work from home while some like S. Sudhakaran Nair have diversified by adding a photostat machine, a DTP, laser printer and so on at his shop at Pulimood. Showing us the only typewriter at his place, he says: “I rarely use it now. But I don’t want to throw it away.”

Most of the institutes have downed their shutters. Some others do “job works” which include taking photostat copies, lamination, spiral binding, DTP, word processing… besides taking up occasional typing.

As a result typists like Somasundaram are forced to take up new “jobs”. He used to type documents, affidavits, petitions, lease/rental agreements and the like in large numbers. Now he is approached by government employees seeking his help in drafting pension books. Or else he makes documents for house building advances and, occasionally, he gets a customer or two who wants to draft a petition, an affidavit or a proposal.

Now typing speed is tested on a word processor rather than a typewriter.

“Most of us have learnt to adapt to the times by incorporating other services at the institutes,” says Vijayakumar, secretary of All Kerala Typists and Computer Owners’ Welfare Association, who runs a typewriting institute. The association has nearly 400 members of which 50 are in the capital city. Incidentally, Tamil Nadu has more candidates appearing for the typewriting examination compared to Kerala and Karnataka.

Meanwhile, some of them are hoping against hope that typewriters will be back in vogue one day. It was in the news that Russia has begun reusing them to avoid computer leaks! Something which was reiterated by author Frederick Forsyth, in an interview to The Hindu: “When I sit in front of my typewriter, I have the story pretty much in my head and then I just type it out. Call me a dinosaur, but I’d like to see someone hack into my typewriter.”