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More than eight decades of typewriting lessons for Kochi

The Ramakrishna Institute of Commerce, which completed 85 years this Republic Day, takes forward a long legacy of teaching typewriting

The click-clack of typewriter keys forms a kind background score at Ramakrishna Institute of Commerce on MG Road; it’s 11 in the morning and eight-10 students pore over papers as they type. Some hesitantly hit the keys while the faster ones barely look at them as they type. Speed and an error-free copy are the essence in typing, which can only be gained through practice. For the past 85 years the Institute has been training students in typewriting and shorthand.

More than eight decades of typewriting lessons for Kochi

In the early 1950s there were around 80 typewriting institutes in and around Kochi. Learning, what some refer to as, the ‘twin arts’ was a rite of passage. Today the number of such institutes in the city has shrunk to four or five, some run with a couple of machines. “The people who started these are my father, Krishna Iyer’s contemporaries — those who studied with him or learnt from him,” says TK Narayana Swamy who runs Ramakrishna Institute.

For the 64-year-old, the institute has been his life especially since Krishna Iyer’s death in 1999. With the arrival of computers, in the mid 1990s, there was a dip in students which led Narayana Swamy to set up an internet café instead. The lull was temporary; by 2000-02 the students were back.

Today he has around 90 to 100 students, the number varies. A reason for the interest is that computer-related secretarial and clerical jobs, especially in government service, demand typing skills and proof of having passed a typewriting exam, for instance Kerala Government Technical Education (KGTE), MGTE (Maharashtra) or TNGTE (Tamil Nadu).

Shorthand however doesn’t have as many takers, Narayana Swamy has 30 students for the nine-month course. Sumal Raj has learnt typing and is trying to master short hand, “The advantage of learning both is that one gets access to many more job opportunities — read vacancies — where there aren’t many applicants.”

More than eight decades of typewriting lessons for Kochi

In the late 1920s, a young TR Krishna Iyer moved to Ernakulam, from his home town Thriprayar, near Thrissur, looking for better opportunities. The search led him to Champion’s Institute, a typewriting and shorthand institute, run by Seetharama Iyer, on Market Road. By 1935 Krishna Iyer, who learnt both, opened a branch of the institute near the Ernakulam Siva Temple. On January 26, 1952, he christened it Ramakrishna Institute of Commerce and relocated to Jos Junction; it moved once more to its current location.

“He deliberately chose the day for its significance, every year afterwards the day was celebrated as annual day,” says Narayana Swamy. The day used to be celebrated at TDM Hall, but over the years the custom ceased due to the declining number of students and increasing costs.

This year, on January 26, however, 300-odd students — present and past — will get together to celebrate. “Rehearsals used to be compulsory, sir (Krishna Iyer) was very particular. We used to even had a mock chief guest,” MV Danaseelan, who retired from Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore (FACT) as executive secretary. He has learnt both typing and shorthand, and was topper at any test in these subjects.

If the first batch had a handful of students, in its heyday, from the 1960s to the 90s, the institute had more than 300 students learning simultaneously in slots spread across the day from 6 am to 8 pm. The course taught English, as well as typing in Malayalam and Hindi. The Institute was also in charge of conducting typewriting exams for organisations, assessing speed and correctness.

Chasing typewriters
  • The production of Godrej typewriters stopped 11 years ago, in 2009, which resulted in institutes such as this taking a hit when it comes to access to machines. As of now there are 14 machines, and Narayana Swamy has around 20-odd more. The machines are either Godrej or Facit. “Since I work constantly with these I know how to repair them. Spare parts are not easy to find locally, I use parts from other typewriters. Or one has to get them from Delhi, which is not often feasible.” While English typewriters are easy to find, Malayalam typewriters are elusive. They are in demand in Tamil Nadu where they are rigged to type in Tamil font. Narayana Swamy tried to organise an exhibition of typewriters but gave up. “There were machines people were ready to junk, when I asked for those the owners jacked up the price.”

It has provided stenographers/typists to a number of local companies, FACT was one such. “Those days it was word-of-mouth, MKK Nayar was known to my father and any time he wanted to hire staff he would call,” says Narayana Swamy. Krishna Iyer was stenographer to the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, MS Menon and also Sir Robert Bristow, who played a pivotal role in the development of the Kochi port. “My father used to go to the boat jetty, where a boat would come to fetch him to Bristow’s office. My father told us about how he would be fed bread, butter and milk as refreshment and then ferried back,” he adds.

The institute boasts a list of illustrious students – the late Ambady Vishwanatha Menon, former Finance Minister, A Ramachandran, former Registrar CUSAT, and AK Seshadri, former Mayor, among others.

Narayana Swamy has no intention of stopping either of these classes, which he conducts with his wife Kala, “The number of students points to an upward trend, 8,000 students appeared for KGTE last year. This figure is likely to go up,” he says.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 9:04:50 PM |

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