Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bicycles survived after cars. Why not typewriters?

The factories that make the machines may be going silent, but India's typewriter culture remains defiantly alive, fighting on bravely against that omnipresent upstart, the computer. (In fact, if India had its own version of "Mad Men," with its perfumed typing pools and swaggering execs, it might not be set in the 1960s but the early 1990s, India's peak typewriter years, when 150,000 machines were sold annually.)

Credit for its lingering presence goes to India's infamous bureaucracy, as enamored as ever of outdated forms (often in triplicate) and useless procedures, documents piled 3 feet high and binders secured by pink string.

India's lingering love affair with correction fluid and carbon paper befits a country that often seems caught in two centuries, where high-tech companies and an ambitious space program coexist with human-powered rickshaws and feudal village life.

Indian firm Godrej and Boyce, one of the world's last typewriter makers, released its first commercial model in 1955, reportedly inspired by then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who saw it as a "symbol of independent and industrialized India." Nehru reportedly received one of the first machines.

Over the next few decades, owning a manual typewriter was a major status symbol. "Small companies with a typewriter were really going somewhere," Palta said.

Demand during the 1960s and '70s was so high that customers waited up to six months for new machines, which cost nearly as much as a recent engineering graduate's yearly salary of about $175.

Now Godrej has announced that it is selling off its last few hundred machines, sparking a string of obituaries mourning the loss of that satisfying "ting" at the end of each line.

Even so, some aficionados hope there are enough spare parts and ribbons floating around to keep Indian typewriters tip-tip-tipping for years, hardly the first time they've defied expectations. Dukle recalls that at the time he joined Godrej, people already were saying the machines had only a few years left. "That was two decades ago," he said.

"Bicycles survived after cars. Why not typewriters? Let there be free choice, I say."
Mark Magnier in Los Angeles Times Here

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