The lost world of typewriters
In today’s world of malls and online shopping portals, Mr Gopalakrishna is of a rapidly vanishing breed. The owner of Standard Typewriters, one of the few surviving typewriter servicing centers in Bangalore, Mr Gopalakrishna insists that we ‘sit down’ for a chat during each of the visits we make to get our antique Olympia S9 De Luxe typewriter serviced. We have had to drive at the speed of a bullock cart trying to locate this blink-and-miss typewriter service shop located in an old building on the highly congested Hanumanthanagar Main Road.
Mr Gopalakrishna tells us he started repairing typewriters since he was in the 10th standard, during the period when they were in great demand and notes how his profession is now dying. There is no sadness in either of these statements, however - only a matter-of-fact-ness.
“Koothkolli saar,” he interjects frequently pointing to the once-white plastic chairs lined up facing him. The chairs resemble oases in this small space filled floor-to-roof with typewriters and their spare parts. Of the three chairs placed in front of him, one seems permanently occupied by a silent (albeit smiling) old man of about sixty, probably the same age as Mr Gopalakrishna himself. I notice that our wisecracks have no effect on him and he is not tempted once to offer his opinion on anything, but just stares alternately at Mr Gopalakrishna and the floor the whole time. He even jumps from the middle chair to the extreme one in response to Mr Gopalakrishna’s first “koothkolli saar”, perhaps to create for us (husband and wife) the comfort of sitting next to each other.
We refuse, conditioned by quick deals and big billion days.
“See those at the top? Ella great condition.” Mr Gopalakrishna says and we look up at the Godrej Primas stacked within their cases on the attic.
“They look really old!” I reply and regret it.
“No no, anyone will buy them. Excellent machines madam avu,” he replies and I detect a tinge of rebuttal.
I want to clarify that I meant to throw a compliment but I don’t realizing that antiquity is exciting only for those with enough disposable income.
Kannada typewriters, Hindi typewriters, typewriters stripped down to their skeletons in various stages of repair, stacks of old round boxes with spare parts all seem to jostle for space and attention as Mr Gopalakrishna puts us at ease promising to bring our Olympia to ‘perfect condition’.
I leave our Westside shopping bag outside on the second (and final) visit.
Mr Gopalakrishna feeds a fresh A4 sheet into the platen and asks us to test the refurbished Olympia. Clackety Clack. Clackety Clack. I type in a few letters, he asks “Typing kalthilva?”
Again I resist the immediate answer that pops up in my mind “Does anybody?” and instead reply “No, computer typing gotthu.” Memories of summer vacation typing classes that I disdainfully avoided throughout my childhood waft in the air around us like burnt smells from a neglected kitchen.
In the hour that follows, we indicate being happy with his work and the rarity of finding anyone with a passion such as his. Parallely, we also wonder how to close the deal without being brusque and offending him. But Mr Gopalakrishna is in no hurry. He speaks without a break and of everything except his fees. That he services all possible brands — Remingtons, Underwoods, Brothers, name it. That silk ribbons are better than cotton ribbons. That he is not in it for the money, but only to use his time well. That without his asking a customer once paid him an extra fifty rupees for the spools as he felt he had underpaid him at the original fifty rupees. That if we used a brush and a few drops of kerosene, we could avoid servicing for a long time (I giggle if he should be revealing that fact at all, he ignores me and continues with more anecdotes).
Finally, having refused his “koothkolli saar” offer several times, the husband asks for the price of his service.
“I told you over the phone no saar. Eight hundred rupees,” he says hesitantly. He is openly elated that we make no effort to bargain, and provides us with a ‘gift’ (a wooden cleaning brush) and a few more tips on how to avoid repeated servicing.
As we wait on the street below to get back home, I look up at this first floor shop which seems frozen in time. His silent friend has come out to the balcony for a smoke. I feel triumphant that I may catch his direct gaze finally, but he cleverly averts his eyes in the last available second, cutting us off from his world as if we never existed.