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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

art of typewriting ~ great institution called Srinivasa Insitute of Commerce

The divine Thiruvallikkeni, abode of Lord Parthasarathi enthuses people in many ways.  Marina beach, Educational institutions, Gosha hospital, Barathiyar illam and more .. .. .. for many of us 27 Car Street was a landmark !! ~ and this ever smiling Mandayam Ananthanpillai Srinivasan [fondly Gopu] is a famous person in Triplicane.  For those passing out in First class were awarded a travel bag – receiving them from the Chief Guest on Saraswati pooja day was a proud occasion.

Do you know or heard of William Austin Burt, an American inventor, legislator, surveyor and more… who invented the first workable solar compass…  he touched and turned  our lives….. now a days, you get email communications and SMS messages – no proper grammar, spelling mistakes, no syntax – not in presentable format … .. a couple of decades back, life was different -  Godrej, Facit, Remington and Underwood were household names;  Tripicane streets were dotted with Srinivas, Padmavathi, Sarathi, Shivish Halda, Ganesh, Halashyam ………… and more.  Be it Mylapore, T Nagar, Purasawakkam or Mayavaram – situation was no different. One could see young boys and girls walking with sheet paper rolled  .. ..the learning courses were usually of an hour duration… the last 10 minutes, if you are to enter the hall, you might be frightened with the silence that precedes typical sound – keyboards pressed, cylinders moving, carriages returned,  occasional paper change… people with total concentration seeing printed matter placed on their side and deftly moving their fingers.

It was the backbone of every office; you could have seen  them sitting in front of Courts; Registrar offices ~ and all important places where documents were the key…. From marriage certificates – to divorces; property registration and every other service were documented neatly…. Mostly without mistakes by lowly paid people.  In case you are wondering what this is all about… it is typewriters, typists and typewriting institutes…
Even before Arts colleges mushroomed – there were typewriting institutes and people rushed there.  A stenographer was premium – in great demand, though the typist to steno ratio in an office could often be 5 : 1 or even higher.  Stenotypists took dictation, hearing English, took notes in Pitman’s phonetic code and converted them back to written (typed) English on typewriter – making communication flow. It was a skill whose value was noted by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), the south Indian nationalist leader, who was enthusiastically supportive when the idea of starting the Steno-grapher’s Guild to teach shorthand and typing, came up around 1936. South Indian typists were to become so ubiquitous across India that when Air India did a cartoon map of the country, Madras was depicted with the image of a south Indian man clicking away at a typewriter. The corridors of Mantralaya – Central Govt offices in New Delhi reverberated with Tamil typists and stenographers who came out successful in Public Service Commission examinations. 

I learnt Typewriting at ‘Srinivas College of Commerce’, ~ 27 Car Street, Triplicane, Chennai 600005  and later honed my ‘Shorthand skills’ also there.  This Institution shaped the career of many Triplicaniites and ensured livelihood to many more… really great service by Mr MA Srinivasan [Principal of Srinivasa Institute] and the batch of vivacious tutors who raised the confidence level of the youngsters that they sure would get a good job. One could happily recall – Sri – Raghu, Sundaramurthi, Santhanam; Sampath, JS, Narayanaswami … instructors who changed the lives of many.  Learning Typewriting (& Shorthand) easily provided job opportunities - more importantly, the confidence in a workplace.

           In early 1980s it bustled with activity ~ institutes would open at 6 am and would close by 9 pm with break from 12 noon to 4 pm….. at Srinivas there were  70 odd typewriters and in every batch there would be so many girls and boys……….. at street corners some groups would stand waiting to watch those going to typewriting institutes with couple of sheets rolled in their hands… and inside the institutes also developed the love-stories of some… an odd smile, a glance, an exchange from a heartthrob would make you soar !

It was not meant to be place of romance, though it provided much for many……. Imagine adolescent girls and boys mingling at a place at a time when you had less of TV entertainment and practically no social media…. The typewriting Institutes provided regular stream of typists to all offices – be it small or big……. In fact Srinivas Institute was an ‘Employment Exchange’ by itself…. … the students upon graduation would sure get a job in one of the offices – would become close to indispensable – remember those days were the days of typed correspondence – letters – interoffice memos; invoices and more all got typed and were being dispatched by post…  once they were to leave for better pastures, their office would seek for a replacement – they would come to the typewriting institutes where they learnt the skills, pick up a smart upcoming person, take them to their office as a replacement………….. and the cycle would go on.. providing employment opportunities for hundreds regularly….. life was so sweet and uncomplicated.  Parrys Corner housed thousands of offices and in each office there would be so many clerks, typists and stenographers – all typing documents speedily without mistakes…………..  my first job was gotten so – opportunity informed through Srinivasa Institute, I walked in for an interview – a day after finishing my degree exams and joined job the same day in R. Subbaraman & Co [Cutfast Bonded Abrasives] at Francis Joseph Street, Parrys – next to Ramakrishna Lunch home.

There were many good typists who could churn out error-free documents – neatly made  on a typewriter ; remember typewriter has no correcting mechanism and a mistake made would remain to be seen by all….. yet there were quality typists who could type big statements- multi-pages, which would then be pasted together … quite an achievement indeed.

William Austin Burt (1792 – 1858)  with his multifaceted skills was the inventor, maker and patentee of the first typewriter constructed in America.  Burt also invented the first workable solar compass, a solar use surveying instrument, and theequatorial sextant, a precision navigational aid to determine with one observation the location of a ship at sea.   Burt  had a troubled childhood living in poverty.   His typographer of 1829 is considered a precursor to the modern day typewriter. The first writing machine Burt built did not live up to his expectation, perhaps was "born out of season" and was before its time, so no market was found for his typewriter or the patent in his lifetime.

This great invention rose to become one of the most indispensable tools of documentation and paved way for employment opportunities and for many other ancillary industries as – typewriter ribbon manufacturing; carbon papers for taking more copies, typewriter mechanics, cleaners  etc.,  ‘good things too come to an end’….  … in the age of templates and e-documents, the relevance and significance of typewriters will never be understood as it fell into oblivion…. The makers of typewriters also are no longer in business… due to falling sales, IBM sold its typewriter division in 1990 to Lexmark, completely exiting from a market. In India, Godrej reportedly stopped production in 2009 ~ the last pieces were sold around Rs.12000/- approx….

With love for Srinivasa Institute and regards to Sri MA Srinivasan and all others who taught ~ in a tinge of sadness, the building is no more now.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar

26th Feb 2017.


  1. My Pranams to him. And to all other Masters for T/W and Shorthand.

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