Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another Day outside the Lucknow GPO

The tik-tiking of keys is unmistakable. They sit close to a foot apart with yellowing little boards stating their area of expertise as either “Hindi” or “English”. On the pavement outside the General Post Office, sharing space with two barbers and one prosperous chai- wallah sit close to ten typists braving the local police, nagar nigam and sometimes, the weather.

Sitting cross-legged since 7:30 this morning is Kishan Kumar. His black Remington typewriter is as old as his profession, no less than thirty-three years. “This is a Remington 76, I bought it after I learnt how to type in the short course that was run by the Bhole Lal College in Wasiatganj”, he says while removing the cover to show well greased keys. “These letters tend to fade and so do the ones on my keys, but if you treat the typewriter gently it always cooperates!” he beams.

The cycle and ‘jhola’ standing by the wall right behind him are his constant companions. He travels from Gomtinagar to ‘his tree’ on the pavement with the forty kg typewriter daily. He points to a young man sitting with a shiny green typewriter adjacent to him, “That’s a Godrej typewriter. It weighs only a couple of kgs because it’s plastic!” But he isn’t keen on parting with his old Remington 76 for a lighter one. “We both have been in jail three times”, he laughs, remembering how the police and nagar nigam jailed him and his typewriter for encroachment. “But we don’t come in the way of the pedestrians and we help people write their letters and applications before they post them, we are not criminals!” he adds with sadness.

Pointing at the broad road Kishan says, “Earlier, there used to be a row of imli trees here and there was hardly any traffic. They cut the trees and expanded this road and now we have a pavement with these new trees.” He then cleans his spectacles and wipes the dust off his typewriter “I remember the old imli tree often…and there wasn’t so much dust too”, he says looking at the young tree behind him.

Carefully parking his rickshaw so it doesn’t affect Kishan’s business, Mohammad Islam says salaam to his typist friend. “Whatever he’s saying is true! There were many trees here earlier” and he crouches down before the Remington. He visits Kishan twice a day for a glass of tea before he richsaws around Lucknow, “I have been in Lucknow since I was 10. I am Lucknow’s and Lucknow is mine”, he laughs.

The old typist spends his day typing ‘complaints’ and other ‘letters’ for villagers. “Even though the computer has come to India, this is the villager’s computer!” he pats his Remington and continues, “ There are so many types of complaints these days, earlier it was only about the land now the villagers are also filing for divorce! But the format for writing a complaint has not changed much.”

Most of Kishan’s customers are illiterate and he often acts as a counselor to those who break into tears while relating their problems for him to type into formal grievances. Mohammad Islam is in awe of his friend, he has never needed Kishan’s expertise but knows he can always count on him. “I could have sat at the court too, but I like it here. I have been here for so many years and the court already has so many typists. Here I can get some peace of mind as well!” says Kishan whose sons don’t know typing but have their own little shops.

“Everyday on the footpath is an adventure for us, this morning the Governor was passing and we had to hide,” he muses, to which Islam laughs. Another day on the pavement outside the Lucknow GPO.