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.


richa said...

it brings to my memory many such typists after my babaji's court (he was the "vaqil sahab" in a small town). I sometimes wonder and worry about the future of these lost artists.

Abhinav said...

Lucknow? I crave the tehzeeb though I've been told it no longer exists even in Lucknow.

balachandran v said...

Chancing upon your blog by virtue of a common community - Hemingway's code - and the scan through the members, wondering what made the 476 join this - then your picture- interesting - how interesting are the ways of the instinct! I was very moved by the story of Kishan Kumar - Like the old imli tree, he too would vanish one day... your journalistic detachment fails to mask the pathos of the story...

monstermayank said...

Reminded me of the part essence of Lucknow which I have witnessed many a times but never grasped it fully.Also reminded of Welcome to Sajjanpur. :D

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Anonymous said...

I had just read about his typewriter being crushed by a policeman. Any idea if the phone number i had is the right one which Kishan Kumar owns? i would like to get in touch with him, please.

Thank you so much.

Name: Kishan Kumar. Location: Lucknow
Mob: +919335052997

Kindly reply to me here... i will return to your page for an answer in 3 days


Missy Baba said...

Hi there I am not currently in Lucknow or would have gone down to check on him. The year I wrote this he had no mobile. It seems from the logical Indian website that he has help already yet if you would like somebody in Lucknow to have a look and also have a concrete plan to help, I will ask one of my Lucknow book club members to check on him and get back to you. I really appreciate you googling and finding this.. I wish I was back in Lucknow he is a wonderful old man.


Anonymous said...

Hi Shinjini,

Thank you so much for your reply.

I am extremely happy he had help already. My only wish is he had what he wanted and needed.


Missy Baba said...

If you are following the story, he received a new typewriter and a 1 lakh reward. :)

Really sweet of you to check back and forth.

Warmest regards,