Typewriters still thrive in modernising India

Purushottan H Sakhare perches on a wall by a Mumbai pavement, slips a sheet of green paper behind the roller of his battered typewriter and winds it into position with two deft flicks of the wrist.

After pulling the carriage release lever towards himself, he punches the worn, black keys, the swift and precise movements of his fingers sending the slender metal typebars slamming into the black ink ribbon.

Soon, the form he’s typing is ready to be authenticated with a wax seal and rubber stamp by one of the dozens of notaries waiting for passing trade under the colonnade entrance of the Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrates Court over the road.

”A typewriter is perfect for this kind of work,” said the 46-year-old, looking up from the ageing Underwood model on a makeshift desk in front of him.

”It’s fast and immediate.”

More than a dozen unofficial petition writers like Sakhare can be found hunched over portable typewriters on the same busy pavement, the sound of their work drowned out by the noisy traffic of India’s financial hub.

Inside the court precincts, a similar number of workers can be found under a flimsy, corrugated iron lean-to, typing affidavits, family title deeds and court applications for 10 rupees (22 US cents) per page.

Part of businesses
Typewriters have largely been consigned to history in many countries and might be expected to have also been sent for scrap in Mumbai, where India does business with the world and the latest technology drives the country’s economic boom.

But the unmistakeable clatter of typewriter keys and ping of margin bells can still be heard, echoing down the vaulted corridors of the courts and lawyers’ chambers to police stations and government offices across the city.

Santosh Pratap Sangtani, from the Bombay Typewriter Company, is thankful that the sturdy machines that were a feature of business from the late 19th century through most of the following 100 years have not yet become museum pieces.

India once manufactured around 150 000 typewriters every year but five years ago he was unsure whether there would still be a demand for his services, as

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