By Sandeep Sahu
Ah, the romance of writing in the longhand!!!
The geeks of today cannot fathom this fascination for the longhand in an age when the mouse and the keyboard rule the world. But it has proved too overpowering for many old timers like this senior of mine who, even after becoming the Editor of a leading Odia daily, has steadfastly refused to run his fingers over the keyboard and has – surprise of surprises – gotten away with it.
This senior may be too much in love with his own handwriting – which, I must say, is outstanding. But there was no such factor which influenced my hatred for the ‘mouse’. For well over a decade after computers started invading the workplace, I resisted the pressure – from peers as well as my employers – to abandon the good old pen in favour of the monstrous machine called the computer.
I still remember the day when the Editor-owner of the first newspaper I worked for issued a fiat asking all subs to start learning computers. “I would banish pen and paper from the news desk,” he was fond of bragging. If he could not have his way – at least for the period that I stayed with the newspaper – it was largely because of the stiff resistance that I and a few others of my persuasion put up to the ‘idea’, which the loyalist brigade hailed with a collective “What an idea, Sirji?”.
My opposition in this particular case, however, had less to do with my love of the longhand and more with my own idea of ‘division of labour’. I could feel a distinct sense of unease among the colleagues in the DTP room when they were asked by an official order to teach us the basics of operating the computer. They felt – and not without reason – they would lose their jobs once the subs started writing and editing their copies on the computer and made no secret of their unwillingness to teach us. Thanks to the support of subs like me, they did not lose their jobs immediately. But today, most of them are in a pitiable situation, slogging for a pittance at a DTP centre. Some have been forced by circumstances to take up jobs they had no previous experience of. They were the people who ushered in the computer revolution in the state. But, as they say, “The revolution devours its child”.
Many of my erstwhile colleagues later changed sides and took to the computer. My resistance to computers, however, remained long after I had left this particular newspaper. For years, I would write my stories in longhand, serpentine arrows and all, and then give it to a commercial DTP operator for composing, sitting with him during the entire process to ensure that typographical errors do not creep into the copy, before couriering it to the office.
It went on even after my wife, a hardware maintenance engineer herself, brought and installed a computer at home for my use. [She had precious little use for the computer while at home, given all the chores that a working woman in a nuclear family has to look after.] But my daughter, who was in her middle school at the time, took to the computer like the proverbial fish to water – writing, painting, playing games and doing sundry other things on it.
For years, mother and daughter would take turns trying to drag me to the computer. But I would always cook up a ready excuse not to sit before it. I later realized that I was cooking up excuses and alibis not just for them, but for me as well. “The thoughts just do not flow with the computer” (a statement that I now realise has no basis whatsoever), I would tell myself.
Today, as I write this piece, I am convinced that the computer – and the internet, its inseparable companion – is the best thing to have happened to mankind in the last century. I am now truly a convert to the cult of the computer (though rather late in the day) and wish that someday, my longhand-obsessed senior would discard his pen in favour of the ‘mouse’. Like me.