Bad handwriting-wallahs unite!

You have nothing to lose but your pens…

I have one very big weakness that I am ashamed of. That is my handwriting. Whether it’s signing my name, writing someone a brief note, or even noting down a phone number, I find it quite awkward to see my squiggly handwriting on a piece of paper. Recently at a parent-teacher meeting, when the principal talked of a handwriting developing a man’s soul (or something to that effect), I was squirming in my seat.

In my whole life, I have met only one person who could read my handwriting with cent per cent accuracy. For some strange reason, it was my chemistry school teacher. Being surrounded by symbols, maybe he found my handwriting another form of some vague symbol language which he could decipher. However, that man was one in a million. What about the rest? To save those poor souls of visual torture, I soon switched to writing in all capitals. Funnily I was pretty good at that. It came out very neat and uniform. I developed a good speed at writing in all caps. In fact, I completed a written test in such a fashion during a job interview well before the stipulated time. The project manager who checked my paper was totally taken aback.

I remember when I wrote my first letter at the age of 10. I was dismayed by its look and feel. Should I post it or should I not? I dumped it in the letterbox and ran. I dreaded the thought of writing letters after that. That was till I discovered a wonderful invention lying at home. It would give me the most legible and official handwriting in the world. Our trusted Olivetti typewriter. After some coaching from my father, I took a 15 paise postcard and inserted it into the typewriter. Then I started typing with my index finger at a rate of probably ten words a minute. After a couple of hours, I looked at my masterpiece. I was thrilled to bits.

From then on it was just me and my good ole typewriter. Slowly I started using one finger from each hand and that itself gave me great speed. I became a letter-writing maniac. I would sit in a closed room and type out a dozen letters in a single sitting. Before I knew it, I was writing hundreds of letters a year. Some letters even rambled on for thousands of words.

I remember the time when I used to study in hostel. I would be back to the primitive, ancient and un-co-operative pen. I used to struggle to write even a hundred words. How I wish the typewriter was allowed in the classrooms and examination halls. I would have happily lugged the device had I got the chance. (Even though it felt like a ton of bricks for a small boy) I got the same feeling when I joined the Hindustan Times, which was doing all its editing by pen and paper at that time.

As a student, I once went to buy vegetables for my mother after a helluva long time. I was shocked jab aate dal ka bhav pata chala. Or rather tamatar ka bhav pata chala. They were going at Rs 20 a kilo. The last I had bought tomatoes, they were 20 paise a kg. I decided to write a Letter to the Editor on this 100-fold inflation to the Times of India.

Now I don’t think I would have sent one if I (a) had to write it out with my ineligible handwriting or (b) had to go to the job typing shop just for a couple of lines. My typewriter saved the day and I saw my name in print! That was a great byline for me. I started bombarding various newspapers with postcards and got published with great regularity. The postcards became inlands and the inlands became A4 sheets. Finally, the letters became articles. I eventually became a journalist. When I look back, the typewriter played a huge role in me getting into the media in the first place.

I always thought that the typewriter would be one buddy that would stay with me for life. But unfaithful me changed all that and went in for a friend sleeker, faster and more innovative than its predecessor: The PC. Today the computer is so widespread and part of our “basic necessities” that it is difficult to imagine that once you would find it nowhere in your neighbourhood.

But the computer and Internet are the true socialists of the world. Whether writing emails, word documents, Facebook scraps, PPT presentations or the like, we all have the same “handwriting” in any part of the world. We are all equals in cyberspace. Now that’s true progress!

© Sunil Rajguru