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Revolution in the mailbox: Typewriting letters in India

by | Dec 1, 2021 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

I received an inspiring message from Mayank A. in India, which I am reproducing in part with his permission:

I finished reading your book ‘The Typewriter Revolution’ last week. An excellent well-rounded book on the subject, and it was a very engrossing and satisfying read for me. Earlier this year, I had found the book ‘With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India‘, which is a beautiful compilation from the archives of Godrej, the last company in this part of the world to manufacture typewriters till 2009. Both books are a valuable addition to my personal collection.

My wife needs to be with her parents in another part of India for these few months. As this is going to be a relatively extended time away from home, I thought of writing letters to her regularly on a typewriter. It certainly was such a joy for both of us to write and read them. Not relying on the postal system here, I used to scan the typed pages and send them across through email or instant messaging.

Getting more adventurous, one such letter I typed on an inland letter card and actually put it through the regular mail. I found the experience of typing within the limited confines of an odd sized paper really exciting. Needless to say, the letter did get delivered at the recipient address, but only after a delay of almost 40 days! 

Our India Post still prints these pre-stamped inland letters as part of postal stationery. It’s supposed to be the cheapest mode for private transmission of the printed word anywhere in the country. Yet, it sees no takers for personal communication today thanks to the ubiquitous smartphones. The only inland letters we receive are from the investment and insurance companies reminding about an upcoming payment. For anything more important or urgent — personal as well as professional — needs to be sent through a postal booking service or private couriers. Whether it was technology or the system’s own lethargy that killed the medium is debatable.

Apart from these leisurely personal writings, I am now also actively using the typewriters for typing formal letters to banks and other agencies. As a result, I hardly see any use for my desktop printer these days.

I am very grateful to Mayank for sharing this inland letter card, which is much like the late, lamented aerogrammes that I used for international correspondence in a bygone world. 

The quotation from Peggy Mohan is moving. I am reminded of Heidegger’s saying that “language is the house of being”; when a language dies, so does an understanding of what it means to be. That’s why I support The Language Conservancy. And one could make a good case for conserving not only languages, but linguistic media—such as inland letter cards and typewriters.

8 Comments

  1. Bill G

    Richard, thanks to you and Mayank both for sharing this with us.

    Reply
  2. Joe V

    It’s fascinating to see typewriter culture evolve globally, despite the digital onslaught.

    Reply
  3. John Cooper

    "Philately: King of Hobbies"!

    By coincidence, I placed an order for "With Great Truth and Regard" immediately preceding this post. (It's not a complete coincidence: I had read about the book in a September article on BBC.com that I had saved and read yesterday, and seeing "India" in the title of your blog post in my RSS feed triggered the memory.) I'm looking forward to reding it very much. Interestingly, I tried to order it from Amazon India, where it's one-third the price, but Amazon India relies on the courier services that Mayank mentions, and international delivery is not available.

    Reply
  4. John Cooper

    Oh, and I blame this computer keyboard for the misspelling above. You can't trust any keyboard with less than half an inch of throw. :)

    Reply
  5. Rob Bowker

    It is heart warming to see that the Aerogramme is still alive and well in India. These prepaid air mail forms sadly disappeared from the UK a few years ago. Thanks for sharing. Hope all's well with you!

    Reply
  6. Bill M

    That's a wonderful letter. First time I've seen a letter format like that. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  7. GryHze

    My college roommate always looked forward to the Aerograms I sent him. He spent several years with the Peace Corp and other NGO's in remote areas around the globe – the Aerograms seemed to always arrive intact. They were always typewritten to maximize the word count.

    Reply

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