India's street typists heading for a final full-stop

Watch Ajay Kumar Nayak at work

Every morning, as he has for the past 34 years, Ajay Kumar Nayak walks to a busy footpath outside Calcutta's high court.

He sets up a rickety wooden table, places a battered plastic chair behind it and then carefully places his 15-year-old typewriter on the table.

After covering his desk with a piece of tarpaulin to protect his prized possession from the sun, he is ready for business as one of Calcutta's few remaining street typists.

"A decade ago I would have had no time to sit and chat. My fingers would have been tapping away all day," he says.

"All you would have heard was the sound of the typewriter. Now there is only silence."

He pauses for a minute and points to the few other typists who remain on the street - one is sitting sipping a cup of tea; another is reading a newspaper.

"Look at us. We have nothing to do," says Ajay.

"If you come back in a few years' time there will be nobody left here. The computer has killed our profession."

Start Quote

Next year will be the last year that we run typing classes”

End Quote Mohammed Quamar Hamid Suffee Commercial College

Ajay and his friends used to be busy dealing with all sorts of documents.

Love letters

Complex legal drafts were their staple work, but there would also be wedding card messages to type or CVs to update.

They all laugh as they tell me how some young men used to ask them to type out love letters.

"Maybe we should start offering divorce letters," jokes one. "Maybe that could help us get some work."

Their conversation stops for a moment as a potential client walks towards them, but after a moment he moves on, and their conversation resumes.

Ajay Kumar Nayak with fellow typists Ajay and his fellow typists find themselves increasingly waiting for work

A few miles from the high court is the Suffee Commercial College. For the past 80 years young men and women have come here to learn how to type.

On the ground floor there is still a darkened classroom full of Remington typewriters, perched idly on wooden desks, but they are rarely used now.

Start Quote

Divya

We all prefer computers. We want an easy life ”

End Quote Divya Student
'What's the point?'

"Next year will be the last year that we run typing classes," says Mohammed Quamar Hamid, whose family have been running the college since it was established.

"There is no demand for it, and when I ask the youngsters to practise their keyboard skills on these typewriters they just look at me and say, 'what is the point?'"

He asks me to follow him to another room. Inside is a row of computers, and in front of them is a group of young girls in their early 20s.

"For them to get a job in India's competitive job market they need computer skills," he says.

"Nobody uses a typewriter any more. In a few years' time the only place you will see them is in a museum."

Mohammed Quamar Hamid, Suffee Commercial College, Calcutta Students do not want to learn typing any more, says Mohammed Quamar Hamid

The girls all nod their heads in agreement. One student, Neha, who has just scored 97% in her computer keyboard skills test says manual typewriters "are not practical any more".

"Today so much has to be done in the office, and with a computer it's easy to correct your mistakes," she says.

Start Quote

There are only old men here now. There are no youngsters here”

End Quote Ajay Kumar Nayak Street typist

Being a street typist is something she says she "would never do".

"I think that we should keep abreast with technology and not look backwards. Typewriters are not part of our scene any more."

When I ask the class whether any of them think they will ever use typewriters, the answer is a resounding no.

Another student, Divya, speaks for the class when she says: "It is so hard to use. That is why we all prefer computers. We want an easy life."

Final few hundred

Back outside the high court, Ajay Kumar Nayak has finally got a client.

But after he finishes typing up the legal document - for which he gets seven rupees (7p, 11 cents) a page - he and his friends resume their conversation.

In Calcutta 20 years ago, there were about 2,000 street typists; now there are only a few hundred left.

Classroom full of Remington typewriters in Suffee Commercial College, Calcutta Typewriter-filled classrooms like this are disappearing

Ajay took the job because he could find no other work. He says he would not advise anyone to follow his example.

"There are only old men here now. There are no youngsters here."

"I even told my son not to join this profession as it is difficult to make a living on the streets now."

It is time for him to go home after another largely fruitless day.

As I walk away he shouts out: "Come and see me soon. I and my friends may not be here for much longer."

You can hear more on this story on Business Daily on BBC World Service at 08:32 GMT and 15:06 GMT, or download the podcast.

More on This Story

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE 06:03:
    Saltire

    Pro-independence business people in Scotland have hit back. 200 of them have signed a letter, appearing in the Herald online, saying that the business case for independence "has been made - and it's strong and ambitious". They add: "The real threat to Scotland is the real possibility of a British exit from the European common market".

     
  2.  
    Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    The monitor has been fitted and off we go. You can plug in to us bizlive@bbc.co.uk or @bbcbusiness. Here until 13:00.

     
  3.  
    06:00: Ian Pollock Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning, the Business Live page will have its finger on the business pulse, just for you.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.