City Monument - Urdu Typewriter, Ghalib Academy

City Monument – Urdu Typewriter, Ghalib Academy

Language’s heritage.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Attention, heritage lovers, look at this Urdu typewriter. It is a most suitable sight for Delhi, a sheher of many writers, which is also a sheher where Urdu—a cosmopolitan khichdi of khari boli, Persian, Arabic, Turkic languages— thrived, evolved and came into its own. Our Dehli (Delhi in Urdu!) even has a market named Urdu Bazar.

The typewriter is super-rare because the age of typewriter is gone, and also of written Urdu, in Delhi at least. Take late poet Musheer Jhanjhanvi. His young descendants in Purani Dehli’s Chitli Qabar are fluent with Devanagari and Roman scripts, but are unable to read Kulliyat-e-Musheer Jhanjhanvi, the book of their grandfather’s complete Urdu poetry.

This weekend afternoon, the precious typewriter is lying forlorn in a second-floor corner of central Delhi’s Ghalib Academy. The library here is crammed with thousands of much-thumbed books in Urdu and Persian, the languages in which the great Ghalib wrote his ghazals, but the Urdu typewriter hasn’t been thumbed for years.

A time was when Ghalib Academy held regular Urdu typing and shorthand classes sponsored by the government’s then-named Bureau for Promotion of Urdu Language. A batch would have 20 students, virtually all of those young people would be career-oriented, aiming to grab sarkari naukri dealing in Urdu—says Aqil Ahmad, the institute’s secretary. The classes were launched during the late 1970s. Ghalib Academy in fact received its earliest Urdu typewriters following the violent liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. After freeing itself as the eastern wing of Urdu-dominant Pakistan, says Aqil Ahmad, the new nation wholeheartedly switched to native Bengali, obliging the numerous Urdu typewriters of its government departments to find their way into India, a handful of which washed ashore in Ghalib Academy. (The typewriter in the photo is of a later vintage, by made-in-India Godrej.)

In the end, computer killed the typewriter, though the institute’s Urdu typing classes, which were switched from typewriter to computer, lasted until 2010. “Nobody now needs classes to learn typing, everyone types on their mobile,” remarks Aqil Ahmad. Over the years, Ghalib Academy’s Urdu typewriters fell into disuse and oblivion. This one miraculously survived. On Monday, it will become the latest exhibit in the museum that lies on the floor above the library. The Urdu typewriter will finally be entombed in the halo of a typical Delhi monument.