Romancing Remington: A vintage love story
Life's Like That is a column by Suresh Pattali, recounting his musings on everyday life
I’m possessed. There’s a poltergeist in my bedroom. It’s not my wife. It’s not something I conjure from imagination or from under the cotton quilt. It just hangs over my head like the Sword of Damocles, day and night.
The genesis of the problem lies in my vintage romance. My love for all things classic — women included — is known to a close circle of childhood pals. From material things like writing tools, timepieces, pottery, charcoal works and telephones to homo sapiens like Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman and Elizabeth Taylor — all figure on my list of evergreen favourites. Images of Other Women — however ingénue or ascetic they look — are a taboo in my bedroom, yet it wasn’t a desultory decision to buy a canvas print of a vintage typewriter from a Sharjah showroom. It hangs just above my headboard, as a chronicler of all the silent wars that happen behind the closed doors of our bedroom.
There was no love lost between the writing machine and myself before I happened to visit the Margaret Mitchell House at the corner of 10th Street and Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia. The 122-year-old red-and-white Victorian property, the birthplace of Gone with the Wind, was bathed in the morning sun when I stepped in. Warm rays diffused by smoky windowpanes poured into the alcove where, perched at an old sewing table, the former reporter of Atlanta Journal wrote her all-time popular romance on a secondhand Remington.
Later, at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, my fingers twitched to feel the Remington keys that Mitchell tapped away at for four years to compose the epic novel. There’s something romantic about a typewriter which, once upon a time, was synonymous with reporters and editors. In 1970s India, the typewriter churned out the great middle-class dream. Barring a few toppers, most grade 10 students would learn typing and shorthand on the sidelines to become stenographers and clerks. The typewriter would thus put food on the table in hundreds of thousands of households. Middle-class girls holding typing certificates would find grooms faster than doctors and engineers. It was a passport to petit-bourgeois prosperity.
When davani-clad (half sari) dames in my class made a beeline to Janatha Typewriting Institute in our town centre back home, it was natural for Yours Truly to follow the crowd. While all these damsels typed their way to glory, like a well-rehearsed orchestra, the pitter-patter rising from my Remington would hit quite a sour note. My fingers weren’t nimble enough to make music on the Remington. My shorthand was kilometres longer than the longhand.
While I laboured on the typewriter like a quarry worker smashing rocks into gravel, Janata owner Pushpangathan — the fair, lanky conductor of the Remington orchestra — would spend hours with the girls finessing their music and posture. He played a Remington in their hearts. That’s when I ended romancing the machine.
The Remington walked back into my heart — and bedroom — after my recent pilgrimage to the Margaret Mitchell museum. The dream to own a vintage typewriter had since been hammering my heart until I saw the canvas print and owned it. And I am possessed now.
In the solitude of my desert dwelling, as I sit staring at the canvas, an apparition of Pushpangathan, my typewriting teacher in the 80s, takes me captive. I am like Carol Ann in the Steven Spielberg-produced 1982 flick Poltergeist. I am transported to the old Janata Institute in the haunted dilapidated building, built in the 60s by my father and uncle. Way before Janata rented the place, we ran a photo studio in the property where we spent our evenings playing with spools of used large-format films.
The spirits of dozens of white-clad women, all Pushpangathan’s Remington girls, dance in the black horizon. Dozens of blood-dripping typewriters and film rolls fly around in the creepy classroom. Millions of A S D F and J K L that the machines churn out fill the air and permeate my breathing system, choking me to death. Typewriters morphing into evil creatures rip the flesh from my face. My cries are drowned out by a deafening dirge played by the orchestra of a zillion typists.
The cries of Ramarajan, the class topper who dreamed to become a doctor and would later spend his life with a Remington on the orders of his Mumbai-based stenographer-father, echo in my bedroom. Papers of A4 size, flying off Remington carriers, swish past my face. I begin to bleed. As I lie in a pool of nightmares and type this column with two fingers, the screams of wifey reverberate across the house.
“How dare you order a stupid Remington for $950 on my card?”
I feign possession.