In the cosmos of type

 Erasmo Coutinho in his shop Rosmos Typewriters, Goa.

In a world full of smartphones and tablets, it’s a little hard to believe that there was a time, not too long ago, when deleting something you’d just typed out wasn’t that easy. If you had to get something right, you had to get it right the first time around, or play with correction tape and fluid, to cover up the errors. The other option was to simply start all over. Those were the days of good old typewriters when desktops and laptops were still few and far between. Those were also some of the busiest days, that Rosmos, a typewriter sales and service shop in Panjim, Goa, has seen.

Hard to find

But, when I tried looking up Rosmos on Google Maps, nothing showed up. So I decided to find it the old-fashioned way. Lowering the car windows, asking for directions, and still managing to get lost in the quaint lanes of Panjim. Driving past pristine white churches, admiring old Portuguese homes — some restored, others forgotten — I manoeuvred my way through the narrow lanes, till my eyes finally rested on one of Goa’s oldest typewriter workshops, neatly tucked in between the old income tax office and a popular café.

 “The neighbourhood has changed a lot,” says Erasmo Coutinho, the man behind Rosmos, putting away the newspaper that he was reading. “We shifted here in 1977, when I took over the business from my elder brother Rosario,” he adds. Since then, he tells me, a lot of people have come and gone and shops have replaced houses, but the only thing that remains unchanged is Rosmos. This tiny shop instantly gives you an impression of being frozen in time, completely oblivious to its changing surroundings. It is evident, though, that this workshop has seen better days.

“We used to remain open on all days,” says Coutinho. With four more staff members to help him, the team used to service and repair around 2000 typewriters every month. His workshop would be found open even on Christmas day. “Because there was so much work!” he exclaims. The only holiday Coutinho ever took, was on Good Friday.

But, over the years, as typewriters have given way to modern computers, “We’ve lost business,” he states. “I can say it’s more of a hobby now, there’s not much money.” Once in a while when people do come in — for perhaps that one last repair or service, or simply to have a look around, Coutinho finds himself instantly cheering up.

“When I see a typewriter, it’s as if I’m seeing my child. I feel so happy,” he says, with his face lit up.

With the same excitement, he shows me a few faded but well-preserved paper clippings of an antique typewriter. One can take in the whole shop, perhaps in just a few seconds, but I end up staying much longer. A rusty table fan stares down from atop a cupboard. With no electricity supply to the shop, it lies ignored. The landline that once brought in calls for business, lies defunct too. Coutinho has moved on to owning a mobile phone, finding it more convenient.

Glimpse of the past

Various makes of typewriters sit on Coutinho’s worktable — I take a closer look, there’s an Italian Olivetti, the Japanese brand Brother, the German-made Triumph-Adler, the ever-popular Remington, and of course, the good old Godrej. Then there’s a whole pile of other stuff — old mechanical calculators, adding machines and some more obsolete pieces like the cyclostyle machine, which lies forgotten, under a table. There was a time when Coutinho used to repair them as well, till photocopy came into the picture. And as if to remind us that the old must always make way for the new, right opposite to Rosmos is a stationery shop with a ‘Xerox’ sign on it. All this while that I am there, not a single customer pops in. So what brings Coutinho back to his shop every morning? “What if someone comes looking for me, to fix a typewriter?” he replies.

And just when I start to wonder what keeps him busy, I discover Coutinho’s other passion, apart from typewriters. “I used to write and direct plays during the 60s. But eventually had to give it up when the workload at the shop increased,” he says, pulling out well-used exercise books filled with handwritten pieces. He also proudly shows me some musical compositions in Konkani, which he had composed for tiatrs, a type of musical theatre form extremely popular in Goa.

Now, with more time at hand, Coutinho has taken up writing once again. He’s recently finished writing a novel in Konkani and has sent it off to the publishers for printing. When asked if he always prefers to write on paper, Coutinho says, “I write my first draft on paper and then type it out on the computer.”

While his love for typewriters will never fade away, being comfortable with new technology is a sure sign that he’s made peace with the changing times.

 

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In the cosmos of type

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