If the surrealist artist René Magritte had to paint Golconda today, his bowler-hat wearing men would be staring at their phones instead of glancing at the viewer. But true to the original, they would remain equidistant from each other – a fitting metaphor for what communication in the insta-messaging era looks like.
In this era, texts, tags and forwards find more favour than face-to-face or even voice chats; our texts too are becoming increasingly truncated – a swift ‘ttyl’ (talk to you later) can dismiss a conversation, a gamut of emotions is compressed into a single emoticon, and a simple ‘delete’ can wipe out text and eventually, memory.
In this detached, distracted, digitised world, a bunch of youngsters are doing their bit to foster meaningful conversations by using a device that seems to have been sucked out of a time machine – the chunky, clickety-clakety typewriter.
Kolkata-based artist Harshit Manocha aka Molabocha, 24, relies on his trusty Brother Opus 210 to kickstart conversations with strangers in public places. His modus operandi – set up a board with the words ‘Let’s talk to strangers’ written on it and let your typewriter do the talking. Curious strangers who approach him are encouraged to type out a message and drop it in a box.
In return, they’re given a typewritten message by somebody else. You can add contact details to the message if you like, allowing writer and recipient to connect in the real or virtual world.
“The thing with the typewriter is that it automatically stands out; the click-click-click attracts attention. Plus, it allows you to be more focused since you don’t have 10 tabs open,” says Molabocha. “People seem to feel more confident writing on a typewriter,” he adds, “because they don’t have to worry as much about likes or responses.”
Starting a dialogue
Haryana-based Anjali Aggarwal, 24, who recently quit her job to travel and write, does something similar with her turquoise Brother Charger 11. She invites strangers to leave behind a typewritten question, and proffer an answer to one asked by somebody else. Aggarwal then shares these notes on Instagram, so that her followers can be part of the dialogue. So far, she has pulled off this introspective exercise in Pune, Mumbai, Hampi, Bengaluru and even Chitkul village in Himachal Pradesh.
“I realised that people weren’t reflecting on their lives enough. Asking questions helps you have more meaningful conversations,” says Aggarwal, who goes by @TheTravellingTypewriter on Instagram.
Twenty-five-year-old Rahul Kondi, a user experience designer, takes the customised poetry route to foster bonds. He sits with his Hermes Baby outside Blossom Book House, Bengaluru, and composes typewritten poems for those who interact with him. The themes and rhymes emerge from spur-of-the-moment chats with strangers.
“Timing matters; people who’ve had a particularly bad day are just waiting for someone to ask them how they’re feeling. At other times, people are more guarded and I have to break the ice by starting with simpler questions,” Rahul says.
Although brief and transient, these interactions are making people feel heard and understood, as Nidhi Phal, a 22-year-old medical student who has interacted with Rahul, attests. “It feels as if my ideas and emotions have been put into words, words that make complete sense only to me,” she says. But along with this relatability comes another perk — the typewritten message itself, rendered all the more precious because of its tangibility.
A lasting connect
Molabocha, who says that his ‘Let’s Talk to Strangers’ project throws up a lot of positive messages, believes that these typewritten messages hold more meaning than positive quotes found online. “The abundance of the digital world reduces the value of things. We’ve all compulsively taken screenshots of things we thought were meaningful in the moment, but never visited them again,” he says.
For him, it’s the physicality of the message that makes it unique and precious, because “when you give something a physical form, it takes on a life of its own”. How people store these typewritten messages, or even if they lose them – it all becomes part of the story, he adds.
Kochi-based aspiring civil servant Priya Varughese aka Lady Lazarus, 26, who hands out customised poetry inspired by people’s feelings and emotions at flea markets, spoken word fests and music gigs in Thiruvananthapuram, Kannur, Kochi and Chennai, says her typewritten poems are cherished because of their honesty.
Free from the urge to re-tweak or compulsively edit her work, she finds her verses holding nothing but the truth. “That’s why the person sharing their feelings feels deeply connected to the poem. I’ve had people frame these poems or stick them on the fridge, because for them, it serves as a reminder that even in this busy world, there was somebody who understood exactly how they felt, and put that into words.”
Priya Varughese aka Lady Lazarus (on interacting with a stranger who she found was full of kindness and innocence, but didn’t see her inner beauty):
If someone sat down,
right in front of her,
they’d draw her as a butterfly
that believed it’s a flower
and daydreams of flying.
Molabocha (on the theme of change)
May you find the
courage to acknowledge
… is really a lot
about Opening Up
Rahul Kondi (on talking to a stranger who said he was having a difficult time letting go of something personal)
Behind all the blue
Is all of you
Trying to get through
From old to new