Wednesday, September 26, 2012

... and they keep flowing...

This is going to be a serious post. This does not narrate, barring a couple of exceptions, tales from my flimsy student days. This is corporate stuff, grown-up stuff, and hence demands respect of the minimum order.

Pencils and pens are history for me these days. I have moved on to bigger things. This post, however, will still adhere to the rules of not involving any mush (though my previous post contained the names of five of the most desired women in the history of womankind).

It began with some plastic packets.

In the winter of 1997 some freshly packed computers had arrived at The Department of Statistics, Presidency College, Kolkata, India. Ashim Shankar Nag (whose full name literally translates to The Infinite Snakes of Shiva), our illustrious professor, was in charge. After a few weeks of nothingness, we mustered enough courage to ask him "Sir, won't we get to use these?"

A bemused ASN asked back "do you know how much they cost?", and that was that.

Five years before this incident I had done a course on something mysterious and intriguing called BBC Micro where I could make an A (and even an অ) dance across the screen, performing all sorts of steps. My brief stint with keyboards had ended there. I had always cast suspicious glances at the cohorts of typists at Hazra, and just before Milieu 1997, our annual college fest, I had got something (possibly the schedules) "printed electronically" (don't ask).


We used to be fairly regular with our attendance in those unripe, innocent early college days. The nuances of college life, the lures of the common-room and canteen could not pollute our academic pursuits to a sufficient extent.

We were attending one of those Numerical Analysis classes involving a mysterious troop of Es and Δs. And then, breaking the barriers of the thick walls of the Department of Statistics, came a loud thak. A minute later came another thak. And this went on. A fifty-minute class, so roughly fifty thaks.

Next period. Fifty minutes. Roughly fifty more thaks. And so it went on.

Roughly five thousand thaks later we could not take it any more. We went to our college staff, Arunda, during one of those marathon, excruciatingly slow thak-thak sessions and asked.

"Oh, that. SG (Shankar Ghosh) is typing his PhD theses".


But SG was from another generation. We were members of Gen-X, rampant crusaders willing to take on Y2K by its horns. With a full computer lab at our disposal in Delhi, we simply ripped apart the laws our ancestors had set for us as far as sleeping and waking up early were concerned.

We chatted. We played games (trial versions) and got stuck when they asked for credit card numbers (some other websites did that too) just when things looked rosy. We emailed. We called our parents and friends (poor creatures, they never had any email access, they didn't even know what Telnet was) and had asked them to email us.

My mother had a tough time: If I sit at a computer in Kolkata and type something, how will it go to your computer in Delhi? How will they carry it?

Within a week I had figured out that if I had reached the end of a line while typing I did not need to hit Enter to go to the next line: it did that automatically. Ah, the wonders of a computer!

Soon the mysteries unveiled themselves, one by one. First came the two miraculous Shift keys (who uses the one at the right anyway?), with the knowledge that you need not press the Caps Lock key every time you needed to type a capital letter; then came the minuscule Ctrl keys (once again, the right one is the redundant one), banished to the furthermost corner of the keyboard - equipped with the most amazing combinations - Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v, Ctrl+x, Ctrl+b, Ctrl+i, Ctrl+u; then came the Tab, a formidable key just above the Caps Lock to help toggle from field to field in a form; then came the long, long Space Bar to tick check-boxes; Shift+Delete to become a virtual serial killer; Scroll Lock to confuse unmindful people using Microsoft Excel; the Insert key that I am the only known person to have put to some significant use; the inverted L-shaped huge Enter key which was born to be hit with all the power your finger muscles can muster; and the F11 key to go full screen, which I have never used intentionally till date.

But it still remained incomplete. Single keys or two-key combinations simply weren't cool enough. And then, as Windows 95 expanded its ominous wings to envelop my college days, we got to know of the magical combination that made our experience even more divine: Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

Using Windows 95 had never been as rosy.


As the flaming Delhi gulmohars gave way to the ancient Kolkata banyans, life on the keyboard did not change to a serious extent. Yes, we made serious progress: we had learnt to type our curriculum vitae on Microsoft Word, chat up people who were supposed to be Malaysian teenager girls and even do programming in C (with serious aid from that delightful book, Let Us C).

We appeared in campus interviews. We got jobs. We joined organisations. Our main food group, which had previously changed from wood juice to plastic ends of ball-point pens, now slowly modified into roughly fifteen cups of coffee a day. We also purchased huge, heavy, formidable-looking cellphones (my Nokia 5110 even had an antenna, and looked like a cordless phone). And we found that the keys were arranged the other way. We were never sure exactly why they worked that way, but they did, and we were not left with options.

For the first time, though, keypads could be used on the fly. You could be watching a Sooraj Barjatya movie and you could be texting someone that you were at a funeral (which, if you think about it, is not much of a lie: I have seen the Barjatyas arrange multiple funerals for the industry on screen).

Texting was fun, though: and I'm not talking about "c u l8r" messages here. I mean proper ones that shot up to over 160 characters, and then had to be trimmed down by removing a redundant comma here and replacing wonderful with good there and what not. It was a real-time challenge that took your linguistic abilities by the horn. It often ended up saving a rupee.

It was roughly at this time that I went on a maniacal spree of telling everyone who asked me to send an SMS the fact that an SMS is a service and you cannot send it. You can send a text message; a short message (an SM); but not an SMS.

Along came Ms Rowling with her use of texting (one needed to dial 62442 - MAGIC - to get into the Ministry of Magic), and we were all very happy. I also remember sending very expensive text messages to help Abhijeet Sawant become the first ever Indian Idol, and was sensible enough to stop at that.

By now, with Microsoft Excel dominating my life more and more I got to know of the wonders of technology - Shift+Space Bar, Ctrl+Space Bar and Ctrl+1. Philistines across the world still resorted to using the mouse to operate in Excel, but then, there will always be people who do not save the yolk of a sunny-side-up egg till the very end.

I even researched on the Pause-Break key, could not learn anything and gave up shortly. I did put the Print Screen key to good use, though: they were particularly essential in taking screenshots of Tomb Raider games and posting them to online forums, asking for ways out.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it all, there appeared in market two kinds of inventions that has taken the world of cellphones by storm in the subsequent years: the smartphone with the touchscreen, and the smartphone without the touchscreen.

The latter was easy to manage. It was basically a smaller version of your usual computer keyboard: there was an undulation for every key, and texting became incredibly faster.

The touchscreen thing was a different story, altogether. I cannot, I repeat, cannot use a cellphone with a touchscreen keypad for the following reason:

It simply doesn't work if you intend to type ABHISHEK and end up typing ASXAZBNJFHHJFHJJHIUHJJJ and then have to erase and rewrite it. Touchscreen keypads are, hence,  abominations, and the person behind the idea should be made to watch Neal 'n' Nikki in a loop. On a system where the Fast Forward, Pause, Stop and Close buttons can only be operated with the nose, and one wrong move would automatically imply a Rewind.


  1. Boi ta kobe ashche?

  2. Just brilliant!!! The humor was rib-tickling!! Wish, I could have conjured up these kind of posts!!

  3. And as I submited my earlier comment, I reasised that I should also mention about the woes of proving that I am not a robot, everytime I use the minuscule keys of my phones' keypad to comment on your blogposts.

  4. Sotti to - boi-ta kobe aschhe? Ki daarun likhechho!

    Other than that -

    > Shift keys (who uses the one at the right anyway?)

    Left-handers. Me, at least.

  5. Was low on humor high on details.
    The previous post had set the bar too high.
    But then you had warned us about it deserving respect...

    1. I agree. I did not enjoy writing this post as much as I enjoyed writing its prequels.

      PS: "Humor", not "humour". Hmm.

  6. I use the shift and control keys at the right more.For me the left ones are almost redundant.I still struggle in composing short text messages. Nowadays I have to curtail the lengths not to save the money but to save the reader a few yawns.And like you I can't use touchscreen phones because my fingers are too oily.

  7. this post reminded me of an ancient program called Chiwriter where you were typing on one page and the commands were somewhere else!!! we were so excited when windows appeared!

  8. I have trouble with touchscreens on phones too. I wish the voice control develops well enough!

  9. unlike computers and smartphones,pen and pencils never produced addicts.They were never surgically attached to the palm,or looked into first thing in the morning.
    they had not alienated friends and mothers and fathers and spouses.
    life's was and relish-able then,it's a whirlwind now.

  10. Bingo!Right on target.Cannot help but admire your acute,intense,specific and detailed observation skills.It is always a pleasure to read and connect.I still do not press any keys in the keyboard without a premeditated deep introspection of the impending action and often break out in cold sweat worrying about what destruction my pressing a wrong key may entail.

  11. I've always wondered - is Golmohor = Krishnochura? If yes, then what are the yellow-flowering-large-trees? Are they Radhachura?

    1. Gulmohar and Krishnachura are the same. Delonix regia, basically.

  12. "Texting was fun, though: and I'm not talking about "c u l8r" messages here. I mean proper ones that shot up to over 160 characters, and then had to be trimmed down by removing a redundant comma here and replacing wonderful with good there and what not. It was a real-time challenge that took your linguistic abilities by the horn. It often ended up saving a rupee."

    I swear by this one :-P

  13. My daughter always believed my brother belongs to the computer, having seen him off for long 18 months at about 4 months of her age and being in touch almost on daily routine over Skype. Like, may be, a Talking Tom Apps. At times she would bring down the lid of the laptop to search for him on the behind. At other times she would pass on a toy or edibles to him and believe he accepted as they hid behind the cover, and would be seriously disappointed afterwards as she finds them intact and unused/ uneaten. When she first saw him live, she was very taken aback, and ran back instantly towards the laptop, to check, or to thank it to have let him out. She then saw him off again at the airport in a while, and was amazed that he was back on the computer screen in a day’s time. To which she thought, he takes a flight from and to the computer, from real life.

    Now, having seen him also on his Dad’s computer for a few times, she begs me if I could ask him to consider appearing once in a while on her pick toy laptop as well.

    Yes, computers are not easy things to deal with!