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By James Keivom, for Inpui.com

Imperial Typewriter My dad’s Imperial typewriter sat on every table he owned in the last more than ten years, until he learnt how to live with another companion: the personal computer.

He would wake up at seven, type for two to three hours, and then leave for work. When he returned, he would have a quick lunch, and then type into the night. Songs, short stories, essays, articles, letters and books were laboriously printed on A4 paper by this two-fingered artist, and eventually stored in the fat files that lined his desk.

I sometimes watched him type. He’d would pull out a fresh sheet of paper, place it in the feeder, turn the platen, align the paper, set the margins, and then start typing. He would stop frequently, twist open the bottle of White Out, and correct his mistake. Then he would start again, proceeding cautiously. Every page without an error was a personal triumph, especially when he had to type official documents; mistake means he would start again.

I know that the makers of his typewriter intended it for writers, but they inevitably invented the best alarm man could ever create. Throughout our lives, from Kenya to Saudi Arabia, to New Zealand, to Burma, to Italy, that type writer haunted our family’s dreams. Our family had to learn to live, fall asleep, and wake up to the rhythm of its ruthless clatter. My mother would often protest but I suspect she was happy that he typed, rather than slept, before she did: his snoring was worse.

He would often spend Sunday afternoons cleaning, fixing and tweaking the Imperial. He’d change the ribbons, clean the keys and oil the parts that needed oiling. He respected this machine, he knew every piece of it and he liked the sound and feel of it. It had become a part of him.

I saw him type for a whole summer and I hated to see him go through this ordeal, especially when there was an alternative. One day, I had enough. So I introduced him to a personal computer I had brought from the States. I taught him how to use it, gave him a few books, and he studied them very carefully, patiently. He was a good student, a willing one, ready to take a brave step from the noisy typewriter he was secure with, to a silent one he was unfamiliar with. In less than three brief instructions, he had learnt how to save, load and edit files. Then I left for university, uncertain of his devotion to the new machine.

When I came back the following year, over a hundred pages of a novel he had working on were stored on disk. I was surprised: it took a lot of courage to transcend the typewriter stage.

These days he followed a different route. Instead of selecting a fresh piece of paper from the shelf, slipping into the typewriter, and cranking away, he turns on the adaptor, waits for the word processing program lo load up and silently types away.

But some old habits die hard. He has yet to buy a printer, so he does most of his editing on computer, and uses the Imperial for hard copies. He’s happy with that. Maybe next year, he’ll be ready to take another step. I’m bringing him a printer.

(August 1, 1993 Milan, Italy)

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