Sunday 25 November 2007

An Ode to the Word Processor

Staring into a blank Microsoft Word screen, letting my mind wander through realms of profound thought induced by boredom and typing words down with no clue as to what words will follow - pressing the backspace key at regular intervals - is a sequence of events that usually results in me answering ‘no’ to the ‘Do you want to save changes?’ question. Sometimes, however, some strange metaphysical process takes place, and I put down a paragraph of something readable. The keyboard picks up a nice, steady rhythm, and thought begins to flow coherently.
The word processor is a boon to the chronic backspacer. There is so much joy in seeing the jagged ‘spelling and grammar’ line appearing below words like backspacer - words invented on the go. Writing on paper, usually in a depressing scrawl, crossing out words, phrases, and entire sentences, gives rise to the sort of angst that leads to paper being ripped out of notebooks, crumpled, and thrown on the nearest happy-looking person. This angst is at its angstiest when essays in examinations begin to look like what a four-year-old would do if asked to draw barbed wire. A point comes when inelegant sentences are left alone; when all one wants to do is drown one’s sorrows in lime juice. It isn’t just the chap who writes exams who resents pen and paper, but the chap at the other end as well, who has seven million samples of atrocious handwriting to transliterate into English in his head every day. One can imagine him sitting in a funnel-shaped valley formed by mountains of paper, picking up one after another, scrutinizing each in the light of a single incandescent bulb hanging from a dangerously low ceiling, and at regular intervals posing, to no one in particular, rhetorical questions, the commonest being – ‘Why me?’
The shrinking proportion of epic tragedies and tragic epics in bestseller lists worldwide must have something to do with the ubiquitousness of word processors. Lord Ganesh, for all his ability to remove obstacles, must have faced one himself while writing with a piece of broken-off tusk. Add to this the need for Ganesh to write, and for Ved Vyas to dictate, without pausing. Do all of the above - minus the tusk if you don’t happen to possess one, with a friend playing out Ved Vyas’s part - and you’ll see how easy it is to come up with an epic spanning generations of unhappy people fighting their own relatives. Word processors prevent the finer understanding of the nuances of human emotion.
If Mr. Matthew had typed out his Gospel with the aid of a word processor, Herod would have been a kindly old king with a twinkle in his eye, a patron of fancy dress competitions and a distributor of boiled confectionery to all the participants.

I wrote this in the first term as an assignment for Mr. V Ramnarayan, one of the greatest off-break bowlers never to play for India, columnist, blogger and wielder of the pen (or word processor) that wrote Mosquitoes and Other Jolly Rovers. Here's a sample of his writing.