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Rewrite: How Goa’s Last Typewriter Repair Shop Defied the Digital Age | Global development

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I.n Goa’s capital, Panaji, on Rua São Tomé, not far from the main post office, is a store that offers packaging services. For a small fee, they will wrap your package in a sheet of muslin sewn with precise stitches to protect its contents from damage in the mail.

It started as a side activity to the store’s main business, but is now the main source of income for Luis Francisco Miguel de Abreu as he struggles to maintain one of the last typewriter repair shops in this Indian state.

Inside the store, several typewriters are in various states of preservation, resembling museum pieces. There is a Hermes, a Remington and a Godrej Prima, from the Indian manufacturer that was the last company in the world to make typewriters.

As long as the front door is open, I will have to. I prefer to go to the end ”, says Luis Abreu, the owner of the store. Photographer: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

Abreu, 78, sits in a chair surrounded by paperwork, spare parts and souvenirs. His father, Domingos Abreu, was an employee of the American typewriter manufacturer Remington Rand in Mumbai before returning to Goa and starting his own service and repair business in 1938.

“My older brother wanted to study engineering and there were no schools or colleges here, so he had to go to Portugal,” Abreu says. “You needed good grades and money. I could have gone too, but I stayed behind to study and help my father in the store. “

When his father opened the store, Goa was still controlled by Portugal, which colonized the territory in 1510 and held power until 1961. “We moved here, to this place, I think, in 1953,” Abreu says. “At that time there was nothing here. We had a muddy road here with horses and ox-drawn carts. There was a restaurant that sold rice, curries and vegetables, not fish. “

Today, the state is a very busy tourist destination, where there is a trendy restaurant or fish curry joint on every street and selfies are taken at every colorful door.

In December 1961, the last ship left Goa for those who wanted to return to Portugal after it was annexed by the Indian army and the state became part of the republic. “We received the news that the João de Lisboa [a Portuguese warship] had come and who wants to leave [to Portugal] you can go, ”Abreu says. “I did not want to. I didn’t want to leave my establishment or my father. “

The store, called Domingos Abreu in honor of Abreu’s father, was the crowded place for the sale and repair of typewriters. “All the big mining companies, the Dempos, the Chowgules, the government departments, even the military: they all came here,” Abreu says, “but the business has stopped now.”

Typewriters were once the backbone of India’s famous bureaucracy. From government offices to courts of law, they were the essential symbol of modernization in independent India.

Professional typists work on a road near the stock exchange in New Delhi, India.  The country has thousands of professional typists, most working outside of the country's courts and government offices.
Professional typists work at a roadside office near the Delhi Stock Exchange. The country has thousands of professional typists. Photographer: Bernat Armangué / AP

The typing and shorthand schools produced thousands of graduates ready to take on secretarial work. Some of these still exist in rural areas, teaching shorthand alongside computer keyboard skills. “I feel like it was a mistake to close the institutes,” Abreu says. “If they had stayed open, things could have been different. Many people tell me that our children cannot write fast, they are writing with one finger; the speed just isn’t there. “

In the Goa town of Ponda, Milagres D’Costa, 70, has run the D’Costa Commercial Institute since 1977. She offers classes in shorthand and typing for computers and manual typewriters; it has no supporters of the latter. “Now nobody wants to learn with typewriters,” he says.

While brands such as Remington and Olivetti were popular in India, Godrej & Boyce manufactured India’s first locally produced typewriters from 1955 to 2011, when the growing reach of mobile phones and computers made that obsolete part of the business. However, the lack of new typewriters and spare parts has not dampened the enthusiasm of lovers of the sound of the keys. Abreu still receives requests for machine repair and service, and the company enjoyed an increase in customers after the first Covid lockdown in Goa was lifted.

The state is now in a second partial lockdown, which means the shop is closed. Abreu says that Covid has been “a blessing and a nightmare” for his business.

“Everyone was cleaning things during the closing and we have several machines to look at,” says Natasha, Abreu’s daughter, who helps in the workshop. “We receive clients from all over the country. Many are the tourists who come across our store while walking. They go home and bring old typewriters that they want to use or keep as display pieces. “

But there is little profit on typewriters. “To secure the dealership of a large company, I lost a lot of money,” Abreu says. “The company took a deposit from me but now they have disappeared. There is no refund, nothing. “

Replacement parts are also hard to find, and Abreu’s vision loss and other health problems make repairs difficult. “I can do basic repairs,” says Natasha. “Things like changing the tape and greasing the parts. The rest is a bit more complicated for me. ”A local, Anton Rebello, has also been trained to do some repairs.

History of the Luis Abreu typewriter
A typewriter at Domingos Abreu in Panaji. Spare parts are in short supply. Photographer: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

The parcel service is now the main source of income. “What else could we do?” Abreu says. “There were no sales or service [work] so we started packing. It was good business at first, but now they have introduced new rules, which means you have to go to the post office, show what’s in the package, declare it for customs, and then sew and seal the package in their presence. . My daughter does that job now. “

But the future is uncertain. “I am just a Luis Abreu. How long can a person continue? As long as the front door is open, I will have to. I’d rather go all the way. “

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