Once upon a time begins this story, like all good stories should. Once upon a time, the mater, widowed and struggling to bring me up, decided that the only way to ensure I was capable of earning a living was if I had shorthand and typing skills. And could, by virtue of that certificate, land a job anywhere as a steno typist. Ergo, she enrolled me in one of them reputable Secretarial courses at Bandra, Clare’s Institute it was called, if I remembered rightly. It was a short walk from the railway station and just a crossing before the bank my mother worked at, so we left in the mornings together, I went on to my secretarial course, where a humungous and lecherous creature tried to get the gaggle of girls sitting in front of him to understand dots and dashes and their various permutations and combinations to be able to take down shorthand perfectly. And then it was typing. Learning to type from a manual, getting your fingers inky rolling the ribbon. I quit within the first month I think, sobbing hot tears that no, this couldn’t be what I was to do all my life, take dictation and type out letters. My mother was a strong woman. She let me be, and calmly convinced me to enroll for yet another secretarial course closer home, near Malad East station, some months down the line. I dragged myself there for over a month I think, before I sank into a depression so deep and dank that I refused to emerge from the house. Thankfully, I never needed to take dictation, and my typing skills are now legendary. But this morning, working on a book that I’ve been grappling with for a couple of months now, I had a sudden flashback of those horrible classes, the cramped wooden benches, the cobwebs, the closed windows and the lack of fresh air, the teachers who were nothing better than students of the same courses, who couldn’t find jobs once they passed out, and the hordes of eager hopefuls, who put down good money for the course, keen that they get a secretarial position once they had that diploma in their hand.
I went on to first join and advertising agency as a copywriter and then into journalism. I ended up an author. I could have done better, I could have done worse. What I do know is that I refused to believe that I would be a secretary. Even if that offered me many job opportunities and an income, which, given the circumstances we were in, was very welcome.
I wonder what today’s equivalent is to those Secretarial courses, is it the Call Centre training courses? Courses that are meant to assure you of some employment, in a world of uncertain incomes. I wonder how the youngsters today would get into these and not feel their chests thudding with the claustrophobia of being boxed into something completely against their nature. I wonder how many of our children right now are being compelled by their parents to do something they absolutely, completely and totally detest.
Knowing what you want to do, as a teenager, is very difficult. Knowing what you don’t want to do is even tougher. Saying no to what you don’t want to do takes courage and an immense amount of faith in oneself. Although, those shorthand skills would have come in handy in all those years as a journalist, and doing interviews. Would have saved me all that recording and rewinding and transcribing headache. That’s my karmic kick on the butt for wasting two course worth of fees, fees we could hardly afford to let go in those days.
And then there’s that fact about me sitting with a lovely Olivetti my uncle got me and teaching myself typing, painstakingly, typing sheets on sheets on sheets of stories. Stories which have disappeared I don’t know where. Because I wanted to be a writer. Ironic, it was.
I have many regrets today, paths not taken, courses not pursued, jobs thrown up on a whim, but among the few things I don’t regret is not learning shorthand/typing at those courses. I would have inevitably ended up a typist in a typing pool in some law firm somewhere I think, had I done so. Life, it always has its plans.