A Girl with a 100-year-old Typewriter Spreads Hope to Strangers


In the era of instant messages, millennials are demanding more emoticons for instant messaging apps and people stuck to their phones even when they are with another person, the ability to strike a conversation face-to-face seems to be lacking in today’s world. At the same time, there are also millennials who are reviving the human touch of communication that has been lost to technology, they still believe in the old school way of communicating with people.

One such person is this 23-year-old Drishti Nagda from Hyderabad who can be seen writing messages of hope to strangers at cafés and other public locations in the city armed with her beautiful mind and a 100-year-old typewriter to her aid.

Drishti Nagda, goes by the pen name ‘Chai’, a passionate poet and linguistic student at the University of Hyderabad, was introduced to the unique idea of busking a couple of years ago. It was during the phase when she couldn’t write owing to a fracture in her hand and thus decided to give her grandfather’s rusty typewriter a try. The sound of its key hitting against the metal and producing tangible words was an experience unlike any other and Drishti knew that she’d never be able to get over the spell it had cast over her.

Drishti: “My grandfather left me a Remington typewriter made in the US in 1920. It was in use till 1995 and was then packed off for 23 years. But all it took for coming back to life was some oiling. We are writing out personal letters for strangers on postcard-size colour paper pieces, and we don’t charge. If there are donations, we spend the amount received on social causes,”

Street performance or busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. Street performance is practiced all over the world and dates back to antiquity.

Busking with typewriters, that is, typewriting messages on streets, is quite common abroad, and is slowly picking up pace in India. It involves writing short thank you notes, poems, inspirational one-liners or even a note for the sick – the messages are all bright and positive – on the street.

Blossoms, the 18-year-old bookstore in Bengaluru, is where busking with typewriters first became popular. Anyone who visits the shop is greeted with a message from people sitting on the pavements with their typewriters. I got in touch with the group through Facebook and came to know more about the art. I have still not fully mastered the techniques of typewriting, but have seen a lot of wide-eyed children smiling happily at the messages handed out to them,” says Drishti.

They were quite a few youngsters like Mishra, RahulKondi, and Harshith, who were doing it from different states. I was very excited by it and given that I had a broken hand it was a nice opportunity for me to try and see if I could do it in Hyderabad.

Taking inspiration from a group of young volunteers in Bengaluru, community organisation Hyderabad Poetry Project (HPP) has started an initiative where letters are typed out on a typewriter dating back almost a century.

Members and volunteers of Hyderabad Poetry Project at Dogs Park, Necklace Road.

With the typewriter as her companion, Drishti chooses public spaces, interacts with strangers and makes them confide their feelings in her.

It is interesting that she uses her poetry to help people send messages.

She explains, “As an introvert child, I used to rad a lot, and as I grew up, I felt the best way to connect people is with poetry and that is one of the reasons I still use poetry as the medium of communication. It makes life so much easy.

As an artist, a lot of us are obsessed with the concept of need to be perfect and at the end of the day you will never find your piece good enough and when we edit it, the lines no longer connect with us.

Why the typewriter? “The beauty of a typewriter is that it has an aesthetic feel to it. As writers, most of us are typically not satisfied with our first drafts, we keep on editing, I wanted to eliminate that process as personally I would never stop editing it. I would never finish.

“Typewriters don’t have backspace. Once a mistake is made, there’s no way you can erase it. It teaches you to think clearly and write correctly”, and also it gives me an opportunity to produce good content in a limited amount of space and time,” says Drishti.

“Many people approach me asking for messages for themselves. They say they don’t know what they want and ask me to type out anything that would cheer them up. I type out letters knowing very well how a single mistake of mine can ruin the entire day for someone else. And that’s the challenge which keeps writers like us going,” says Drishti, adding, “Street performances are often done for voluntary donations from people, as is the common perception. We do it just as a means to keep our passion alive.”

Also the co-founder of the Hyderabad Poetry Project in the city, Drishti says busking is where her heart lies. She does not charge for her work as of now, and even carries around the typewriter in her department at UoH. Because, as Drishti says, there are always people seeking words, words that will bring happiness and spread joy.

A nine-year-old boy wanted to tell his dogs how much they mean to him, and we wrote one letter to each of his pets from him,” Drishti said.

At The Sheraton Hotel, a cancer survivor wanted to tell her son and daughter to be strong even if she did not make it. “We wrote free verse poetry letters in first person for her, one each addressed to her son and daughter. She was worried about them more than about herself,” Drishti said, adding that such encounters make their effort worthwhile.

Drishti says that she would love to have people around her be a part this. “I would continue this but not on a professional level, I want it to be a hobby and keep it to myself,” she adds. The writer, who was also the mind behind the Hyderabad Poetry Project, says that she will not let busking lose its steam. “Poetry has become a rarity in my life, I don’t get time to write because I am so caught up with organising events. I don’t want that to happen to my typewriter, I want to do this for myself every now and then,” she concludes.

For more details, contact hyderabadpoetryproject@gmail.com
Instagram: #hyderabadpoetryproject