Sunday, May 18, 2014
As a child, it was fascinating to see stenographers at work. Especially after having seen one of their 'notebooks' one day. Shorthand seemed as close to cryptography that a child could get to. Yet, it wasn't cryptic at all, it merely needed a few months of instruction to be able to both code and decode the system devised by Sir Isaac Pitman. That instruction could be obtained from several 'Commercial Institutes', as they were called in the 1970s and 1980s. Besides Pitman's shorthand, they would teach typewriting (the touch system, where qwerty had its confusion ironed out) and accountancy (entering the same transaction twice over, so as to leave people like me confused about debits and credits). They were all over the place in those days, especially in places where large groups of government employees lived.
The first such Commercial Institute in Madras was set up in Chintadripet. Not that I have been able to find any backing to support that statement. I am only relying on the information provided by Padmanabhan to The Hindu a few years ago. Padmanabhan is the grandson of P. Srikantaiyer, founder of The Shorthand School, which according to him was the second such institute in Madras. It was begun near Chintadripet, so it may well have been the second in Chintadripet, rather than in all Madras. But then, the need for typists, as well as for stenographers, was most felt at Fort St George; to that extent, the entire supply of the city would have been from these two institutes at/near Chintadripet.
Whatever that may have been, there seems to be no trace of that first institute. The Shorthand School moved to its current location on Kutchery Road in Mylapore in 1933. In 2009, the School celebrated its centenary. It continues to attract a fair number of people interested in learning shorthand, hoping to parlay those skills into a job at some lawyer's chambers. And then there are several who come in to learn typing; with qwerty still being the standard keyboard layout, learning to type is one way to be able to use the computer faster!