Humour : Could we have managed without desktops?

The innovation of computers and other digital devices meant a lot to some of us who were used to dipping fountain pens into inkpots.

The innovation of computers and other digital devices meant a lot to some of us who were used to dipping fountain pens into inkpots.

It saved us from the irritating ink drops and the expenses we always incurred to clean our white garments. When it came to the introduction part of it after the manual typewriters, we benefited a lot.

While banging at the keyboard of my computer, I cannot help but chuckle at what it takes for one to write something. I just have to take you a little back, when we had to use gargets other than a typewriter that was so ordinary at the time.

For instance in 1956, during term one of the year of ‘ibinyoni’ (young, fat birds), as the first year in primary school was known, our energies were consumed by the efforts to learn how to spell the family names of our uncles.

One may ask, why our uncles and not fathers, and why the surnames and not the first names? This can be demonstrated.

As soon as you had signs that you grasped the basics in “spellings,” your teacher invariably asked you to write down the name of any of your relatives.

In turn, you opted for ‘Muginga’ (God bless his soul) not because you had any idea that his name was in Kiswahili and, if spelt correctly, was supposed to mean something close to what you were, but for the purely practical reason that it was easy to spell.

Of course, choosing to spell the name of my uncle, I was oblivious of the fact that the teacher expected me to write down both names.

Unfortunately, whoever baptized my late uncle had the words ‘extreme torture’ in mind, because they gave him the name ‘Herimenijilidi’!

That is the Kinyarwanda corruption of some name that must have been originally German and so, even today, except with the kind indulgence of Canisius or Gacinya, I cannot spell it correctly.

I have intimated to you before that the schools of those days were torture chambers and that is why for every wrong spelling, your fingers were hit with a ‘règle’; the heavy wooden ruler we used for making straight lines.

And because you could not spell that name correctly, by the time you went home your fingers were burning.

The initiation process was more or less as arduous as the circumcision torture undergone by some boys and girls in certain tribes.

Ask me how: a pen those days meant either a ‘tiku’ (which was the equivalent of a ballpoint pen) for the elite or a ‘plume’ (the equivalent of a fountain pen) for others.

Unlike a fountain pen that contained some amount of ink, the ‘plume’ did not contain any, and could execute the task of writing only if it was repeatedly dipped in the inkpot.

That is why every desk in class had a hole where we placed inkpots. All you had to do was to dip your ‘plume’ in the pot for every letter and you could craft your ‘calligraphy.’

This was a pipe dream because it was almost messed up, which resulted into getting whipped ‘iz’akabwana,’ like an unwanted puppy.

You were always required to be spotless but the ‘plume’ had the ugly habit of splashing ink not only onto your clothes but also on the exercise book, which made your classroom a hell-hole; any smudge on your clothes or exercise book earned you whips, and sitting became a luxury alien to your vocabulary!

But back to the keyboard, time was when that treasured item was the preserve of ‘umukarani.’ Those days this title did not belong to the cart pusher in the market as is the case today.

It meant a secretary in an office, a title we never dreamt of unless we typed a minimum of 50 words per minute.

And because those good old days the women belonged strictly to the kitchen, the job of office secretary was the exclusive domain of men.

The typewriter had a keyboard with metal keys that hit the paper neatly but with a lot of noise to write the desired letter.

When the typewriters were many, as you may have observed at the Traffic Police headquarters in Nyarugenge, the cacophony that arose out of them was just so irritating, save for the punishments they gave to the fingers.

Still, the worst came when you wanted to produce a picture or pattern, you would need a stencil-plate.

This was a thin sheet of metal or plastic in which you had to etch your letters, picture or pattern. When you were through with your etching, you would paste the sheet on a roller sprinkled with a mixture of tar and water that formed its ink.

By rolling a sheet of paper over the surface, you got the corresponding letters, pictures or patterns and could make as many copies as you wanted, depending on the number of papers you had.

Your strength could also turn the handle of the roller as fast or for as long as you wanted depending on the number of copies needed.

Trouble only arose when you came out of the room; the tar and noise made you look like the remains of a suicide-bomb victim.

That’s why I praise the innovation of the computers and other digital devices. They saved us from the irritating ink drops and the extra energy we had to incur in using the typewriters.