Clackety-clack: I'm home

The typewriter once belonged to my grandfather. It is a portable Remington from the 1920s, and its burnished black frame still glints. The keys - pale yellow discs on thin metal strips - are as sprightly as ever.

Years after grandpa's demise, my father retrieved the typewriter from the attic. He went to work on it, oiling it, replacing worn-out springs, fixing the latches on its case. He brought the typewriter back to life late one night; the sudden clatter of the old Remington woke the entire household.

As long as the typewriter was working, my father refused to buy a new, more efficient model. I recall him saying that he did not want the Remington to go back into the attic. So he nursed it along with a silent tenacity. He stubbornly kept the machine from sinking into disrepair and obsolescence.

The little portable is a living bit of my father's past. He associates the machine with a time I can only glimpse through sepia-tinted photographs in the family album: our ancestral country home, father during his school years and Grandpa, standing straight-backed and mustachioed - the portrait of a patriarch.

Grandpa was a railway stationmaster who moved with his family all over northern India. My father recalls living in small towns and remote villages during his childhood, watching military trains head for the Afghan frontier, hearing steam engines in the morning dark, and spending long winter afternoons playing cricket at the local railwaymen's club.

When my relationship with my father matured into friendship, I realized that much of my father had rubbed off on me. His writing, for instance: I began by helping him check facts in his pieces by scrounging for information in libraries. As my father transferred his stories from longhand to type, I would proof the pages. Between us the Remington rang with its busy staccato as the typefaces crashed onto the white foolscap and left their indelible impressions.

My dad gave me the typewriter when I left home to attend university. His gesture marked a turning point in our bond, a sort of relinquishing on his part. University was a heady experience, full of new encounters and possibilities.

Faced with a difficult academic schedule, I worked long hours to complete research assignments. I became adept at using computers and text files. Software packages took over the chore of setting columns and paragraphs.

I used the Remington sparingly, mainly to correspond with my father. I would tell him of the new friends I had made or of the famous novelist who was conducting a workshop in the department.

In turn, my father alleviated my homesickness. His letters carried the sounds and smells of the neighborhood where I had grown up. He wrote to me about the summer visit of cousins to our home, the engagement of a childhood friend, the early fall of autumn leaves.

Our exchanges continue, even as I settle into a job in another city. The old typewriter has accompanied me. Somehow, I don't perceive it as just a utilitarian piece of machinery anymore. The old portable has become part of the familiar and reassuring in my life.

Perhaps my father felt the same when he took the Remington out of the attic years ago.

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