Ramya Sarma

Getting the jobs done

October 8, 2011
Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Many many years ago, when I was very young but had already started writing, I used a pencil and wrote in laborious longhand on lined paper. Soon, I had graduated to bashing away on a typewriter, first an old model we had inherited and then a more modern electronic one that beeped if I went too fast and erased my mistakes with a ka-chunk sound as if I was being severely whopped. And then I learned – and pretty fast it went too – to use a computer.

It did not take long and I did go through the usual problems of deleting something instead of saving it, battling worms and virus attacks, grappling with new programmes or old ones being updated so fast I could barely keep up and suddenly finding that something I knew I had saved had mysteriously vanished and then, just when I had written it all over again, had reappeared without any word about where it had taken its secret holiday.

Along the way, I learned not to check for spelling errors since it was all done on a programme with auto-correct mode firmly on, and I rarely missed a deadline since writing was for me not only easy because of the way my head worked, but much easier because of the way my machines worked.

As technology advanced, so did my own skills as a kind-of-journalist. My list of contacts grew longer; my own talents of getting a story done and filed became honed. I could out-write almost anyone, with no need for an editor at the end of it. Most of it came courtesy me, but some of it was thanks to my trusty, handy-dandy computer. I could bash almost anything into it, but it almost always got it right when it translated it into English as the local media wanted it and better.

It was all great fun and, along the way, it left me free to do more with the story itself, whatever it may have been, without needing to be tied down to any rules of grammar or linguistic etiquette that made me stop and think about how I should be saying that I wanted to say. I could create pictures, which is what all really good writing does, and not be tied down by the size of the canvas or the paints on my palette.

And it was great fun; I learned along the way that writing for a career can be more satisfying than writing for myself, because you not only reach a lot more people who tend to marvel at your work, but you even get paid for it, which in turn would pay for books or shoes or diamonds or whatever else you want to get with it. And it also fed my never-happy ego, pushing me to do more, be read more, be known as a name more. What more did I want?

Actually, there is a lot more than I want. Or so I found as I wrote that little bit extra that made me better known than so many others who had started out with me. I wanted more technology. More science that could be applied to making my life as a writer easier, better, faster, simpler, more interesting, more everything. And I wanted more of it to be done for me.

To help, there has always been a machine, I argued, so why is there not more than a machine that I can use without too much trouble can do without me having to do it? Once upon a time I used a pen, frantically wielded, to take notes during an interview. Then I graduated to a tape recorder, a large and irritatingly awkward object that needed a whole big bag of its own and never switched on and off the way I wanted it to. Relief came in the shape of my Walkman, chosen deliberately for its recording functions. And then I moved on to a digital recorder, a slim, neat, light gizmo that worked as I demanded it should, at least most of the time. I did figure out how to use my mobile phone for recording interviews, but needed far more talk time than it gave me, so gave up on it very quickly.

But, as always, there was the next step that had to be taken. I now am looking for a programme that will transcribe what is on my digital recorder directly into a text file that I can edit on my computer. I have found one, but the errors that it comes up with drive me to tears…of frustration, of laughter, of bemoaning my own fate at having to listen to and comprehend hours of someone speaking and make it into words that suit the newspaper, magazine or website I may have done the interview for.

I once wrote travel stories on a palmtop; I am now looking for a rather more advanced kind of device I can carry around without strain. Now that Steve Jobs is no longer on this earth to make one that will fit all my requirements, where do I find what I really want?

Anyone have any realistic inspirations here? Do tell….

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Ramya Sarma is a Mumbai-based writer-editor.

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