Words of cheer: Meet the Hyd woman who writes poems with her typewriter on the street

Drishti began busking with a typewriter after she discovered her grandfather's 100-year-old typewriter in the attic.
Words of cheer: Meet the Hyd woman who writes poems with her typewriter on the street
Words of cheer: Meet the Hyd woman who writes poems with her typewriter on the street
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Performing on the street can be demanding. Unlike performing on a stage, your fate is sealed in a couple of minutes. People’s reactions are spontaneous. Your art is assessed and the effect of it is seen on your audience up close. To continue performing or wrap up - the choice is all yours.

The pressure is higher when you are sitting on the street with a device of the bygone era - a typewriter- mounted on your lap, hoping to write cheerful messages for people on the street. People may expect Shakespeare's talent in your poetry while you might be a novice trying out your luck on the streets!

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.

While the busking scene is vibrant in Bengaluru and Kolkata, in Hyderabad, a 23-year-old with her barrel and keys, is slowly making appearances at public venues in the city. Spreading joy through messages, Drishti Nagda’s tryst with the typewriter began two years ago when she fractured her hand and was unable to write. Passionate about poetry, it was during this period that Drishti accidentally stumbled upon her grandfather’s 100-year-old typewriter in the attic.

A linguistics student at the University of Hyderabad, Drishti soon discovered BLR Busking, a popular busking group in Bengaluru.

“Busking generically refers to any street performance. 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.

After trying her hand at the old, rusty device, Drishti made her first public appearance at Dog Park in Necklace Road, with her left hand still firmly resting inside her cast. She was accompanied by her mother and other friends, one with a guitar and a few others with a painting board and brushes.

“I made a cozy space for myself in one corner of the park with a board ‘Messages for strangers’. My friends were also up for a performance and we soon attracted some crowds. I had breezy conversations with absolute strangers and typed out messages for them. While some tell me what they want me to write, for many I type out whatever I can glean from them during our short conversations,” Drishti says.

Drishti has had quite a few memorable experiences in the past two years during her interaction with strangers. “The most excited are children who await their turn to get messages from their Santa, minus the red robes,” she laughs.

“Once, a four-year-old demanded from me messages for her pet dog. Most times, I keep a few messages typed out and handy for the children to pick. I get requests from people to type out messages for their loved ones, some ask for inspirational one-liners and I have even had people who ask for anything positive that they can wake up to. I even write poems for people who are ready to wait for a little longer. As people await to know what I have in store for them, I do some quick word play in my mind so that none of them returns home disappointed,” Drishti says.

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, Drishti is of the opinion that her background has helped her in gauging people and typing out instant messages. She recollects how a cancer survivor once approached her during her performance at a café, asking for messages for her teenaged children. Drishti says the two letters have been the most emotional ones she has ever written for anyone.

“The woman explained to me in detail all that she wanted her kids to know. She went on to say how life was a gift and how grateful she was to have a second-innings after surviving the disease. She waited patiently for a couple of minutes and when I finally handed out the two letters - one for her daughter and the other for her son - she burst into tears. I turned moist eyed but at the same time realised the cathartic power that words possess,” the 23-year-old shares.

At an age when most of what we write can be erased at the press of the backspace key, the typewriter lets us embrace our true feelings for each other, Drishti says.

“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 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.

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