One Unlikely​ Mumbai Artist ‘Draws’ Portraits With His Typewriter

One Unlikely​ Mumbai Artist ‘Draws’ Portraits With His Typewriter
Photograph by: Suhani Lakhotia

The year is 1967. It is another typical day for Mr. Chandrakant Bhide. He has stepped out of his small cozy apartment in Dadar West and is headed to work through the busy streets of Bombay. Working in the clerical department of The Union Bank for the last several years, he is a sincere and a dedicated member of the workforce. And with a typing speed of 90 words/min, he is also one of the most efficient. He has worked in the court before and has taught typing in institutes. He takes it rather seriously, for his father has always told him to be the best at what he does. Today, Bhide has been asked to compile all intercom numbers on one sheet. He sits down and begins, but an old passion has taken over his mind. Devoid of his sketching/painting stationery, there isn’t much he can do. But the creative powerhouse that Bhide is, he decides to draw with the equipment he has before him - A typewriter, a paper and the heavy data of intercom numbers. Tap, tap, clickety clack, Bhide continues typing away furiously on his favourite machine. After a few hours, he sits up, amazed at what he has produced. All intercom numbers typed and documented in the shape of one giant telephone. A new kind of artist is born inside Bhide that day. The one who yields his artistic strokes through the motley keys of a typewriter.

Mr. Bhide getting ready to create another portrait on his typewriter

“I have always loved to draw and wanted to join the J.J. School Of Arts, but owing to financial constraints and recurring expenses in the arts field, I learned to type and became a typist– a rather good one,” Bhide, now 71, tells us and chuckles. “But I somehow ended up doing what I always wanted to do, that is make portraits. The only difference is that I found a new way to do it,” he continues. We are seated inside the same Dadar West apartment and Mr. Bhide is holding a stack of portraits that he has made over the years on the typewriter using dashes, symbols, lines etc. From creating different kinds of Ganpathis to making portraits of politicians, actors and sportspersons, his talent and style is unmatched and unparalleled, perfected over many years. “My office hours were 10-5 but I went in as early as 7 so I could use the typewriter to practice. Work hours were strictly for work,” he says diligently. The shiny black typewriter is neatly placed on the desk in his living room. Its 50 years old, but looks as good as new. His most prized possession, this is the only typewriter he has used for his portraits ever since he began making them.

The beloved typewriter with a few portraits

The nostalgia in Bhide’s eyes is evident when asked about his relationship with the typewriter. “The week before I was to retire from the bank, back in 1996, I approached the administrative staff to allow me to purchase the typewriter, but I was bluntly refused since it was the property of the government. But I was strangely attached to it and a day before my farewell I happened to mention it to the Chairman. Having been an award winning employee, he was more than willing to give it to me as a gift and presented it to me the next day for a token of rupee 1, just to show the government that it had been paid for,” he states, smiling enigmatically. He then holds up, what he claims is the most difficult piece of art he has worked on. It’s a fantastic portrait of Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar. “He was young and had curly hair when I drew this. ‘Curly’ is difficult on a typewriter. But I used the ‘@’ symbol to give him those perfect locks,” he says settling down in front of his beloved machine, loading a crisp white A4 sheet in the paper table and demonstrating it for me. He then shows the various other techniques he uses to make different shapes. To create curves, he has to keep rotating the paper slowly, otherwise the typewriter will produce only straight angular lines. To darken and fill in colour inside a shape or a figure, it must be ensured that the paper doesn’t move. This is done by holding the platen knob tightly. “It requires a lot of power and force and can give you a shooting pain, but once the portrait is complete, it all seems worth it” he explains.

He dreams of meeting Amitabh Bacchhan and gifting him this portrait.

Bhide is frail yet energetic, casting magic through his fingers. His portraits have appeared in several newspapers and he has held several solo exhibitions as well. He has also received laurels and autographs from many famous personalities whose portraits he has drawn. “ I wish I could draw like you type” reads an articulate caricature of Mario Miranda, the famous cartoonist, with whom Bhide enjoyed close relations. Bal Thackeray, Savita Ambedkar and many popular Marathi politicians and novelists were admirers of his work. Vapu Kale, a famous Marathi writer even went on to say “ Typing as a job, typist as a profession and typewriter as an object- you have got pride to all three.” Though Bhide is grateful for all the appreciation that he has received, his biggest inspiration and source of encouragement has been RK Laxman, a man Bhide holds in high regard.

Mario Miranda's cartoons made on the typewriter.

He proudly showcases the portrait collection of Laxman and cartoons that he has typed, all signed by the iconic cartoonist himself. “You are doing a wonderful job through a unique medium. Keep it up and more strength to your fingers” Bhide reads one of the autographed letters out loud to me. It’s dated, 19.10.1996, but it still doesn’t fail to overwhelm him. He very well relates to the common man RK Laxman talks about through his cartoons. But his uncommon form of art is what gives him the edge, making this ordinary man, extraordinary. “I was touched when RK Laxman introduced me to his colleagues as his ‘friend’ in one of the events. We bonded over how both of us couldn’t get into JJ School of Arts; he says and laughs. “ But that is the beauty of life. It takes you to places you never expect it to.” he adds jovially.

Typewriter portraits of RK Laxman's common man, signed by the iconic cartoonist himself

Chandrakant Bhide has never charged a penny for his portraits. “I don’t get into collaborations or take orders. That creates greed and pressure to work. This is my hobby. I only do it for leisure and at my own time. It makes me happy. I give them out as gifts to people too” he explains. “Have you ever made a portrait of your wife then?” I ask, amused. “She is better in her original form” he says laughing voraciously.

When not typing away to make portraits the retired bank employee can be found collecting currency notes with unique numbers and compiling inspirational quotes. A Marathi Pun Master credited to have made many witty bank advertisements , he is currently in the process of writing his first book called ‘Veghdya Type cha Manoos,” (Various Types of People). The book talks about his interaction with the variety of personalities he has met because of his art. He also enjoys doodling on ‘Paint’ on his tiny old PC and has created his own game called ‘Spell O Fun’. He may appreciate the technology and the fonts on the computer once in a while, but for him it will never replace his beloved typewriter that is placed right in front of the PC.

The artist has created his own game on Paint called Spell-O-Fun

Mr. Bhide has recently had cataract operation but that has only slightly altered his speed. His passion is overwhelming, his skill is still top notch and his art is still new and unexplored, with only a handful number of people practicing it in the world. “ I have a happy, retired life and I am glad I am making the most of it,” he tells me. As I bid him goodbye and leave, I can still hear the tap tap clickety clack sound of the typewriter echo in my ears. Its sound is pleasant, the kind that stays with you, much like the typist Chandrakant Bhide, a man you can never forget. He is that type.

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