How to use your hands in the age of robots by Amitava Nag

‘Yeh hath mujhe de de thakur’, which Indian can ever forget this iconic dialogue from the magnanimous Sholay. Asking for someone’s daughter’s hand in marriage doesn’t leave a man the same ever again. Even Lord Jagannath of Puri had his hands unfinished when Vishwakarma, the carpenter god left the work in-between to punish the king’s impatience to wait for completion. Simply, the hand, once given, never comes back to you. Nor does your handwriting – a skill with diminishing interest. In the USA, cursive writing has been purposefully kept out of the curriculum of schools in most of the states. In the age of computers, the Word editors and internet, no one will ever write by hand, pundits feel. They are correct to the tee. Forget about typing, most of the next-gen AI need voice commands. More than ever before, you will use your throat more than your hands. The likes of Strepsils, Vicks Honey, Halls and other throat lozenges will rule the business in the next quarter of a century. Without a doubt.

For the last two decades companies earned money in tons by designing cursive handwriting fonts. Even before that when I was in school we competed amongst friends for adopting the fastest cursive. We wrote in it for class tests, daily writing, letters, bills, scorecards. The intelligent ones would adopt multiple styles and use them at different occasions – one in school for the teacher to easily understand, one to the lover for trespassers not to decipher a single word. Even at times in the same answer-script, the less you know an answer the more cryptic you make your handwriting. Just a hope that the examiner will, out of compassion, grant you some marks resulting from ambiguity. 

The fast disappearance of cursive handwriting, not only in the USA but eventually from the face of the earth, is not the first of casualties. Older mortals, not me included, will remember the speedy note-taking hand device – Shorthand. Today, notes can be typed faster and more legibly in a computer. In those days, Shorthand was not only for taking notes but it doubled up as the secret code of unrequited love.

The digital revolution has ruthlessly demolished all these infantile pleasures. Now, although electronic signatures are in vogue, probably your name is the only thing you need to write in cursive. A curse indeed! However, a friend who writes in the left-hand is elated –“Long live cursive handwriting. Keyboards are democratic, equal opportunity, free.” He draws my attention to how he and other left-handed writers tilt their writing pages in a different direction. “We pushed the pencil, you pulled it”, he explained. 

His rants are justified for the minority group he belongs to, though the problems he faced are far less than the glories of writing on paper – small, big, coloured, scented, crumbled, satin. 

I fear, what will happen to the font companies? If children don’t know what cursive handwriting is, the font galleries will only boast of the mundane Times New Romans, Arials, Calibris – all tall, all straight, all hyper. Where is the scope of the crooked ones that life resembles, the ones that are not so prim and prudish, ones with less dignity?

With decreasing natural logic and reasoning to make way for artificial intelligence I do feel strongly that cursive handwriting actually makes great secret codes. Almost like the ones used by the Enigma Machine of WWII. Alan Turing had to invent his machine, the father of computers to break the codes used by Germans. In today’s homogenised world, cursive handwriting could actually lead to another life-taking, nerve-wrecking invention like the computers, may be Computer Nextgen, the one that spins AI on its head. All with simple hand-written pieces of notes, that simple.

If not, we need conventions and symposiums to decide what we will do now that our hands are free from labour. From the history of life, mankind has used hands with great effect. Now with sudden redundancy it will be baffling.  Typing memes in dwarf screens will not be enough to de-idle the use of hands. Even cars are becoming hands-free.

Maybe, we should encourage our youth more to go back to the primitive modes of violence, wrestling with arms. The rise of such amongst elite students in elite institutes in front of elite media for elite middle-class indicates that we are right on track. Just as asking for a woman’s hand in marriage is slowly taking a back seat. Lifting and dragging women with force, the unquestioned proof of masculine valour, so well expressed in Bollywood films is one in favour. The women want that, secretly, the makers of such films think. Indeed they do, at least that is what a pea-sized national intelligence can afford to imagine.

The circularity of history amidst the linearity of time is what drives life. In this age of robots, hands will only make us human again. To till lands, to caress flowers, to climb ropes and to write by hand. Our fingers are afraid that they will lose us. The fear freezes them to gangrene.


Amitava Nag resides in Kolkata, India and wishes to engage in writing in order to know life better.

%d bloggers like this: