Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wee Bonnie Scotland.

Sir Isaac Pitman and I are old nodding acquaintances. It transpired thus. Smack after the conclusion of my Secondary School Certificate finals in March 1952, I enrolled at the Abhyankar Typing & Shorthand Institute situated bang next to the Rammohan High School at Prarthana Samaj. This much respected institution of that time happened to be within walking distance of 233 Khetwadi Main Road in South Mumbai where the Mankars used to reside at that point in my existential timeline. I had joined Abhyankar’s in order to learn touch typing to make up for my atrocious handwriting. The sacrilegious thought of trespassing into the venerated Pitman territory had never crossed my mind. Shorthand used to be all the rage among the young people then, particularly among girls because it was seen as a handy doorway – almost an open sesame − into the job market. The reason why I thought of Sir Isaac now is the late Ms Molly Weir, Miss Bonnie Scotland’s real- life avatar. Till the time I met Molly in print, the only Bonnie Scotland I had heard of was the eponymous Laurel and Hardy comedy  I saw the hilarious movie as a child at the old Metro Cinema, a familiar Dhobi Talao landmark. To cut a long digression short, I picked a copy of Molly Weir’s Trilogy of Scottish Childhood (Diamond Books, London, 1988) at a sale in the Sunderabai Hall fairly recently. The book that I consider as perhaps the best autobiography I’ve ever read cost me a pittance: no more than a measly Rs.50/-. Molly, the bonnie Glasgow lassie, was a self-confessed whiz at Pitman’s shorthand. She toured all over Scotland as the Pitman brand ambassador in order to popularise the training course by giving live speed demos without receiving a single farthing by way of remuneration for her work. One of the most endearing things about Molly’s memoirs is her detailed description of the lengths she and her family would go to just to save a penny or two. That, I guess, gladdened my Third World soul. So also did the description of the way they had to tighten the belt in the World War II rationing regime. Then again, her chitchat about her tramcaur journeys downtown and elsewhere in Glasgow too touched a chord in my memory of things past. Molly’s most appealing characteristic as a writer, to my old-school way of thinking, is her self-deprecation, her humility, her modesty, and not the least her reticence in describing certain major events centring on herself. For instance, she describes in telling details the celebration of the wedding of her aunt but glosses over her own wedding with a sentence or two. Similarly, all through her courtship by her beau, she refrains from providing us with the details, even his name. Her autobiography gives ample scope for her humanity, her candour and her wry – at times, droll − sense of humour. It’s refreshing to meet someone who calls a spade a spade, doesn’t have a swollen head and misses no chance to laugh at her own foibles. For the record, Molly started her working life as a steno-typist, took part in amateur dramatics on the side and ultimately made a breakthrough to become a renowned BBC regular as well as an acting professional in British theatre and cinema. I sure would love to read the rest of her autobiography.