Why this short shrift to shorthand?
Two tsunamis, “Information Technology” and “Outsourcing,” have devoured many small organisations and institutions throughout the country and changed the very face of the Indian economy. The perspective of the ordinary citizen on studies has also changed and many subjects and arts have suffered. One such casualty is shorthand.
My tryst with shorthand began during the vacation after my standard X examination. My father's prophecy that I would land a good job with a stenographical background proved right. Today, I am working in a prestigious institution — thanks to stenography. Even during my college days, I used to reduce lectures into shorthand. My friends were struck with awe when I reproduced the entire passage. They could not believe that those little curves, hooks and straight and slanting lines contain in themselves a whole word.
Shorthand is like martial arts. Learning this art requires patience, perseverance and hard work. While martial arts shape one's physique, shorthand shapes one's mind. Also, like in martial arts, once we have mastered the basics, we can develop our own style and invent new strokes. Grammar and spelling come as free gift for learning this art. In today's fast moving world, nobody is willing to devote time and work hard. That is also one of the reasons for the diminishing value of this art. Gone are the days when typewriting and shorthand examinations were tough and conducted in many batches for days together. Examinations are now diluted and the charm is lost.
The advent of computers has slowly but steadily strangulated and swallowed typewriting and shorthand institutions. The fashion of attending such institutes has shifted to going to computer classes. India is still one of the few countries where shorthand is taught and used in offices.
It's a myth that stenographers are no longer required and computers could do the job. The reality is there is a great demand for stenographers. Many journalists, with whom I had a chat before attempting this article, said knowledge of stenography was an added advantage in their profession.
Stenographers are important tools of Indian administration — be it English or the regional language. In the judiciary, shorthand writers are part of the justice delivery system. Even in the U.S., the judiciary has court reporters whose job is to record the proceedings verbatim and reproduce the same for records. (Of course, they employ voice writers and audio recording technology too.) Their National Shorthand Reporters Association inculcates professionalism in the court reporters before they take up regular assignment.
Dictaphones, once touted as the next big thing for the big bosses, have not proved their worth. And India is years behind in the field of voice writers and audio recording technology. A machine is only a machine. It cannot differentiate similar words and use them appropriately in a sentence. I strongly believe there is no substitute for human intelligence. It is more true in stenography and secretaryship.
It is also a myth that the relationship between the stenographer, who often carries the designation “personal assistant” or “secretary,” and his officer is that of master-slave. It's actually a relationship based on trust. The officer should trust his secretary. Unless there is confidence in each other, the institution cannot prosper.
Several factors are responsible for the decline of stenography today. Lucrative offers by the BPOs, and the easy availability of engineering seats even for a low-scoring student are some of them. Every field has its down cycle and shorthand has it now. To keep this wonderful art alive, it should be made part of the school curriculum. It need not be studied as a profession, but it could be studied as an art.
( The writer's email id is firstname.lastname@example.org)
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