Prime Edition

Sumana Roy
Free Verse

The technology of touch and intimacy

once imagined myself in love with a man who typed with one finger. I owned neither a computer nor a typewriter then. Mobile phones hadn't been invented yet. There is no other way to explain that infatuation except it being a teenager's interest in the chemistry between finger and keyboard. For central to that romance between finger and the keypad is the technology of touch.

I ask you to imagine this for a moment. Think of the number of times your fingers tap a keyboard, whether on a computer or on a phone. Imagine approximately a similar number of tappings on your lover's skin. The result would not be a document or spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation but possibly something different, something charged with the energy of the unpredictable. Before the PC (note the "Personal" in Personal Computer), the laptop (note the "lap"), there was the piano and the harmonium. The intimacy of "personal" and "lap" in the names of these machines was perhaps anticipated by the hundreds of semi-erotic songs that finger-synced tapping on the backs of lovers. The rib-cage might have made a better corporeal analogy for the keyboard instruments, but there was also the problem of censorship. Jarod Kintz, in the mocking tone where he has made a home, was perhaps taking a dig at this when he wrote, "If love played an instrument, I'll bet it would be the piano. 88 double infinity, and the ability to chop down trees with a sharpened moustache" (This Book Has No Title).

I think of the dictionary of tap-tap that exists in romantic relationships — finger taps calling to alert, to draw attention, to scold, to placate, to be affectionate, to ease away worries, to stroke passion or its likenesses, and so on. Tapping is finger food in such relationships, their nature making lovers identifiable to each other, a bit like a child's cry is to a parent. Faces might do all of these, as emoticons have tried to essentialise, but fingers perhaps say much more. "She always paid attention to fingers rather than faces because they told so much more. People remembered to guard their faces. They forgot their hands. Her own were small, though strong and supple from all the hours of piano playing, but what use was that now?" writes Kate Furnivall in The Jewel of St. Petersburg.

n a world that is increasingly being divided into those who type with one finger versus those who use eight digits or more, I wonder whether — and how — that has affected the erotics of touch in relationships. All of us know at least someone who values the appearance of fingers over the characteristic beauty of the face. Compliments such as "You have an artist's hands" enter our ears from time to time. Do painters and pianists need to have beautiful fingers? And do beautiful fingers imply beautiful art? Who can forget Marcel Proust in Swann's Way: "It was true that Odette played vilely, but often the most memorable impression of a piece of music is one that has arisen out of a jumble of wrong notes struck by unskilful fingers upon a tuneless piano"? Then there is sense of being awestruck by the finger's handiwork, to use a near tautology, in Madame Bovary: "As for the piano, the faster her fingers flew over it, the more he marvelled. She struck the keys with aplomb and ran from one end of the keyboard to the other without a stop".

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Tapping is finger food in such relationships, their nature making lovers identifiable to each other, a bit like a child’s cry is to a parent.

When I came to this poem by Dom Moraes, in his Collected Poems, edited with an excellent introduction by Ranjit Hoskote, I found other ideas about the relation between tapping and relationships rise to the surface. The poem is titled Typed with One Finger.

Travel with me on the long road

into loneliness, where the hours

offer pardons to those still afraid.

Bursts of white and blue flowers

will surprise you in summer, with

denials of what is called death.

When I am not there in the maze

where the long road ends, think

of the clumsy stutter of my limp

behind you always, hindering you,

trying to help you, all my days.


Every word that I wrote was true

this way or that, meant to praise

whatever was worth it on earth.

When my thumb, slowly flexed,

erased vexed lines from your brow,

it did more than my typing finger

achieved in those seasons, for that,

over the endless miles of paper,

scratched in marks like crowsfeet.

And so there were always reasons

how our lives became complete.

For me the main one was I loved you.

The poem was published in 2003, a year before his death. That piece of knowledge gives an angularity to my reading. The overwhelming affection of the last stanza, of a lover's written words — typed in letters and text messages — becoming the equivalent of scratches, marks, "crowsfeet", pulls every single thread in the poem, towards the crescendo of the last line: "For me the main one was I loved you".

There are two noticeable movements in the poem — the "clumsy stutter" of the limp and the "thumb, slowly flexed", erasing lines from the lover's brow. For a sad moment, I find myself thinking about fingerless love. Until Jarod Kintz's cruel and ironic words come to me: "To me, life is sad, like a piano with no pedals being played by a person with no fingers".

 
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