One of the skills which I had to master quickly, when I started my career almost 25 years ago, was that of dictating a letter. It is a skill which forces you to think clearly, logically, and in paragraphs, for, it is not enough to just reel off what you want to say, you have to also call out the punctuation marks and the paragraph breaks to the stenographer as you dictate.
The dictionary definition of stenography is “the art or process of writing in shorthand”, but good stenographers did much more than just convert your words into little strokes and squiggles in their shorthand pad and reconstruct them without mistakes on their faithful Remington typewriters. The better stenographers could improve on your original draft by correcting grammatical mistakes and errors in syntax and by ruthlessly editing out verbiage and clumsy usage.
Right from the days of the British Raj I suspect, the monopoly for good stenography was held by the South Indian Brahmins of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. During the 1940s and 1950s, thousands of them, after passing their matriculation from small towns such as Kumbakonam and Palghat boarded trains to Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, and other cities afar to make a living. What they had in addition to the matriculation certificate was a working knowledge of typewriting and shorthand learned at the friendly neighbourhood typewriting institute. Most of them found jobs in government and in large trading houses of that time and a good percentage of them rose up through the hierarchy by dint of their hard work and dedication and went on to occupy key positions in the very same organisations they first joined as a humble stenographer decades ago.
In the company I first joined, they had a “stenographers’ pool” which was almost fully populated by South Indian Brahmins. I still have fond memories of these colleagues finishing their home-cooked sambar rice or curd rice in double quick time and spending the next 50 minutes of the lunch time in quiet slumber in their chairs under the slowly-revolving ceiling fans.