It was five in the evening, grandpa and I slowly walked towards the local park. The storekeepers on the way waved at me, hoping I’d buy a toffee from them. But, not today. Grandpa said he’d buy me one on our way back home. This was one reason why I looked forward to these saunters to the park – a guaranteed reward. But, that was not the only reason I never missed these walks. Grandpa was full of stories – just like all grand fathers were – and I loved to hear them. We sat at our regular bench and after relaxing for sometime he took out a folded piece of paper and spread it out in front of me – it was a news paper article on ‘fountain pens’.
What pen do you use he asked. I replied, ‘Reynolds 045 fine carbure’. ‘Have you used a fountain pen anytime?’ he continued. I said no. He replied with a smile, ‘a person who does not use an ink pen is a donkey’ speaking in the lines of my English teacher – Mr. E.A. Francis, who graciously compared us to another animal a few days back in school. I asked him why. He asked me to read the article. Once I was done, he started ’I had a shabby handwriting, my father – who himself, was a pen lover – was concerned about this and wanted me to use a better pen. He bought me a gift – a Parker. Fountain pens were more common those days, but, such a costly gift surprised me. With a black body and a golden arrow clip it captured my attention. When I unscrewed the cap, the nib shone in brilliance with the company name engraved in the centre and flowing designs on the rest of the nib. ‘Gold’ my father said, bringing a smile onto my face. I immediately took out a paper and started writing. It took some time for me to get used to it. But, slowly, my pen started responding to me and ’felt that it came alive in my hand. I could see the ink flowing through the nib onto the paper capturing even the slightest flicks caused by the change of pressure while writing. The scratchiness when the nib moved on the paper provided me feedback, deliberately slowing me down to think about what I was writing and how I was writing. And, slowly even without me realizing, not just my handwriting, but also the quality of my writing improved. The pen’s nib got used to the way I wrote, and if others borrowed it, they would be greeted with a scratching of the nib against the paper making it slightly difficult for others to write but smooth for me – a very personal experience. It then became an extension of myself.
We carried ink bottles to school and a filler with it. We used to come back home with inky palms. If we forgot to bring our own ink, we would borrow a few drops from our classmates and return the exact drops the next day. Once the final exams were over we would open our pens and throw ink on others – our way of celebrating the end of exams and the beginning of vacation.’ He ended smiling to himself clearly walking down memory lane. I read through the article once again, taking in all the different brands of ink pens mentioned there – Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Mont Blanc, Pelikan, Lamy, Sailor, Ratnam, Wality, Pilot, Kaweco, etc – and put it in my pocket. Someday, I’ll try them all I told myself.
That evening I walked to a nearby stationery store and bought a 15 rupees ‘Doctor’ ink pen. My journey would start with that. The nib was effectively twice the size of the Camlin ink pens a few of my classmates used and way bigger than the Chinese made ‘Hero’ fountain pens. I started taking notes with it in school and had to agree with grandpa on one thing- the words I wrote seemed to have life in them compared to the dead letters of a ball point pen. But, the true convertion came on the day Mr. Bakshi, a very strict teacher, held up my pre-final answer sheet to show the whole class that this was how everyone should write and applauded me. That day marked the starting of a love affair which continues to date.
My grandfather surprised me by gifting me a ‘Parker’ Vector when I passed 10th standard. My grandmother gifted me a ‘Waterman’ Charleston on the first day of college. Once, I started earning, I wanted to buy my own pen, but my next pen came as a gift from my colleague and best friend – a ‘Waterman’ Hemisphere. And, when I got promoted another close friend of mine gifted me a ‘Sheaffer’ Intensity. Only recently did I get a chance to buy my own pen – a ‘Sheaffer’ Prelude. Now if I look back, I see a very good collection of pens, all of which I’ve used at some juncture of my life. It’s been seventeen years from the day I walked to that park with my grandfather, he is long gone, but, the love he instilled in me is still there. I’ve asked myself why I’ve been using only fountain pens for almost twenty years – A throwback to simpler times? nostalgia? grace? charm? class? style? All of them, I guess – it’s a heady combination of all of them, that turned me into a dedicated fountain penman. There’s just something about a nib with its wide and narrow strokes giving individualty to what is written and read which we just don’t get with anything else1.
But, today fountain pens have become increasingly difficult to find and buy. Stationary shops don’t stock them anymore and fancier boutiques peddle expensive fashion accessories in the guise of fountain pens2. Handwriting itself is soon becoming a relic of the past. I’m sure, If I ask when did you use a pen last time, many would scratch their head. With computers and touch devices available in all sizes we now point, touch & type more than hold a pen, much less a fountain pen. I even get curious looks from my colleagues and friends when I pull out my fountain pen to write, some even enquire how it feels to write with one; I think it reminds them of simpler times when good handwriting skills were praised rather than how many words they could type per minute3. Unfortunately, writing with fountain pen has now become a ‘thing’ only for pen enthusiasts and nerds and not for common folks. But, no one can show you the joy of writing with it unless you are ready to get your hands smudged & hearts touched in the process.