I was wonderstruck as I walked into the quaint, little, antediluvian stationery shop, after ages. It has still held its ground, situated in one of the oldest literary neighbourhoods of Kolkata, called College Street. The bespectacled, petite, reed-thin shopkeeper, did not seem to have aged at all. Except that his hair had turned grey. Bishu Da was known as the “doctor of fountain pens”. Yes, you’ve heard me right … fountain pens-the forgotten instruments of writing that inked emotions and warmth onto paper and parchments.
This shop indulges my uncanny fetish, a haven that still houses precious antiquities called fountain pens. The Wing Sung pen that is one among my collection happened to fall and hurt its nib. Hence here I was, getting it replaced. In his tiny, little match box of a shop, there is a chart on which was written some amazing facts about these pens! The first fountain pen was used in 3000 B.C. by ancient Egyptians. In 1884, an American named Lewis Waterman patented the first practical model after supposedly having a sales contract ruined by a leaky precursor. Left handed people are more likely to use fountain pens than right handed people, which is due to the development of the rigid nib.
Bishu Da’s eyes gleamed with excitement as he informed me that the endangered demand for these pens was on its way to revival. Fountain pen sales are on the rise. It was heartening to know that youngsters buying these pens, associated them with classy romanticism. Bishu Da quipped, “Ink pens with high quality nibs allow children to hold the pen in the correct position, which helps with stability and a good grip. Teachers should encourage children to use them. Also, they’re more eco-friendly than plastic ballpoint pens.” Then he sighed, “Who cares about cursive handwriting these days, they are busy typing on keyboards.”
My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ballpoint pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.
It was mandatory for us to use ink pens in school, it helped develop our motor skills as it has a specific weight and needed to be moved in a certain direction while writing. We were so possessive about the two ink pens that each of us would have in our pencil boxes because the nibs would adapt to your writing style, with time. The undisguised satisfaction that one derives from moulding a nib into a smooth one, over the years, is immense.
Ball pens were said to ruin our handwriting. The three bottles of ink were the most precious things that I would carry to my boarding school. I cherish the ritual of filling up our pens every night, as we packed our school bags for the next day. There was a phase when ink smeared fingers were in vogue. It showed the level of geekiness that one adhered to!
Receiving an ink pen as a gift probably gave us as much pleasure as today’s children derive from receiving an iPad. The way a watercolour painting assumes a life of its own that is beyond the excellence of the deft painter, so too an ink pen written epistle bears something apart from what we write. It may be an emotional twist in the ‘o’ of a ‘you’ or a lingering hesitancy in the written drawl of a ‘y’ in a ‘lovingly ‘ or a rounded proclamation of an ‘r’ in a ‘your’! But a gel pen or a ball pen is too matter of fact to create that impact.
Writing ink in a bottle
The bleeding of ink drenched thoughts onto paper, is an experience I would want to relive time and again! With the ink, flows the creative juices and Graham Greene, the famous author, rightly opined that, “My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ballpoint pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.”
So, this ‘fountain of bliss’ is gaining back its demand! A friend of mine received a high-end fountain pen with her initials engraved upon it as her Valentine’s Day gift. Well, as for me, instead of a bottle of perfume I received a bottle of ink … now what could be a better, love soaked present than this?
Fennel Hudson would also agree- “Proper writing ink comes in a bottle, can be swirled like brandy in a glass, and smells like apple blossom after rain.”
— Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp.