The first pen I held in my hand was an ink pen or ‘Boru’ as it
was called in those days. This was a writing instrument made out of a grass
stem. An angular cut in the front end served as a nib; you dipped it in the ink
and then wrote on paper.
Boru was used by students mainly for improving their
handwriting. You had to draw the curves in a particular way with that angular
cut of the so called nib.
In schools we used pencils. Nobody bought a box full of
pencils as the students do today. One pencil at a time. If it had eraser fixed at
the other end, it was a bonus. We started using fountain pens only when we
moved to high school. I always preferred one that wrote thick. When you went to
a shop to buy a nib, the shop keeper would give you one and you had very little
choice but to take it. Even they did not know which one would write thick. So I
used to buy a nib and then rub it on a slate to make its writing end thicker.
Pens were made of some plastic material. Probably ebonite. Somebody
discovered that if you rubbed it with wet turmeric, it changed its colour. So
we often tried it. But this did not work on black colour. So my friends and I
never used black pens.
Running out of ink was a fear we always had while writing
our exams. On the eve of the examination we would fill up ink and ready it for
use next day. But the fear would drive all crazy, and we saw an opportunity to
persuade our parents to buy one more pen for us, just in case…..!
Then came ball pens, I do not even recall when I started
using ball point pens. Ball pens were also messy with ink not flowing
uniformly. I never liked ball point pens and I stuck to fountain pens. We used
to buy refills and use a pen for a long time. Offices would also supply refills
to their staff though not ball pens.
Then in seventies, street vendors at Flora Fountain [now
Hutatma Chowk] started selling ‘imported’ ball point pens. These came in bright
colours. ‘BiC’ was a very popular brand. With ball point pens we were
introduced to American ‘use and throw’ way of life. Sometimes those vendors
sold a pen which could hold four or five refills of different colours. You
could use any and that pen was an attraction.
I used to travel by local [suburban] trains in those days. If
you borrowed a pen from a fellow traveller, he would keep the cap with him so
that you could not ‘pocket’ the pen. That is how middle class Maharashtrians in
Mumbai lived. Conservative, weary of wastage, and making use of everything
carefully. [I remember that many people used to buy a suitcase and then a cover
for it too!]
The funny aspects of pen were not just these; universities
had disallowed use of ball point pens to write examination papers for quite
some time. Who introduced this rule and who overturned it should be a matter of
research in hilarious practices.
As for inks, I am convinced that the producers were deeply
influenced by Ford’s philosophy – ‘You can have any colour as long as it is
blue!’ Red and Black were available, but nobody used it. Camlin was the only
producer though later ‘Quink’ came on the scene. As time progressed they
offered ‘turquoise blue’ ink which was my choice for several years.
Near our college, SIES at Sion in Mumbai, an old man would
use some pointed instruments to write your name on the pens. I had often got it
done. The process of inscribing was similar to tattoo. All this conveyed ‘style.’
An inexpensive pen was embellished as if it was a great possession. And rightly
so! There were ‘lucky’ pens and ‘unlucky’ pens. The former brought in an easy
examination paper and the other brought in a tough one! The problems of
students were always lying outside of them – and pens were easy targets.
Unlucky pens were gotten rid of to get a lucky [hopefully] one, but it was achieved
only with a strong word of disapproval from parents.
Students had perfected an art of taking out your pen from
pocket without you noticing it. This was done as follows: Take a paper and roll
it to make a cone. Slide the cone’s edge under the pen’s protruding grip on the
target’s pocket. This can be done swiftly by an experienced hand!
Two brands sold well in those days – ‘Mhatre’ pens and ‘Wilson.’
There was not much choice. Parker was a luxury. Parkers were imported pens, so
a student neither could afford it nor could even see it in shops. The only pen
we could afford was ‘Hero’ and it was made in China. I used my Hero carefully
for a few years. When somebody presented me a Parker, I was very excited; I was
afraid of taking it to college. Everybody was so possessive of his pens.
Ball point pens, and then many varieties of pens hit the market,
but none has association like a fountain pen with me. I was never was
possessive of ball point pens. With laptops and iPads, the usage of pens is decreasing.
But old faithful like me still use a fountain pen. I have many Parkers,
Sheaffers and Cross pens, I like them but I am not attached to them.
It only goes to show that an object is important because you
project so many emotions on it! They say that your writing reflects your
personality. This is true, but they also must know that the writing instrument
also reflects your personality. Horace, the leading Roman lyric poet said
"The pen is the tongue of the mind." You penned our thoughts,