(Originally published in the Lifestyle section of Times of India, web edition; July 11, 2019)
I clearly remember the first time I received command from my class teacher to switch from a pencil to a Fountain Pen. I must have been in standard sixth at that time. “Strictly a fountain pen of nib size ‘Medium’ filled with Royal-Blue ink,” she had insisted. Her instructions were precise and clear. Besides, studying in a Convent meant absolutely no deviations from the rules once set by the Sisters of the Institute. Some students went ecstatic with the decision as if they had been waiting to overthrow the couth of sharpening graphite lead ever since they learnt writing while some like me, who had mastered the art of committing endless errors and erasing them away cleverly, now feared the horror of getting caught. “Once written in ink can never be rubbed away!” along came the teacher’s reprimand which sounded more like a forewarning.
I refused the idea of liking to write with a fountain pen right away. The days of doodling in the last pages or scribbling a thread of chat in each others’ school notebooks which could neatly be erased later was soon going to become a thing of the past. What else could be more disheartening for us, the naughty backbenchers?
However, there was to be no respite! In a matter of a week, we found ourselves complying with the school order, fiddling with the mess created while writing with the good ol’ fountain pen. It must have taken me a hundred days to figure out the most appropriate angle at which the nib of the pen must be tilted to ensure ink’s best flow and another few weeks to learn how to write without staining the fingers blue.
My pencil box would no longer have fragrant erasers but pieces of calcium smelling chalks (you know it if you have used it) to absorb ink blots which I couldn’t manage but spill all around my work-desk. I remember shaking the pen enough every time I would use it, just to resume free flow from the dried nib. The only ink blots which looked good were the ones staining a perfectly white school uniform of the best friend in dotted blues. Thinking of it still brings me a smile.
That is how my rendezvous with the mighty fountain pen had started in school. Messy, unmanageable, staining, cumbersome and bringing my handwriting speed to an all time low!
But little had I realized that the royalty of the Fountain Pen was all set to have me enchanted and make me fall with its classiness in the times to come.
Just as true love gradually grows, I began feeling the grandeur of nib on paper, the eloquent strokes of ink gliding on paper with emotions and the rich legacy behind history of fountain pens. I began cherishing the beauty of holding it, sometimes between the fingers (literally) and sometimes close to heart.
I started seeing subtle shades of blue-black in my handwriting like never before. Azure, temporary royal blue, permanent blue-black, deep black, dark grey, turquoise blue, bright violet, mauve, emerald green, I felt a spectrum of colours even in the pages of dry notes.
I played with the nib sizes to doodle even better. Anfanger, stub, needlepoint, extra fine, medium, bold, zoom and ROM; While most of it I learnt from my grandfather and father, under their tutelage the rough pages of my diary now jazzed with colourful caricatures and penmanship. How funny I even began creating my own Rorschach Tests with blots of ink folded between blank pages to make patterns and interpret stories!
Once school got over and college began, I tried my best not to let go of the habit of writing only with the fountain pen. But economics of the new global market as well as our budget constraints had most of us switch to, what they called, a new-age Ball Pen. This newest suitor in town made more promises. It gave the similar ease of writing at almost one-tenth of the cost of fountain pen, was less messier, did not have to be occasionally flushed out for cleaning, hardly stained clothes-fingers-bags and was easily available (no puns intended) at every second stationery shop in the street.
The cost benefit analysis hinted that it was time I must give a try to the most feasible option. And hence, I carefully packed away all of my fountain pens keeping in safe in a boxed treasure, bringing it out only once in a while but promising never to let it go forever. It was no longer just a writing instrument for me. It was sheer delight contained in a barrel of ink.
Time passed by and saw us grow up, find a place, new beginning and settle down.
Getting the financial liberty to choose and spend on the most desirable of things, I decided to fulfill my long lost love. I now have a collection. An enviable collection of fountain pens! And there is a reason I like to believe my collection is precious. I have in my treasure a 1976 Sheaffer Fountain Pen that belonged to my father when he was a student at Arizona State University. Despite done and dusted in decades, it still glows with the pride of having churned innumerous unwritten pages into gold. Other keeps include Lamy, Pelikan, Montblanc, Faber Castell, Cross and Parker gifted to me by family and friends just so they knew what would fetch me a smile most (apart from books, of course). Even dearer are ink bottles of Waterman, Quink and sweet ol’ Chelpark that gush up my senses the moment bottle is uncapped. Even today, there is a pleasure in manual refilling of ink barrel that readymade ink cartridge can never bring.
But closest to heart are the fountain pens I used during my school days, scribbling away my dreams on blank pages without the fear of erasing them ever.
Fountain pens have made me learn that mistakes committed need not be erased away from the memory but rewritten to a new glory.