Friday, August 26, 2005

The Romance of a Fine Pen

My mother made this comment about how no one uses ink pens anymore last night, as we were watching my favourite BBC comedy. This sent me on a nostalgia trip to my Standard V classroom. Standard V was a milestone in our scholastic careers...you entered the high school building in Standard V, you had different teachers for different subjects in Standard V and you finally gave up HB pencils and started using ink pens in Standard V. The use of a ball point pen (also called the dot pen) was strictly frowned upon by the austere nuns at our school. They had spent five years teaching us cursive writing and they were not letting some coarse, pelebian writing instrument lay that to waste. But unlike the regular ball point which could be used for writing 4000 pages without refilling, an ink pen needed to refilled ever so often. So for school you needed two pens. Everynight before going to bed, I would clean the nibs of my pens, fill them with up with an ink dropper. Wipe them clean and pack them in my box.

A lot of folks might remember that were three types of pens - the fat barrel ones, the chinese ones and the Pilot pens (with the fat one being the cheapest and pilot the most expensive). If you were really nice you would get a Chinese ink pen with chinese inscriptions and a shiny gold cap. The barrel on these pens had a pinching mechanism which eliminated the need for a ink dropper. On the flip side, they did not hold too much ink and had to be refilled very frequently. At one point I had accquired two of these pens (just in case you did not get it, I was a good kid) and had to take an ink bottle to school. But after one rather unfortunate incident involving a smashed bottle and a vicious class mate my Mom made sure I only got the fat barrel pens to take to school. And fat barrel pens tended to leak and needed an ink cloth ....a little rag that you kept in your box to wipe up leaks. Since I was doomed to use the leaky barrel type pens I used up quite a few of these. Ink pens also needed their own erasers - the ugly hard pink ones. Out went the scented white erasers of nursery and middle school.

But by far, the biggest problem with ink pens was their fragility. Unlike ball point pens (or Reynolds as they were later called) , the ink pen nib would get twisted out of shape after a mere fall from the table. This meant either a new pen or a new nib. But if you regularly came home with broken pens sooner or later your mom would take you to the pen shop. The pen shop was run by this really cute guy called Salim or something (we were hormonally unbalanced 13 year olds remember) who would fix the nib for less than 1/20 th of the cost of a new pen. Soon we were making numerous trips to the pen shop with broken pens.

After two years our visits to that shop ceased.Wonder if that shop is still there!!. We were now in Standard VIII . We were writing in notebooks with 30 lines to a page and filling them up quickly. The teacher was not writing everything on the blackboard and the English Teacher was not telling stories but explaining Keats, Yeats and Shelley. Yes, we had really grown up and were officially in high school. Speed had finally overtaken beauty as far as hand writing was concerned.

9 comments:

Amlan said...

Very well captured. The good old day when we had to use ink pens and fountain pens. The flat nibbed leaky horrid pens (the brand name was Artex) that I was doomed to use as well. I loved the Pilot pens but after having lost one too many of them, I was denied any more of those. I always had a fascination for the Chinese pens (Wing Sung) as I really liked the fountain mechanism for filling them up.

But my most favorite was the very expensive (in those days!) Parker penset consisting of a mechanical pencil, a slender nibbed pen and a ball point. I coveted it and after multiple requests my father promised to get me one if I was a "good boy."

Given that, good was never really good enough, I usually took such promises in my stride and accepted them as refusals.

Interestingly, right before I left for college my father presented me with a Parker penset. Only it was a lot more sophisticated. Of course... it was a promise kept and I have greatly valued the set and possessed it with great pride ever since.

There is a slight problem of course. Given my ability to mispalce and lose things very easily, the minute my father gave me the penset, I was mortified that I would lose the most valuable gift I had earned from my childhood. So eversince, I have carefuly kept the penset with my small set of valuables in a wooden box. I have never used the pen for fear of breaking it and only look at it once everytime I move while packing/unpacking. However, each time I look at it, I feel happy, because I earned it and sad, because I never really used it.

Anyesha said...

Oh those Parker pen sets...they were beautiful.My father actually gave me his Parker pen (which he wrote his high school exam with and which he had stored carefully) to write my 10th std. exams. Then there was an Old Shaeffer pen that my grandpa gave me...Gosh I should look for them this time I go to India..they are probably antique pieces by now.

Buchu said...

it was class IV for us. I can still remember the excitement! i felt very grown up.

wandering dervish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wandering dervish said...

brilliantly written - and it's almost telepathic, since i had been planning a post on fountain pens since i started using a really nice purple ink with my Waterman.
nothing beats the swish of a smooth nib on paper!

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Very nice. WOnder why my school memories don't come back so easily?

Wing Sung - we used to compete about them.

J.A.P.

Rathish said...

We used to call the chinese pens, hero pens (not sure why!). They are the ones with a golden arrow just below the nib isn't it?

God! so many memories :) Needless to add, beautifully written!

Anyesha said...

Antara:For some reason using pens also entailed a move to another building in our school...so unfortunately standard V it was for us.

Vishnu:Funny you should say this. While writing this post my mind wandered on to letter writing and how we had discussed that sometime back.

JAP:Everyone rememebers those Wing Sung pens...I don't even know if they came from China or not.

Rathish: I remember refering to them as Hero pens too..yep the ones with that gold arrow below the nib.

AINDRILA CHAUDHURI said...

this is nice...i can still remember how proud i was when i held the ball point pen in my hand (which i had bought) in class Vth...