Brahmam fountain pens, to most collectors of India made vintage or antique pens, is but a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma, so difficult it is to come across good, working pieces. Naturally, their scarcity leads to the creation of newer fables around them as the scamper to acquire one heats up; the world gets divided between the haves and the have-nots; with the dealers constantly feeding the rumor mills to keep the prices going northward.
I will not beat around the bush, I had long cherished the prospect of adding one to my collection and truth be told, have spent many fruitless years in search of an elusive – for Brahmam, literally means the divine and absolute power of being, that is the source and sustenance provider of the universe, the ultimate reality. Think about it, with a name like that, can the pen be any less? I guess, I can also be excused, if I admit that I had once made a trip all the way from Kolkata to Bangalore in search of a Brahmam. For the records, I had returned empty handed, my senior from Mumbai having beaten me by a whisker. As a matter of fact, it had hurt like hell when the same collector, on hearing about my misadventure had told me, in his most indulgent voice dipping haughtiness, that sought after Brahmams, are like happiness, are butterflies – one can hardly ever catch them when one tries the most. Wondering aloud, that perhaps, they will alight on one, when one gives up the chase and resigns one to his fate?
Well, truth be told, I did give up and resigned myself to my fate, having extinguished all the flickering lights of hope. That is why, when an associate called up to say that he has the Brahmam that I have always pined to write with, I did not initially believe him. Like they say, there is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Then he showed up on the appointed date, passed me the Brahmam in the nice velvet case and valuable consideration changed hands. It was only then did I have the courage to fill the pen up with ink, to put the nib on paper, to drink life to the lees.
But what makes a Brahmam so special? Why are the Brahmam pens so sought after by the serious collectors? Why do some Brahmam fountain pens elicit the kind of price tags that they ostensibly carry? Well, it is a long story.
Kosuri Erayacharya from Rajahmundry had two sons, Kosuri Venkata Ratnam (K V Ratnam) and Kosuri Venkata Brahmam (K V Brahmam). K. V. Brahman, to cut a long story short, had set up his fountain pen manufacturing unit first in Rajahmundry and then in Bhimavaram near Vijaywara in Andhra Pradesh. His creations were sold as “Brahman” pens. It is now a part of the established fountain pen folklore that the House of Ratnam had created a fountain pen which was appreciated by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji’s letter, extolling the virtues of the pen have been used as the USP of Ratnam with Brahmam pens remaining in the shadows, maintaining a lower profile a kind of a boutique status. However, if the connoisseurs are to be believed, what Brahmam lacked in visibility, it made up in quality, turning fountain pens that were considered to be far superior. The pinnacle was achieved however under the aegis of K V Ratnam’s nephew, who passed away early after which the production was continued by his son-in-law, who too passed away in the first decade of the new millennium. The point that needs to be underscored is simple – Brahmam never had a free productive run like Ratnam had, nor was the brand as prolific, focusing as it had in producing pens that were of a quality that could command a higher price. Besides, except in the right circles, the visibility of the Brahmam brand too was much lower. Naturally, there are fewer Brahmam pens that are available for adoption, as by the time the social-media fueled boom for India made ebonite pens had gathered steam, the brand had already gone under.
But that leaves us with the million-dollar question – do Brahmam pens really justify the kind of fancy prices that some dealers seek for them? Strictly from a demand-supply point of view, they do, for the demand for these pens are steadily on the rise, while the supply is restricted, with most collectors who possess them unwilling to part with their treasures. Besides, information about Brahmam pens, its owners and the kind of pens it had created is extremely scarce in the public domain, which too adds to the mystique. And as for the quality of the pens, they are indeed everything that hand-made ebonite pens originating from the southern states in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular stand for. They are robust work horses that do what they were meant to do – write, exceedingly well.
Mine as you can see is a Parker look-alike and is generally considered to be rarer than the standard ebonite pens with their typical swirls. It will not be out of place to mention here that the Parker Vacumatic, which this pen resembles so closely was introduced in 1932 and was Parkers main battle tank till it was replaced by the 51 in 1941. The clip is the fabled arrow (Parker’s Golden Arrow) though this is ED filler unlike the vacumatic. The nib too is crafted after a fashion that was once the rage and has the arrow imprint. The polish of the pen is mesmerising considering the age and it will not be stretching things too far to say that the pen deserves its price if only the quality of the polish is considered, which is just a pointer of the kind of expertise the turners at Brahmam possessed. And write it does, true to its name, as if the universe’s wellbeing depended upon it.