Wars and famines. The fountain pen has witnessed pestilence in the past, just the way it has seen – from the trenches, the two World Wars.
An estimated 20,00,000 people died in Leningrad – a direct fallout of the nine-hundred-day blockade by the Nazis between 1941 and 1944. The Bengal famine in 1943 had claimed, by a conservative estimate, about 21,00,000 lives – a direct fallout of a blockade of a different kind that was imposed on the hapless population by the British rulers. At the least, in Leningrad, it was war – both sides had guns. In Bengal the famine was not slashed by the sword, but was engineered by the scratch of the much mightier, albeit imperialist, pen.
Since then, to name only a few, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Vietnam, Sudan, Ethiopia – the world has witnessed a number of devastation that have led to hunger and consequent loss of lives, often avoidable. Similar is the case of loss of lives that have been brought about by causes that are purely medical. The Bubonic Plague of Justinian (541-542) or the Black Plague (1346-1352) are literally ancient history and not really the gist of our discussion here, but the Cholera pandemic (1852-1860 and 1910-1911); the Asian / Russian Flu with its variants (1889-1890, 1918, 1956-1958 and 1968); or HIV / AIDS (at its peak between 2005 and 2012) were also killers that wiped out all that they had surveyed. Point is, the fountain pen was not only exposed to, but also played important roles in formulating mankind’s response to all these disasters that threatened to extinguish it. What needs to be noted here is that the fountain pen has witnessed it all – fought it, lived to tell the tale and, after every lethal attack that threatened to obliterate it, emerged stronger. Just like it did after the two World Wars.
And this brings us to these unforeseen times of the CoVID-19 induced global lock-down. Will the fountain pen, which had long been consigned to the dustbin of the past, survive? For one, in a border less world, the devastation these days, is much more widely spread. Two, the fallout, again naturally, is much more than what we have seen in the past. Even with all the advancement of science, point three, it has forced many to compromise their scientific tempers in search of solace and four, because the mindless, even selfish, social, economic and environmental pillage that has created the fertile ground for rapid multiplication of threats cannot be set right immediately, which may make this pandemic just a chilling prophecy about worse curses waiting to break. The fountain pen, in its brief lifetime as a game changer, it can be pointed out, has neither seen, nor dealt with anything like this before.
It will not be out of place to recall the backdrop of the fountain pen’s battle for survival here. The mass-produced ball point pens had rung the death knell to the fountain pen and the total digital dominance that had followed there after, had not only shoved it six feet under, but had, as many experts point out, ensured that it remains buried, by replacing the very act of writing with that of keying in. For all practical purposes, the fountain pen was well and truly, like they say, “dead and buried”, except in some pockets (no pun intended) of fanatics.
But strange are the ways of mice and men (remember, crude as it may sound, we are talking plagues, pandemics and pens here) – for the same digital revolution that had delivered the body blow, was responsible for the resurrection of the fountain pen. The internet first brought together scattered aficionados in the fountain pen forums, while after some time, perhaps as a fall out, the young started picking up the relic of the past as a symbol of their rebellion against conformity – on lines similar to an earlier generation making the lowly pair of denims their standard (as in an emblem, pennon). Well, Woodstock (for Love Peace and Pens) may not have happened yet, but…let not get digressed.
What needs to be stressed here is that, to many around the world, the fountain pen is today the most potent weapon against the digital damnation of their lives. Believe you me, it is more than a fad and certainly, way beyond retro.
Readers will agree that fountain pen collection is a major hobby in the present and the last couple of years have been marked by an exponential growth, both in terms of quantity and quality. One just has to look at the sheer number of pen turning / manufacturing entities that have either cropped up or have come back from the cold, to get a hang of what I am trying to say. For that matter, even running the risk of erring on the wrong side of modesty, the very success of this blog is a mute refurbishment of the same point. Yes, more and more young people are picking up the pen – they are doodling and sketching, lettering and writing, even trying their hand in calligraphy. Yes, the charlatans have moved in by the droves, but then again, their presence too, is a testimonial of a healthy fountain pen ecosystem.
And it is here that things start to become scary. It is now near certain that economically, the world is poised to descend into drastically darker days. The distribution of income and wealth is already terribly skewed and the fourth industrial revolution, which is quietly chipping out in the background, is expected to make things worse, aggravating the inequalities further and forcing untold numbers towards the precipice. Add to this economic calamity the ecological dimension – the fallout of global warming and climate change – and the catastrophe is bound to acquire a proportion so menacing that I shudder even to think about it.
Point is, will we be able to hold on to our fountain pens as we fight to eke out livings? If (or is it when), “the fountains of the Great Deep burst apart and the floodgates of heaven broke (break) open”, and mankind has to do another Noah, will the one hundred and fifty days that have to be passed before the Arc strikes Mount Arafat be spent practising calligraphy, that too with a fountain pen?
Well, I had started writing this piece with the Executive Black Ink from Sulekha, whose sombre shades of darkness had started to unnervingly represent the prevailing, locked-down, virus vindicated mood. I have since switched to the Ruby Red from Pelikan and trust me, its effect on the spirit is stellar. If, just by changing the ink, we fountain pen and ink lovers can take the epics of Gilgamesh and Genesis head on, imagine what the fountain pen (read science, read rationality, read the inherent goodness of mankind) can do?
Unsheathe your weapons fountain pen warriors. We have battles to fight, wars to win, reclaim what is rightfully ours. It won’t be easy, and the first step will be to emerge from his state of denial, for like the Yoda said: “Named must be your fear before banish it you can”.
More about the author: http://www.chawmganguly.com/