Fountain Pen Culture – ushering-in a new dawn in Bangladesh
As a Facebook community group, Fountain Pen Culture is fairly new, having started just a few months back. But our ideological fight is at least two decades old – having started the day the fountain pen started losing out to the market driven, single-use ballpoint pens. At present, we have about five hundred members in the Facebook group with more than six thousand following our community page.
“Fountain Pen Culture” – call it a group or a community, is the manifestation of a struggle, a socio-cultural upheaval, a revolution even. To free the Fountain Pen – that has been relegated to the status of a collectable, finding itself locked in the vaults of the connoisseur collectors – is the aim of this movement, for we want the fountain pen to reclaim its place in the lives of the people at large as an implement of their daily use. The fountain pen does not belong to any particular country or culture, on the contrary, it is an integral part of global ethos. It may have appeared as an implement, but its contribution to the development of humanity, especially knowledge led development has been priceless. It is to re-establish that universal appeal of the fountain pen that we aim for, something that we have started in our small way, with fountain pen lovers from the two sides of the river (border) that runs through Bengal.
“Fountain Pen Culture” is not a mere group or a community, it is a movement. It is a movement backed by pious thoughts, lofty ideas and passionate emotions. A fountain pen, to become a true fountain pen, needs to court many sleepless nights – the ideas that infest such sleepless nights, the ideas that induce such sleeplessness – else, it remains just an implement, not metamorphosing into the realm of becoming an implement for writing. We believe that in order to become a true fountain pen, its nib must translate the user’s innermost feelings as indelible marks on the paper.
What decides the value of a fountain pen? The amount that we pay to buy it from the market is its price, not its value. The real value of a fountain pen is determined by the quality of thoughts, ideas and emotions that the pen helps to record for posterity, in other words, it is arrived at by its contribution to humans, humanity and human development. It is its contribution to the society that determines the value of the fountain pen. The fountain pens in our collections, when and only when, they become one with the greater good, can their values be determined. Such sporadic, but explosive thoughts had been whirling in my mind for long – that we must spread the fountain pen in all sections of the society, that we must ensure that the filial bonds between men and the pen are established and strengthened, or else the pen is destined to remain another implement, a hobbyist’s ego assuager, locked inside the jewellery box. Money alone, we believe, however much, does not a fountain pen make. By a fountain pen, it will be pertinent to note, we consider everything from the pens that can be had for a few Rupees, to the most expensive ones.
Have we ever paused to ponder and compere the numbers sold by Sheaffer, Parker, Pilot or Montblanc with the locally made or Chinese Wing Sung, Hero or White Feather bought and used by us Bengalis? Which section of the society used the fountain pens the most? Come to think of it, it was the lower middle class that was the overwhelming users.
Yet, fountain pen collecting is today an elitist hobby. While on the one hand, the very practise of putting pen on paper is on the wane, on the other, the love for the fountain pen is being increasingly attributed to the moneyed. This is being deliberately perpetrated by a certain section of the traders, though their own love for the fountain pen, or of those that are their customers, is questionable. We must break this nexus. For, only when we shatter this quid pro quo that we will be able to make the fountain pen universally accepted as it should be. We must make the fountain pen synonymous with the society at large, as an implement of daily use as opposed to a fancy and elitist hobby.
The resurgence of the fountain pen is now a global phenomenon. In these technology-driven times, instead of junking the past, efforts are on to embrace the legacies. We too are trying to walk a similar path. That is why we seeking to break the old, established moulds to reach the pen and ink to the end users through a number of innovative steps:
The Pen Mela
Pen Meets, for example are de rigueur for the fraternity. Here celebrated collectors attend with their prized possessions – meets, where we are virtually persona non-grata with our homegrown Bela pens, or our cheap Wing Sung, or the comrade from our youth, the White Feather. We cannot, because in the five-star facilities where these meets are generally held, our pens, like us, stand out as sore thumbs.
So, what do we, ordinary lovers of the fountain pens do? Yes, we can organise village fairs, perhaps in an open field where entry will be free for all, where even the most economically challenged lover can get to satiate his or her passion for the pen; where any one can set up shop free of all encumbrances so that the buyer, the seller and the lover can meet, greet and transact? We can use the event to create awareness – tell the world about the carbon footprint of the use-and-throw ball point pens; impress upon the uninitiated the fact that a fountain pen is the most sustainable and eco-friendly choice before them; that they should embrace the fountain pen, if not for their own pleasure today, then at the least, for the future of their children tomorrow. Yes, we can use such events to increase in the actual user base of fountain pens.
The Sheaffer, Visconti, Pilot, Montblanc, Waterman, Pelikan, Leonardo Officina – cannot create a new user base. To reach out to every section of the society we have to embrace the budget pens. Along with the expensive, top-of-the-line pens, the Pen Mela should also create shelf space for the budget pens (Click, Jinhao, Hero, Platinum, Wingsung and the like).
The Masters of Penmanship
I sounded this idea against many an expert. Some discouraged, while some responses were also encouraging. In the process, I also came across many people who are actively working to revive the fountain pen, to curate its history. Among them, Amain Babu, Mohobbot Mostofa, Ifteqhar Hussain Khan, Chawm Ganguly, Shameem Mozumder, Nazmul Haque Mantu, Mizan, Rashedujjaman Ron deserve a special mention. But the one who got the most excited was Amain Babu, who is already researching about the history of pen and ink.
However, the proposed Pen Mela could not be organised because of the pandemic and we are hopeful that once normalcy return, we will be able to hold it. As for the venue of the proposed meet, the Rajshahi University campus has been chosen and the preliminary assurances have been received from the authorities. In the meantime, Fountain Pen Culture did not sit idle and concentrated on creating bridges between the fountain lovers of Bengal virtually. Efforts were made to ensure the free flow of pens and inks from the neighbouring country to add fuel to the fiery passion for the pen; efforts which, will soon bear fruit. Research on the history of fountain pen and ink in the two Bengals is on at a brisk pace and we are hopeful that Amain babu’s work will soon come out in the form of a definitive book, the first of its kind.
The sun rises for all
The onset of the winter did not dampen our spirits, on the contrary, socially conscious citizens that we are, the need to un-sheath our fountain pens, to spread warmth in the hearts of the shivering poor was acutely felt. The idea had come like a bolt from the blue: why not sell the extra pens in our collections – pens we own but seldom use, to buy blankets for the poor? The organisers and advisors of Fountain Pen Culture immediately gave their nod and we created an auction in our Facebook group, in the hope that market forces will determine the price of the pens and the bids will be made in terms of blankets of BDT 250 each. Such an effort will also be good for the new users, who will get a chance to acquire the pens of their choice, ultimately spreading warmth among those that need it.
Many members came forward to donate their extra pens for the cause and the star attraction was a 10 ml sample from a four decades old bottle of Eveready Ink, an entity, which needless to say has long become defunct. (For the uninitiated, this ink used to be manufactured in Rajshahi using German technology. The particular bottle from which the ink came? I had found it in the street, in a dump of waste paper thrown out from a Government office). Almost all the pens were sold off in the auction and we must acknowledge the seasoned collectors who refrained from bidding, just to allow the new a chance to acquire their desired pens. These pen lovers also donated as many as sixty blankets on strict conditions of anonymity. All together a hundred and twenty blankets were acquired and with the help of four other charitable organisations, we drew up a list of the needy giving preference to the poorest, the aged and the pregnant. We also made it a point to reach the far-flung areas in Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Panchgarh and Gaibandha districts personally to hand over the blankets to the intended recipients. The grassroots operation was entirely operated by Rashedujjaman Ron, Amain Babu and yours truly.
The effort to dedicate the fountain pen to reach out with a helping hand to those in need was aptly called “the sun rises for all”.
Who had thought up this programme?
Amain babu, Leo and Fountain Pen Culture.
What does Fountain Pen Culture propose to achieve through this programme?
The inert fountain pen cannot move on its own and needs human intervention to do its bidding. We sought to utilise the brain’s neuron emissions to write a story of humanity. We have to stop relegating the fountain pen to being a mere instrument that writes, and bring it out to help realise its true potential, as a medium of socio-cultural, even socio-economic change.
Who are the driving forces behind this movement?
It was a joint effort of the workers on the field and the advisors. The major movers were those who participated in the auction. As advisors, Ifteqhar Hussain Khan, Mohobbot Mostofa, and Shameem Mozumder played a stellar role, while on the ground the actual work was done by Rashedujjaman Ron.
What has Fountain Pen Culture achieved so far:
- As an organisation we are driven not so much for the achievement of success but the effectiveness of our efforts:
- We have over the last two months created the broad outline of our organisation’s course of action
- Have chalked out the aims and route map for the Fountain Pen Culture
- Have succeeded in inducting ten new members into the Fountain Pen cult as users
- Have brought back two fountain pen users into the fold
- Have taken on the pen-ink syndicate in the local markets and have been able to make a difference in their monopolistic practices
- Facilitated re-establishment of business links between India and Bangladesh for fountain pen and ink trade
- Started work to compile the history of pen and ink for the coming generations.
What difference can Fountain Pen Culture make in popularising fountain pens?
- We are focussed on creating a new user base for popularising fountain pens
- We encourage users who are otherwise financially challenged by gifting pen and inks to them
- We want to create a positive impact on the thoughts of the people at large about fountain pens
Organisational Structure of Fountain Pen Culture:
- Ifteqhar Hussain Khan
- Mohobbot Mostofa
- Shameem Mozumder
- Najmul Haque Montu
- Ahad Leo
- Amain Babu
- Suvobrata (Chawm) Ganguly
- Sukla Roy
Chief Programme Coordinator:
- Rashedujjuman Ron
Fountain Pen Culture. An Appeal:
Join us in our mission. Instead of thinking of the fountain pen as a mere instrument of writing, create a personal and social bond with the pen, for humanity’s sake, for a better tomorrow.
For More information: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fountainpenculture