Fountain Pen Shows in India – why have eggs when you can eat the golden goose?
The fountain pen sellers of the Fort area in Mumbai are livid. Why is their livelihood being threatened by the sudden deluge of Fountain Pen shows? These are all ancestral businesses, small, mostly single counter operations. And they claim that they have been literally swamped by the deluge of shows which has steadily eaten into their businesses. As if demonetisation and the sudden impact of GST was not bad enough, business, which was down to a trickle has been sucked into a vortex with obvious fallout and the simmering embers are visible to anyone who will care to look.
“You had one in December here in Mumbai, then followed it up with two in Ahmedabad and now are planning another one here, again this month. You have sponsors pouring in bucketloads and are charging the participants per table which goes to line your pockets, but have you considered how it is our victuals that you are snatching? You say you are doing it for the love of the fountain pen, but has it occurred to you that in the process, you are actually destroying its market? Where were you pen lovers when the demand was down in the dumps? Now that it is showing some signs of revival all of you have jumped in, trying to outdo each other, while we, who had weathered the storm are now being forced to pay the price?” The allegations were straight and to the point.
I tried telling them about free markets and reiterated our love for the fountain pens but was shut up with “your love is a hobby. You have your cushy jobs and don the garb of pen lover or pen seller, or even manufacturer as and when convenient – try making this your bread earner like us and then talk to us”. Point taken.
Other bread earners, like the manufacturers that I talked to, aren’t happy with the frequency either. Some have opted out. Some are attending just out of FOMO (fear of missing out), but what is definitely missing is the gung-ho that normally accompanies such industry meets. Imagine meeting the fraternity of fountain pen lovers, experts, manufacturers, dealers, suppliers and assorted buyers – all over a span of a weekend, that too under one roof. Imagine renewal of old ties, forging of new friendships, getting abreast of emerging trends, and the sealing of business deals … smiles an octogenarian manufacturer wryly, “too much of any good thing is bad. All that you say is good, just that, when it happens four times over as many months, it ceases to excite”. He couldn’t have put it more mildly.
And this comes on top of the fact that except the earlier show in Mumbai none helped the stall owners recoup the monies they had invested. Sales were not even an excuse and the long faces of the table owners were studies that would melt even the coldest of hearts. The sellers at the top end were the worst hit and though the ones with medium to low priced products saw footfalls, the numbers were definitely not enough to cover the money and time invested. “Yes, some tables saw brisk sales” said one seller from Mumbai who had put up a counter for vintage and antique writing instruments, “but they were the ones palming magic ball point pens, sharpeners, erasers and other accessories from China. So much for the love of fountain pens, that too, in shows ostensibly touted to further their cause”. Even the sarcasm is muted.
What is not muted is the letters that we receive from fountain pen lovers and aficionados on the issue. One gentleman uses the term “the circus of pen shows.” Another, draws parallels with the Madhur Bhandarkar film “Fashion” and the way the models were shown to be exploited, alluding that the average lover of fountain pen is forced to compromise by a coterie of vested interests with absolutely no scruples. In fact, the gentleman does not mince his words and as they are too strong, I am deliberately leaving them out, choosing discretion over valour.
But the point remains. The frequency of the shows – that too in the circuit in which they are being lobbed is raising questions and the questions are begging answers. “Nobody is doing it for charity and if the interest is strictly financial, why is the fountain pen community allowing it to be taken for such a joyride, over and over again”? And, when the dust settles, will the dead and charred carcass of the fountain pen do a phoenix?
The questions are not mine. They have been put to me by various people – lovers, manufacturers, dealers, et all. I am just compiling them and hope that the community will debate the issues being raised so that we may chart the right way forward. For if we don’t, history will not spare us.
By the way, join me as I pray to God that the Corona virus does not play spoilsport. The show, like they say, must go on!
For more information, read the first part of the story: https://www.inkedhappiness.com/fountain-pen-shows/