Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly had written Frankenstein, or, The Modern Promethius (published 1818) in a summer spent in Switzerland. She would later go on to describe that period in her life as the moment, “when I first stepped out from childhood into life”. While Frankenstein continues to remain, a genre defining work of timelessness, we will focus on something close to our hearts, something whose very naming can be traced back to this work of Earth-shattering consequence. Yes, I am talking about the franken pen! Her description of the period in her life taking an almost prophetic purport in the lives of us fountain pen fanatics, as it is often the Franken pen that leads us, encourages even, to step out from our childhood as collectors, into the life of a full-time fountain pen lover.
Frankenstein tells the story of a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment, as if often the case with the “hideous” creatures that are bought to life when parts from different pens are moulded to turn one to completion. Even calling the result “marriage pens” as they are often referred to as, more often than not, fail to give them the acceptability that is sought by such christening. And like in the novel, being Intelligent and articulate, our franken pens, like the “creature” are forced to living alone in the wilderness. They soon discover that people are afraid of and hates them due to their appearance, which leads them to fear and hide from them.
Though Frankenstein is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement, it has also been argued that it should be regarded as the first true science-fiction story. And so is the fate of our Franken pens – at times they swing to the horror end shocking the puritans, while to others, perhaps even in the same breath, they look like examples of pure, unbridled romanticism. Created by the hands of a master, fiction some of them may be, but science none the less, opine the connoisseurs.
I have long been fascinated by the franken pen – deliberately choosing to appreciate the underlying ingenuity of the human mind that have sought to triumph over the obvious flaws. Somehow, it is their defects – their blemishes, their imperfections that make them stand out (many feel like sore thumbs) – making them holding onto their own in defiance. Mind you, it is nothing like being hoist with one’s own petard, on the contrary, it is more like keeping the flag fluttering, even when the odds are overwhelming in battle.
Yes, I have had dealers palm off franken pens as rare originals to me. Yes, I have also bought them “with all faults”, often going out of my way to collect them for what they are, re-paired and re-constituted “originals” in their own rights. But I have never had a franken pen made exclusively for me. And that is one desire that was met by Dilip Basak, master pen turner from Kolkata the other day.
I had once bought a pre-used Duofold nib unit for the heck of it. Then the other day a customer had brought in a similar Duofold with a cracked barrel, insisting that the pen be converted into an ED filler which led to the existing filling mechanism being discarded. The clip and ring were relatively easier to locate and the only thing lacking was the ebonite rod from which the pen would be fashioned. “I have a very rare Waterman rod that is lying in the workshop from the time of my father” Dilip Basak had said, “would you like me to turn the pen using the rod”? Who wouldn’t?
With the mercury of excitement rising by the minute, I sat through as Dilip Basak turned the pen in front of my incredulous eyes, depending upon his instinct to arrive at the exact measurements. Don’t ask me how he does it, I wouldn’t believe it if I had not seen him work, on multiple occasions, with my own eyes. The nib unit screwed into the barrel as if they were made for each other; the clip and ring slid into position as though it was preordained; while the customary button fill system (originally developed in 1916), came into its own in the deft hands of Dilip Basak who just used some threads to secure it in its place. Voila! My Waterman Duofold franken pen was ready to roll.
And roll it does, like a high-roller in Vegas. There is a soft springiness in the nib that can only be compared to the canter of a champion stallion, its look akin to the mesmerising fright induced by the Royal Bengal tiger.
In the novel by Mary Shelly, the creature had demanded that Victor create a female companion like himself, arguing that as a living being be had a right to happiness. Time for me to keep my fingers crossed, for who knows, my Franken pen may make such a demand too? And Inshallah, it may be fulfilled?