No Indian pen lover can do without one or more creations from Ratnam Sons in his / her collection and I too, was no exception. However, try as I did, I just couldn’t lay my hands on them and had largely resigned myself to my fate – telling myself that I was not worthy enough to hold in my hand a writing instrument that is almost synonymous with the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
Legend has it that it was Mahatma Gandhi himself who had asked Kosuri Venkata Raman to create a “Swadeshi Pen” – a pen that would be inexpensive, made without any foreign materials and would be useful to the people of India. This had led Vekkata Ratnam and his brother Satyanarayana to establish the “Ratnam Pen Works” in 1932, with the first Swadeshi Pen handed over to Gandhiji in 1935. Gandhiji was so happy with the product that he had personally written a note of appreciation – a piece that is proudly displayed by the carriers of the Ratnamsons legacy in the Rajahmundri where they hail from.
Indira Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Shankar Dayal Sharma, S. Kasturiranga Iyenger of the Hindu and Ramnath Goenka of the Indian Express were all users – many say converts – of the fine pens that the entity turned and continues to make. Only thing, they are so difficult to acquire. I didn’t want to by a Swedshi pen from a firangi website – it somehow seemed an obnoxious thing to do – and making a trip to Ratnamsons in Rajahmundri, though it in my list of pilgrimages that must be made, was just not immediately feasible. The result – a collection that did not have its jewel.
But that did not deter me from seeking more information either about the House of Ratnamsons or about the pens the continue to make. But the frustration was palpable. I did learn that the ex President of the United States Eisenhower and Russia’s Nikita Krushchev were proud owners, as was our own V V Giri among a list of Maharajas and other notables, but still, was no nearer to acquiring one.
It was around this time, while looking for some books on Gandhiji that I stumbled across a Souvenir Shop in the website of Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati. I looked at what they had on offer as collectables and while they had many pens in offer, they were of the cheap ball point variety. On an impulse I had dropped them a mail asking if they had any fountain pens that could be bought, not really expecting an answer.
Imagine my surprise, when a lady called Sneha replied the very next day. Yes, they had some fountain pens that were for sale. Yes, they were made by Ratnamsons in South India and yes, I could have them if I were to send her the money by RTGS. Bingo!
I called her up for the details and she was extremely courteous – profusely apologising for having run out of the less expensive ones and explaining the details of the design (read mottling), the available colours and the nib sizes. Little did she know that to us followers of Gandhiji, especially the ones who double up as collectors of fountain pens, such pens are priceless.
And how I have them – four No 32’s in four different colours, three of them in mottled pieces of magnificence and a black. Examples of ebonite effervescence, they sport the trademark Ratnam gold nibs and come equipped with the typical eyedropper filling system. I will desist from either posting ink scratches purportedly made with the pens, as will I abstain from posting pictures that compere their size and girth to standard pens, simply because I believe that the pleasure derived from writing with a pen is an acquired one – how it sits on the hand or how effortless it is in writing, or even the way the nib glides on paper, are matters that grow on a connoisseur just the way the taste of champagne and caviar does.
They are blessed by Gandhiji. They are from the makers of India’s most celebrated, . They have found expression in the hands of men (and women), the types of which are not made these days. The entity making the pens have been in business uninterrupted for close to a hundred years now. There is a global following of the cult pen and people in the know tell me that demand has always outstripped supply for them.
I guess I can be forgiven if I consider myself too insignificant to put in my two bits worth on how they write?