Harsh Makkar, Bangalore and a trip to a wonderland of fountain pens.
Harsh Makkar was preparing for a career in UPSC when his love for the fountain pen bloomed. “I was fascinated with fountain pens and though in school, we were forced to write with one, we noticed only the scratchy nibs and ink stains everywhere from fingertips to shirt pockets” reminiscences Harsh with a nostalgic smile. “It was a little later that the love for the fountain pen became a full-blown passion and I still remember the day. I had gone to our office’s stationery supplier’s shop, which had a show-window full of fountain pens and it was, like they say, love at first sight. I bought a few, scrawled my name on any paper I could lay my hands on, carried them fondly around in my shirt pockets, had people complementing, which in turn piqued my interest in them. I read whatever I could gorge with my eyes about fountain pens, learnt about the community of fellow FP lovers in Bangalore, rushed to the first meeting that I could, was warmly embraced and here I am.”
Harsh is now a much-lauded collector, with fountain pens from all over the world and one that dates back to the 1890’s. He is a permanent feature in the pen meets and though his busy schedule as an iron and steel industry facilitator is as exacting as it can get, he makes it a point to indulge his passion. “It is strangely relaxing” says Harsh, “the feel of the pen in your pocket, the very act of writing with a wet nib, or the sheer pleasure of caressing the pen, are all islands of sanity in the madness that we call life.” We understand what you mean exactly, Harsh. And we agree.
Harsh’s words had a strange ring in them, for he was taking me on a pen hunting trip in Bangalore – into the wild, into what is known as Avenue Street. Avenue and Street together? Well, the place is so crowded, and the crowd so chaotic in its mad rush, that even such questions, however inane, must not have dared to the surface. An Avenue, by the way, is supposed to be a tree lined lane, and here, the only green is the flower market at one end of the lane, but I guess that is irrelevant.
Harsh was leading me to an El Dorado – the Meenakshi Stores, where reigns the benevolent king called KN Krishna Murthy, who, if the grapevine is to be believed, still has some Brahmam pens that can be bought. Being the oldest surviving fountain pen selling establishment in Bangalore, the lure of old Indian ebonite pens (not to mention the vintage brands from around the world) is enough to make any true lover of fountain pens gladly walk through a minefield, and in comparison, Avenue Street, despite the last minute Eid shoppers, was no real hindrance, either for Harsh or for me. But as luck would have it, the shop was closed.
We changed course and walked through a maze of encroached upon lanes (the sidewalks are now legitimate parts of the shops), took a flight of stairs in a decrepit old building that was bursting in its seams with tinsel of every kind, to reach the third floor, to arrive at the Prakash Pen World. Harsh was obviously a valued customer – the warm greetings he elicited being the proof. And lo and behold.
For the next couple of hours, the owner Prakash Purohit, showed us so many fountain pens, of so many varieties, at so many different price points and from so many makers that we were literally swamped. The Chinese fountain pens that according to him are the fastest movers, were like a sledge-hammer in the solar plexus. The prices at which they were offered, vis-à-vis their quality, Harsh’s celebrity customer status notwithstanding, was too good to be believed. The Lamy, the Sheaffer, the Pilot, the Cross were also there for the taking, again, at unbelievable prices. Also, on show were Oliver Fountain pens – especially some that looked surprisingly like Wality Airmails. I consoled myself by picking up some, if only as a sheer act of addressing my guilt – for having bought the maximum number of Chinese made fountain pens at one go, overcoming my self-inflicted Swadeshi pride and my obsession with ebonite and resin pens.
Harsh went in like a bull in the China shop (no pun intended) buying so many pens and ink bottles (everything from Hero to Waterman) that we literally had trouble navigating the way back, pleasurably burdened as we were with our loot!
There was madness all around – out on the streets and at the counter with two fountain pen freaks, grownup men acting like children and wanting to take home every goody that was displayed. Yet, Harsh was sensitive enough to buy a leather-bound notebook for me to scribble on and to have balanced it miraculously on his palm to write a dedication. A gesture, that is so overwhelming that it is sure to warm the cockles of any heart.
I guess that is what fountain pen collection is all about – making friends that defy everything, perhaps even our love for the fountain pens. Well, not quite, but close enough!
I will not belittle Harsh by thanking him for his time, effort and love. “May the ink of affection never dry out of your pen and may fortune and fame always crown you like the snow-capped peak of a Montblanc – all the way to the summit at 4811 mts!”