Ebonite fountain pens made in the India of yore: master pieces of another kind, antique but neither anachronistic nor antediluvian
This is not some missive about the fantastic eye candies that our brothers dangle before our eyes in the social media. This is also not a treatise on “Our Pens, Their Pens” (with apologies to Satyajit Ray). And certainly, this is not an attempt to justify the pricing of the often so-called “grail-pens” that, we all aspire for, and which are ever so tantalisingly, destined to remain just outside our grasp.
“A car is a car, is a car” some say, “a vehicle, that is supposed to take one from point A to point B”. Alluding, that even the cheapest of the cars is therefore, no less a car functionally at least, than the most expensive: luxury, comfort of driving and brand value be damned. The same is true for the fountain pens – they are mere instruments for writing and for the very act of writing alone, the price of the pen or its intrinsic value making hardly any difference, at least “functionally”. A clinical, pared-to-the-bones argument that may be irrefutable logically, but…
We lovers of fountain pens are not really “logical” people driven by clinical arguments, are we? We are hobbyists. We are lovers of fountain pens and to be fair, I believe none of us will be swayed by the logic of a fountain pen taking us, a-la motorised vehicle, from point A to point B. In school I used to write a hundred times more than what I write today, by hand at least, yet, back then I possessed only one fountain pen, while I possess many hundred times more today, logical? Did my heart yarn for more when I had just the one? Yes. Does my heart yarn for more when I have hundreds? Yes again. Logical?
Then there is this thing about the pleasure of writing. The so-called “dance of pen on paper”, which in fact is the reason why we collectively screw our noses to “lesser” writing implements. Some of us are enamoured by the “feedback” that certain nibs give, as they scratch on the writing surface. Some again, prefer a particular material, ebonite for example, or the width of the line that is created – the exactness of which is accorded by a specific pen or nib, fuelled by a particular ink, scratching on a paper of very specific dimensions, that too manufactured perhaps by a certain unique entity. Similar are cases with the length, the girth and the weight of the pen, with each of us swearing to God almighty about how our choices are the best, the “right” one even. And why not? That is exactly what individualism is all about, isn’t it? It is a free country after all? Now for the coup de grace – do such individual choices depend on the price of the pen? Let me rephrase – for someone who is particularly finnicky about the weight of his (or her) pen, will a more expensive pen make the person “feel” better than a relatively cheaper one, but with the exact weight that he / she desires? Hell, Yes and No!
Like I said, we are lovers and as the bard said, “the lunatic, the lover and the poet / Are of imagination all compact.” Mind you, what I am saying is not sacrosanct, for the other extreme holds equally true. There are so many occasions, when I am swayed by the aura of brand names that surround particular pens. The early ebonite pens. Etched numbers on the nibs, logos on the cap finial, the sheer tactile pleasure of feeling a piece of art, the visual delight of caressing one with my sight, the narrative that adds to the aura… The goodwill of the maker, often earned over many decades, the “intangibles” that give rise to the mystery multiplier often called “synergy”, which ensures that the pleasure derived from a particular pen is greater than the sum of its parts.
Does brand value matter then? Does price matter? Like hell they do, say some. But again, like I said, it is not some divine ordain that has been beamed down from the heavens above. For someone may be happy with the cheapest of the pens that can be bought off the shelf, while someone else may be attracted by the brand names, by the price tag and yell from the rooftops that the expensive ones look, feel and certainly write better – that there is a direct correlation between the quality and the price. Who am I to comment on the veracity of the claims emanating from these two extremes?
For pleasure is a relative term and one man’s fountain pen of ebonite (read glass of wine) may well be another man’s cup of hemlock. What gives me unadulterated joy may actually be a huge turn-off for someone else.
Take my case for example. Ebonite pens that are of Indian origin and are antiquated to boot are the ones that are the real apples of my eyes. That doesn’t mean that I hold masterpieces from European or American or Japanese makers with any less reverence. It is just that the old, decrepit Indian pens turn me on the most. And it is also true that I derive an equal amount of pleasure by digging up the past, their histories – by writing about them as I get by actually writing with them. That is my idiosyncrasy. But I guess it is the same streak that has made me seek them out in the first place and treat them with tender loving care over the last three decades.
Does that make me a lesser lover? One the poorer? So be it!
“But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”