Indian Fountain Pen design challenge – Prof Y Pitkar sounds the bugle. But are we ready to pick up the gauntlet?
Here is a question. When was the last time you saw an Indian fountain pen manufacturer come to the market with a new fountain pen, designed and created from the scratch? To take the argument further, which Indian fountain pen manufacturer – “brand” if you may – even has an inhouse design set up? To take the issue further, why are mostly all-Indian pens either take-off’s on the Duofold or the Cigar / Torpedo, minor tinkering notwithstanding?
Before we venture any further – here is the disclaimer. This piece is neither to belittle the Indian manufacturers, who are, despite “terrible” odds, fighting a lone battle (and earning “decent” enough profits to “thrive” in business); nor is it to point fingers at those assembling imported parts and palming off the results as “hand-made” pieces of Indian craftsmanship. I am well aware of the follies of generalising (read exaggerating) of the wrong side of an argument and seek pardon upfront, hoping that the readers will forgive me, not missing the woods for the trees.
Now to go back to the issue. So why don’t we design our own pens? Why hasn’t any new improvement come out of India in the last so many years? Why, for example, do we not have more than one source of quality ebonite? What about nibs? Or Clips? Or converters? Or those neon-coloured acrylic rods? Surely, their manufacture is not banned by some nuclear proliferation related embargo?
The answer is simple – it has everything to do with the Indian mentality of putting the minimum effort at the same time, seeking to maximise the profits. That is, according to academic experts who have studied the industry segment, the reason why there is zero, I repeat zero R&D, so far as fountain pen turning / manufacture goes.
Take the case of a “forward looking” manufacturer whose name I will not disclose for obvious reasons. The gentleman, forced into fountainpen making when his machines were running idle, routinely does the rounds of fountain pen collectors to “look at” old, preferably vintage, imported models. The dimensions are noted, pictures snapped in his expensive camera phone, designs replicated by CAD/CAM service providers and bingo! The CNC machines do the rest, with a little help from the phirang brand name.
One glossy picture, replete with a suitably outlandish name in Facebook and there are enough gawking Saracens who line up to ensure that even after the initial costs are recouped, the returns are “healthy”. He thinks he is God’s answer to the collective prayers for the India designed pens, and correctly so, believe most others of his ilk.
The tale of the traditional fountain pen manufacturers – the hand turners, if you may – is worse. Yes, I am talking about those that had converted to STD / ISD / Xerox shops when the going had been particularly bad in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. From the repertoire of their grandfathers, the new owners have settled on only a few models, get the parts machined from different OEM operators and are busy raking in the moolah, selling “hand-made” Indian ebonites abroad, when not creating an artificial demand in the market by restricting supply to jack up prices. They are guilty twice over – once for not doing any R&D whatsoever, but more importantly, for letting the proprietary knowledge of traditional pen making go to waste. Grandfathers be damned!
But to cut a long story short, what is the way forward? Take Prof Y Pitkar for example. A distinguished architect, Prof Pitkar has long been known as the “travelling inkpot” for going around college campuses to generally show his collection of pen and inks, but primarily to rekindle interest in writing and writing instruments. The name of the two-day workshop he conducts in these colleges? “Art and Design of Fountain Pens”! The response to these workshops? Phenomenal!
Has any fountain pen manufacturer sought his design inputs, ever? Smiles, the soft-spoken man, who does not want to be drawn into unnecessary controversies. But the sadness that the smile fails to hide, tells tales. “Instead of playing the blame game, let us all join hands and take this forward” says Prof K C Janardhan, the Maestro. “Let Prof Pitkar challenge the youngsters to submit design entries, with at least one fountain pen manufacturer taking the onus of sponsoring the prize with the promise of converting the winning entry into a prototype, and economics permitting, creating a commercial offering. It will be a win-win for everyone”.
Prof Pitkar is also agreeable to the idea. As a matter of fact, if the first such competition does well, it can easily be scaled up to become a national one, even an annual one, attracting talents from far corners of the cesspool of creativity called India. After all, we have given the world the term called “juggad”, surely, we can design a fountain pen from the scratch?
Fountain pen manufacturers I have talked to, who otherwise point at their lack of resources to get new designs done and dusted, are also amenable to the idea, as they will get designs that are ready for deployment, vetted by proven experts who can do the commercial tinkering if the need so arises – that too at a fraction of the cost. All this, without factoring in the goodwill and the sheer amount of positive eyeballs that the effort will garner, refurbishing the brand’s value in the process.
Any takers? Both Prof Pitkar and Prof Janardhan are here to help you walk the talk. And watch this space – we will ensure that everybody worth their ink is kept in the loop.