My father Mehmet Kamil was a bibliophile of the staunchest kinds. The book was his window to the world – his speeches of freedom, his best friends, his life. Hailing from a middle-class family and growing up in Turkey, the road that was to lead him to fortune and fame was naturally one that went through the most elite universities of the country. Naturally his affinity for the written word and the knowledge that he had gained from his constant companions, the books, were expected to stand him in good stead in his march ahead. But little did the world realise, that he was so enamoured with his books, that he would opt for an institution with less stringent attendance requirements, just to devote more time to his passion – Kalem Kitabevi.
Kalem Kitabevi – literally Pen Bookstore in Turkish – was the stationery shop he owned, back then in 1964, which was, like he said, his very raison d’etre. Idealistic to a fault, he believed in the freedom of expression with the same conviction with which he loved stationery products and wanted Kalem Kitabevi to be the oasis where the written word would rule supreme, transcending above the barriers erected by ideologies. But those were violent days and not everyone ascribed to his views – when the threats didn’t work, shots were fired in 1978, and, as providence would have it, it was a book that saved his life. Needless to say, the book replete with the bullet wound, continues to be his cherished companion, till date.
Kalem Kitabevi is also frozen in time because it was there that he had met my mother, Ülkü. Love couldn’t have flourished in a more erudite setting – their sacred vows witnessed by a treasure trove of knowledge, that the store represented. It was extremely painful when my father had to close down the shop and move on in life. But even in moving on, he could not part with the stationery items, which he had, with tender loving care, retained in his new business’s premises. And it was here that my love for stationery blossomed, as I remember spending endless hours before cabinets full of goodies as a child.
In time my interest would weaver as I pursued my academic career – Civil Engineering and then a Masters in Real Estate Development. I had my first job, got married to the love of my life and my biggest supporter Bahar and was blessed with two beautiful daughters Derin and Deniz. Somewhere in my haste to court success as ordinarily defined by life, I lost my childhood wonder for books, for stationery, for writing, for writing instruments. Yes, I did have my Waterman pen in my college days, but alas, that too is lost – it must have left me, when it realised that the pen wasn’t my obsession any more, leaving behind the bottle of ink it had come with, as a mute reminder of the pain that I did not feel then.
Several fountain pens that followed in my college days did their jobs with the no-nonsense precision that Lamy pens are universally acknowledged for, but to be honest, the fountain pen in particular and stationery items in general, did not light the spark of passion in my heart that they now do. That happened only a couple of years back, when a friend presented a zipped pen-carrying case to me and introduced me to one of the most passionate stationery related social media accounts in Turkey. One thing led to the other and the long-supressed childhood love for all-things-stationery suddenly erupted, like a volcano, spewing molten passion for the pen and inks in a million hues.
The world of pen lovers that opened up before me sucked me in without me even realising it, as I started reliving my childhood days of amazement and wonder before my father’s cabinets, learning everything I could about pens, testing them and feeding my insatiable appetite by adding more fountain pens, inks and stationery items to my ever growing collection.
I have also moved into the related area of taking photographs of my pens and sharing them in the social media with friends and like-minded hobbyists. It is a kind of life coming full circle for me, as I call my Instagram handle is Kalem Kitabevi – from where it all started, albeit a generation ago!
It is indeed a fascinating hobby and in the short time that I have seriously devoted to fountain pen collecting (and flat top photography) has taught me so many things. I realise that as students in Turkey use the pencil in school and graduate to using fountain pens in college, their love stories begin pretty late unfortunately. This fact is also refurbished when I try and analyse the age profile of the people responding to my posts in the social media – they are overwhelmingly of the college going age with some who are a shade bit older, becoming the most hardcore purveyors of the passion as they join the work force and settle down in life as it were.
That is precisely why I make a conscious effort to expose my little princess Derin, who is now all of five and a half, to fountain pens, though she primarily plays with crayons. She loves using her pens and is extremely possessive of her collection, already!
I do not ascribe to the commonly held view that more people used the fountain pen in the days when the Kalem Kitabevi reigned supreme. No, it may be true that there are many more options before the young today, they may even be communicating through means that are not fountain pen led, but when it comes to the sheer pleasure of writing, nothing can beat a fountain pen, and the young are, I feel, totally with me on this. Besides, in the days of Kalem Kitabevi there were no social media platforms – no Instagram to share pictures and stories of your fountain pens with the like-minded from around the world!
While I am just a fountain pen lover with no insight into the industry’s mechanics, I personally feel, at least in Turkey, that Lamy pens still rule the roost. Similarly, Pelikans are the chosen ones in the higher end with the others finding various niches in the middle. What is most exciting for me, however, is the steady increase in the number of fountain pen lovers that we are witnessing in the present – people, fuelled by a passion, following their creative urges, penning their love.”
And it is exactly this love that makes Kalem Kitabevi eternal. Bullets couldn’t stop it, for the pen was and will continue to be mightier than the sword. For to defeat every bullet that is fired, love will triumph in a million hearts.
Follow Kalem Kitabevi in Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kalemkitabevi/
- as told by Emrah Berse