The exact aetiology that makes OCD (of which we all “collectors” suffer in varying degrees) flower is, shall we say, not fully understood, as yet. Some experts postulate that we bear the condition in our genes, though what triggers the “mutation” (if that is the right term), is not clear. While it is normal for children to have collections, the compulsion to collect generally recedes with time. However, when adults take up hobbies, and act worse than children to satiate their compulsions (whims, fancies) some form of genetic mutation is surely at play. Besides, what triggers such a compulsive behavioural pattern to manifest, too, is in the twilight zone of our knowledge, say authorities in the subject.
Take the case of Soumitra Sanyal for example. A Marine Engineer by profession, he was once called upon to mediate in a family dispute which had resulted from his (then quite young) son throwing a tantrum for an expensive Lamy fountain pen, with his mother refusing to cave in to his shenanigans as she thought the demand to be unjust and unfair. To cut a long story short, the son’s craving for the pen ebbed in no time, but Soumitra Sanyal got bitten by the bug, taking up fountain pen collecting as a hobby. And how.
His primary interest was the fountain pens of Indian origin, that too, the injection moulded, mass produced pens that he had used us a student. This was at a time when the fountain pens were thrown out lock, stock and barrel with even the ragpickers who recycle things refusing to take them, and Soumitra Sanyal, the collector, had a field day, kind of. However, to put the record straight, it must be said that there was one compelling factor that egged the man on – his technical bent of mind persuading him on a sub-conscious level to look into the different design aspects, and often use his ingenuity, to physically restore the broken pieces that he could salvage.
To put things in the right perspective, we are talking of fountain pens from the mid seventies to the early eighties – Wilson, the biggest player in the market had downed shutters, Indian Pilots, Artex and Chelpark too were challenged in their respective domains and the first wave of Chinese pens – Wing Sung, Hero, White Feathers, were already firing the popular imagination. Fountain Pens, especially those made in India, that too, at the middle and lower ends of the market, were not really something that was even considered collectable.
Another thing warrants a mention here – those were the days prior to economic liberalisation and the import of fountain pens were restricted. Sheaffer, Waterman, Parker and the rest, while they were available for a price, were implements that adorned only the most padded pockets. As anyone who wants to buy a hand-turned ebonite fountain pen of Indian origin, especially the eye-candies made in the south knows, acquiring them is one hell of a difficult task. Now imagine, what it might have been like in those days before the mobile phone, the internet and the ubiquitous Fountain Pen Forums!
The bulk of the population that had grown up on a variety of home-made brands in the decades preceding the time when Soumitra Sanyal took up collecting, had moved on to the cheaper ball-point pens, their once dear fountain pens discarded with a disdain they did not deserve. What is worse, because most such fountain pens were of little intrinsic value, they were mostly crushed for the little plastic and metal they could offer. And herein lies the tragedy – the businesses went belly up, the brands died a dusty death and today, we are bereft of authentic information about most of the fountain pen brands and the companies that made them. What is even more pathetic is the complete lack of specimens from this particular era. In hindsight, what Soumitra Sanyal collected and painstakingly curated is thus priceless. And this is precisely why studying his collection is an exercise that should be taken up with the kind of seriousness that leads the so-called normal people to label us as “lunatics”. But remember, as Yigal Allon said, “a people (that) does not honour its past … lives in a present of little substance and faces a future clouded in doubt”.
And what a collection it is. Artex, Platinex, Caravan, Camlyn, Koyuko Camlyn, Airmail, Montex, Doctor, Ritter, Flair, Diploma, Cruiser, Flair, Westend, Indian Pilot, Chelpark, Plato – almost all the major names from the era are represented, often in multiple variants.
Indian Sailor? Platinex Vacuum filler? Blackbird? Swan? Pilot lever filler? The elusive Blue Nile? They are all there – every one of them in conditions that are pristine. Yes, they are weather beaten, the obvious rigours they have gone though in their heyday writ large on them, but Soumitra Sanyal’s tender loving care has ensured that they remain true to themselves – functional and as they were intended to be, by the makers. Only a few pieces have had their nibs replaced, that too, as Soumitra Sanyal points out, only to fill the gaping holes left by the missing nibs and not to cater to what some term as “collector’s fancy”, a mindless exercise to play mix and match following a whim, with scant regard to history. Besides, as Soumitra Sanyal confirmed, most of these pens were of the NOS variety.
Soumitra Sanyal, for the uninitiated, has since evolved as a collector and a serious hobbyist. He has moved on to become a pen turner himself, Kolkata’s only one. Acknowledged for his obvious dexterity as a turner, he is a revered member in some of the world’s finest congregations of pen-smiths, where entry is strictly on merit and is opened only after the most stringent norms are met.
(Read more about Soumitra Sanyal here: https://www.inkedhappiness.com/soumitra-sanyal-for-whom-the-pen-turns/ )
This again posed a problem that Soumitra Sanyal addressed in a way that only lionhearts like him can. He decided to gift his collection to people who, he thought, would take as much care of his collection of vintage Indian fountain pens as he would have. The first offer was made to Yusuf Mansoor, who picked up the pens that were missing in his collection (“missing” in Yusuf Mansoor’s collection, which is certainly the most conclusive one of India made Pens, imagine that!). The rest, have come to your’s truly.
I will not belittle either the love of Soumitra Sanyal with which he had compiled the collection or his magnanimity in gifting it all away, or for finding me worthy as the keeper of his treasure. All that I want to reiterate here is that, as desired by him, I am trying to trace the histories of each pen in his collection and hope to progressively write about them here in this blog. Soumitra Sanyal was also one of the early movers in the social media space. Read his blog here: https://soumitrapencollections.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2014-11-27T09:58:00%2B05:30&max-results=50&start=123&by-date=false