I was about to leave for my higher studies abroad and had gone to the Late Sushil Koirala, my uncle, to seek his blessings. A man who had always accorded the highest amount of importance to education, he was naturally happy that I was going to seek knowledge and was unsurprisingly, generous in fondly running his hand on my head as I touched his feet. Then he had asked me for something.
For a man of extremely frugal needs, one who was stoical in the real sense of the term, not many can lay the claim of Sushil Koirala having asked them something for his personal need. I was therefore, taken aback a bit, and perhaps sensing that, he had said, “get me a good fountain pen when you finish your studies and come back”.
The year was 1991. Dot pens were the rage and fountain pens were, many believed, on their way out. I will be honest: I was a bit surprised that he wanted a fountain pen, though not really so, as he was known to be a fairly prolific user of fountain pens, which he used to jot down important things. I remember having regained my posture quick enough to have asked him, as to what colour he wanted the pen to be in? “Blue” he had said without batting an eyelid “the blue of peace. The blue that borders the Red valour of the Nepali people in our flag”.
To be honest, I did not know much about pens and was crestfallen when I learnt, once in Russia, where I was pursuing my higher education, about the prices of some of the sought after fountain pens – they were clearly way beyond the reach of a foreign student on a scholarship, who was in any case, scrapping the bottom of the proverbial barrel to make ends meet. However, to cut a long story short, I saved whatever money I could earn by doing odd jobs in the campus to create a corpus fund to acquire a pen that would be worthy of his use. As a matter of fact, it was on my way back, in the Dubai airport that I bought the pen for Sushil Koirala ji. It was, as he had wanted, a blue fountain pen made by Yves Saint Laurent.
I remember the childish joy with which Sushil Koirala ji had received the pen, had me ink it and had written with it, expressing his satisfaction and happiness in what he had termed as “finally getting a pen that was a pleasure to write with”. Those were tumultuous times for Nepal and he was literally at the very thick of things, naturally, it gave me great pleasure to see how the pen had become an object of his affection, something that he would rarely part with.
It was after some time that Sushil Koirala became the Prime Minister of Nepal and I was called upon to do my duty to the fledgling democracy, my motherland, as his secretary. Already frail, the pressures of the immediately preceding years, when he was under inhuman stress, were beginning to take its toll. The onerous task of drafting the Constitution was in full swing and for someone who had the ultimate good of the people in his heart and someone who wanted to accommodate all views, the work pressure was mostly so heavy that I cannot express in words. It was in this period that he would have me carry his pen – the blue pen, take down notes for him and keep it ready for him to write with, when he so desired.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that this was the pen with which some of the most important documents during the life of Sushil Koirala were drafted, and signed – both on a personal capacity and as the then Prime Minister of Nepal. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember that night in 2015, when he had asked me for this blue fountain pen, scribbled something on a piece of paper and had asked me to make a phone call. The name and number he had scribbled on the chit was that of the Hon Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi ji. The call was made, and the brief talk that had followed the exchange of pleasantries, had resolved an issue that had the potential of blowing out of proportions. If only I could give the blue pen to the current incumbent, I wonder…
And then, on a fateful day, when Sushil Koirala ji’s health was fast falling him, he had called me to his bedside and asked for the pen. When I gave it to him, he had given me back the Blue pen along with some important documents which were under his authority and told me something I will never forget: “never put this pen on paper, unless it is for the good of our people” he had said. “You should make it a point, never to use this pen unless it does some good to some deserving person, or is for the Honour of the Motherland.” I have carried the pen ever since. Not that I write often with it, but I carry it with me all the time.
There is another name associated with this blue fountain pen – someone who is also a celebrity in her own right, my sister Manisha Koirala. Manisha had a strange fascination for the pen and whenever she could, and I am talking of a time many years ago, when she too was a child; she would take the blue fountain pen and write her name in her beautiful cursive handwriting. “I have had so many fountain pens in my life” she says “I have bought and used so many expensive pens with huge brand values, but somehow, can never forget that Blue pen. Don’t ask me why, but I can’t”.
Some feelings, some memories, some pens… are indeed beyond comprehension!
Atul Koirala is the Secretary of the Sushil Koirala Memorial Foundation. “I am a regular reader of your blog, which has actually got me thinking about the Blue pen and the larger-than-life man who wielded it once. I hope your readers enjoy the fascinating story, even while recounting which, I get the goose pimples. Fountain pens, indeed, are more than instruments of writing, they are magic wands that touch and transform lives!