My Father’s fountain pens

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My father was a Government servant. He would bring work back home and seeing him sitting on the dining table after dinner, bent on dog-eared files was a daily sight. My remembrance is vivid – typed documents, covering letters in white paper followed by note-sheets in light green on whose margins my father used to write comments, mostly brief, but at times detailed ones that used to spill on to the back of the concerned page. Every note was followed by his initials. On the letters he had earlier dictated, and his office colleagues must have typed, he would put his full signature.

A big, bold, upright signature that was as typical as the man himself – straight forward, confident and no-nonsense. By comparison, my signature looks like a scrawl. If my father’s sign resembled a  mountain river in full spate, its waters crystal clear: mine is like the same river in the plains, meandering and silt laden, as it laboriously makes its way towards the sea.

He used two fountain pens primarily – one a Pilot Vanishing Tip, with a fine nib and the other a Sheaffer which had a medium nib and a black barrel. What used to fascinate me, even in those days was his obvious dexterity with the Pilot. Even with his heavy hand and fairly speedy writing, there never was a tear caused by the pen’s nib – not even on the near translucent, “continuation sheets” that were used in the days of yore for typewriters to print out carbon copies and which comprised of a good part of papers he used to write on.

Today, he is no more with us, but I have his pens. As I hold his pens in my hands, the memories flood in. And I lapse back instinctively, to try and replicate his handwriting, his way of holding the pen, of writing with the kind of command he used to display in his knowledge about his domain and the way he expressed them in simple but hard-hitting prose. It is always difficult for little boys to step into their father’s shoes – in my case, it was his pens – and I too, had miserably failed to wield them. It is a pity, I still do not consider myself worthy of writing with them. And no, neither am I cringing, nor am I trying to be overtly humble to sprinkle some sentimentality and spice things up.

Fact is, when I write with his pens – both write beautifully, though I feel that the Sheaffer is more his type, bold and beautiful while the Pilot cuts too fine a letter – I feel like a man possessed. It is as if my father is guiding my hand. Zap goes all my nihilism, my lack of self-confidence, the million inconsistencies that cloud my mind, as somehow, his quiet confidence, his unwavering poise and his self-assuredness flows from the tip of the pens even as they write, as if following some supernatural dictate, destined to crystalize thoughts for posterity.

It doesn’t happen all the time though. For, most of what I write – and I write for a living, mostly paeans and lullabies for the rich and the mighty who pass them off as their own – I feel, my father and his pens find detesting, in bad taste and despicable. Naturally, they do not fly through the paper as they did in his hands, almost as though they had a mind of their own, enhancing his work even as they did his bidding. They feel heavy, weighed down by guilt, silently admonishing me for selling my soul for a few dollars more. For, with the write fountain pen, how it writes, depends to a very great extent on what you write. Its physical performance contingent upon the intent and the content of what they put so meticulously on paper.

My father was the light side of the Sith. His pen was the light sabre that no sword had ever beaten. His writings, a force so powerful that even casting aspersions on its intention would have been tantamount to a sin in any corner of the far galaxies. I could neither reach that level of honesty, not attain his uprightness, puny barrel scarper that I am, gnawing on the edges of knowledge.

The point that I am trying to make is simple. A fountain pen is much more than a mere instrument that writes in a particular manner leaving marks on paper, at times barely coherent while at other times of exceptional purport. It too has a soul and is as much an extension of the person wielding it as the very essence of its owner’s thoughts. That is one reason why most of the reviews that we read about fountain pens sound so frivolous, so tinsel.

Physical characteristics of a pen – the length when capped, the weight, the way it settles on the hand, the ergonomic build, material it is constructed with, the dual tones of its nib – are all only uni-dimensional. Pedestrian even. What really matters is the way the pen bonds with its owner. The way it becomes an extension of his very soul. The way it picks on the little quirks of the writer, developing idiosyncrasies of its own. Gold nibs, that waned in response to the continuous use by a particular writer was but a physical manifestation of what I am trying to say, only that there is much, much more than what meets the eye.

Is this the garrulous outpouring of a geriatric whose mental faculties are testing the borderlines? I mean, my father’s pen guiding my hand under the watchful eye of my father, with his benign smile and all … does seem a bit off mainstream, doesn’t it? Objectophilia, is it? A deep sense of feeling that the pens have souls, intelligence, feelings and can communicate?

I guess the term that describes my obsessive attachment with my father’s pens best is Barakah – a blessing that flows through a physical object.



4 Replies to “My Father’s fountain pens”

  1. of all the pieces, this one is the one that is most touching. why does it remind me of my father? whatever happened to the pens that he used to write with? why do you have to remind one of the things one tried so hard to forget and reawaken the memories that keep coming back?

  2. some very interesting, even potent, observations. was wondering… it must be extremely lonely for you, not many people with the values that you espouse are there these days. but keep trudging, it is people like you who make the difference.


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