Sunday, September 23, 2012

... and on they flowed...

As promised, my earlier post on pencils did not contain cute words like mellifluous or Barfi, or even twilight. I am aware that this has reduced the usual metrosexual appeal that my posts are known to carry, but I typically value honesty and integrity over the raw sensuousness of my posts.

My graduation from pencils to pen was a rather unconventional one. I had changed schools at Class V: I was a student of Julien Day School till Class IV till I switched over to the greatest school that ever was.

There was a catch, though: JDS (as Julien Day School had instructed us to abbreviate: J for justice, D for duty, S for service) had allowed pens from Class IV, whereas the cut-off was Class VI in Patha Bhavan. This meant that in Class V, Patha Bhavan, I had to start afresh with pencils for a year.

This meant that my handwriting in Class V had plunged to depths hitherto unknown to mankind. I clearly remember an incident: there were thirty-three of us, and when the exercise books were returned after the teacher had gone through a Bangla classwork, she had evaluated thirty-two of them. On my book, she just wrote the phrase হাতের লেখা অপাঠ্য (handwriting illegible) - which basically made my handiwork, however superlative in quality, ineligible for assessment.

On either side of Class V, in an illustrious calligraphic career spanning two schools, Artex turned out to be the major apprentice. My first Artex fountain pen was possibly a navy blue one with a cap of the same colour. It had a small metallic ring towards the top of the cap from which dangled a thin, sharp stick to attach the pen to the pocket. It also had a smallish metal nib on which the word ARTEX was written in a small arc.

Along with Artex came Sulekha, my first royal blue ink bottle, and a small dropper. The last two were not supposed to be carried to school every day; they were used to fill the Artex every morning before one left for school.

Using a fountain pen was cool. The best bit was when the nib dried out, making the user eligible to give the pen a couple of solid jerks and preferably dip the nib on the droplets of ink that had accumulated on the back-page of the exercise books. However, we soon found out that this was a perfect excuse to cover the back of the light-cream shirt of the person in front in ink.

By the time I had scraped through the laborious, pencil-strewn Class V to make it to the next step, a new brand called Wing Sung had appeared on the fountain pen market. By this time it wasn't adequate to carry one pen to the school, so I had to convince my parents to get me two Wing Sungs. They saw the two-pen point, but tried to get me buy two Artexes (or should it be Artices?). We bargained, and the compromise we reached to was an obvious one: one of each species.

The grave error I made was about to haunt me for the rest of Class VI: I trusted them to buy the pens. With Wing Sung one cannot go wrong: the same blue body; the same goldenish cap; the same quadrilateralesque nib with Wing written along one edge and Sung along the adjacent one; they also came with inbuilt droppers. All Wing Sungs were twins: they lacked the originality with which every Artex pen was created. In the end, I was glad they did.

The Artex I got (and had to use for some time) was an abomination. It was bright yellow, with a black-tipped cap and a black bottom. B R I G H T   Y E L L O W. I have never seen a fountain pen as yellow as that one. Or one as thick: it was roughly the diameter of a gorilla's thumb.
So off we went to school, five days a week: the ubiquitous Wing Sung, the abysmally hideous yellow Artex and the would-be bespectacled meticulous student. It was a formidable trio, especially if equipped with a Sulekha royal blue dip every morning.

The girth and the colour meant that the Artex had to remain my second-choice pen for some time. Wing Sung was nice. It had a thinner tip than Artex, and despite the awkward grip, it was quite free-flowing. It was the first Chinese product to come to my life and to conquer me for a a significant span of time.

By now the market was infested with more pens. One of these was Wilson (note that it's almost a homonym of Wing Sung), an experiment some classmates had already marked as a failure and had reverted to Wing Sung. One of my smart-arse seniors (I really cannot recall who this was) tried to convince us in our school bus that King Sung, a brand superior to Wing Sung had been launched (King > Wing). When I asked, the shop-owners of Samriddhi (politely) and Grantha Chayan (rudely - rudeness being his USP) told me that King Sung was not a brand.

By now, I decided that I needed some variety: so I gave Chelpark a shot. It was basically the same, cost the same, so it did not matter. I tried Camel. It was surprisingly the same. I tried blue-black for a while just for the sake of it, and then migrated to black.

One of my uncles managed to convince me that black ink resulted in sedimentation occurring at the bottom of the nib: he washed the nib in water to prove this. A few months later I managed to find out that royal blue resulted in the same. So much for taking your elders at face value. Sigh.

Roughly at this point of time I was introduced to something called micro-tip pens, branded by both Linc and Luxor. These used ink, but were a cross-breed between ballpoint pens and fountain pens. You just needed to write and throw them away. They also made your handwriting mysterious and elusive, so all you could use them for was to write in capital letters: which meant they were good only for labelling diagrams.
Gradually these were replaced by hi-tecpoint pens. My uncle (a different one: an artist) told me that these were basically "micro-tip er baba". Indeed, these were more expensive; with a thinner tip; did wonders in the hands of an artist; and reduced the average individual to a vegetable, making him compromise on either speed or handwriting. These Pilot products had to be confined to a project-work usage as well.
By this time I had heard of the expensive brands: Parker, Sheaffer, Mont Blanc and Cross. My father owned (and probably still owns) a Cross. It looked sleek, but was a bit too sleek for my comfort. It was probably a bit too sleek for my father's comfort as well, as I have never seen him actually use it: it had spent a significant part of its lifetime confined inside a Godrej stainless steel almirah, and possibly still continues to do so.

And then, as the 1980s somehow meandered into the 1990s, the Berlin Wall disappeared into oblivion and Sachin Tendulkar made his way to the Indian cricket side, the fountain pens gave way to ball-point ones: they were lighter, smarter, faster and more comfortable to hold (and to write with).

I was too skeptic to adapt to them, so I stuck to Artex and Wing Sung for a while. However, roughly at this time I decided to shift to turquoise as a ink of choice. This soon caused a great furore in my otherwise calm household: my mother, a mathematics teacher, pointed out that I cannot use turquoise. She argued that green came only next to red in terms of being the "teacher's ink". I told her that it was not green: it was turquoise. I even asked her whether she thought peacocks and parrots were of the same colour. The retort was not taken, well, too lightly.

My adolescent revolutionary self was proud: I had managed to win the battle of colours, battling hard against the wannabe matriarch of the family who had attempted to spread apartheid of a different sort. It was a victory of justice.

But then, my revolutionary self gave way to the lure of Reynolds ball-point pens. They were officially called 045 Reynolds Fine Career (which made them sound like revolvers), which was a rather impressive name to start with: the white-and-translucent-blue bodies and the blue plastic covers simply sent out an irresistible urge to give up fountain pens and give in to the dreamy mystique of the kingdom of ball-points.
I could not hold myself back. Reynolds it had to be. Rotomac (likhte likhte love ho jaaye - you fall in love while writing) came and went; Cello Gripper was a flash in the pan; and I even had short flings with Mitsubishi - a curious name for a virtually transparent ball-point pen. There was also a pen with a metre (that showed how many miles one wrote) whose purpose evaded me and whose name continues to remain elusive to my memory. Yet another one with rubber grips (Zebra?). But Reynolds remained.

Reynolds had its disadvantages, though. It was designed for slow, beautiful handwriting, and hence did not serve its purpose in examinations: With the Board Examination at the end of Class X coming up I needed to acquire a pen that was soft, light and fast to make sure I completed the fifty-page history answer sheets in three hours, and also had in a legible handwriting.

And then it happened. It was love at first sight. It had appeared like the Juliets, Lailas, Heers, Sohnis and Shireens (it is to be noted that in the 1980s and 1990s the Heeriyes and the Snodiyes were still known as Heers and Sohnis) came into the thirsty lives of their famous counterparts. Had there been a bathtub at my place I might even have yelled Eureka!, but for I had to hold myself back. My parents did not take yelling at home as nicely as Archimedes' did.

Linc Starline had arrived. The year was 1992. It was an use-and-throw pen. It had a writing length of 5 kilometres. It had a Swiss tip. It had German ink. It was like watching Amul Butter oozing from between two Cream-Cracker biscuits at the pace of Carl Lewis with the grace of Madhuri Dixit.

No, 2012 cannot conjure analogies of that quality.

And the love affair continued. X. XII (+2). Graduation. Master's. And then they sort of vanished from the market: not a swift, mysterious demise; this was more of a gradual, permanent disappearance. They just aren't there any more.

But I need not worry. BIC has arrived to bring the rosier days back to my life yet again. BIC Round Stic Med/Moy (whatever that means) is as perfect a replacement to Linc Starline in my life as Dravid had been to Gavaskar a few decades back. The round smoothness and the easy grip are to die for, and the easy flow is strongly reminiscent of Dairy Milk Silk.
All that is redundant, though. A job involving computers meant I had migrated to another form of writing medium a dozen of years back. But that's another story.


  1. Ahha... darun! Porer part tao hok!!

  2. a thoroughly enjoyable read. the first paragraph made me laugh out loud (and saying "LOL" here would not do justice to that)

  3. Baah! (as opposed to "bah") As for me - after the numerous attempts with fountain pens (which I was so glad to get rid of when ball-points arrived - because I write left-handed, and from the top... so you can imagine what colour my hand was in school)... and after the brief attempts with Reynolds and others, one fine day in B-II or B-III, a millennium ago, I saw Jayanta use a Mitsubishi, tried it... and I get refills whenever I go back home, ever since :).

    Your post(s) brought back those days - very nice, thank you!

    1. Yes, at least two of my close friends were left-handed, and they cursed vehemently whenever they had to write in a fountain pen. Fountain pens are not designed for left-handers who write in scripts derived from Latin or Devanagari.

  4. "wannabe matriarch of the family who had attempted to spread apartheid of a different sort...watching Amul Butter oozing from between two Cream-Cracker biscuits at the pace of Carl Lewis with the grace of Madhuri Dixit"-
    lines i liked,nay,loved.
    tell me,how much time do you take to write a post? is it spontaneous or ferments over the week?

    1. The ideas, as you might have guessed, ferment over some time; but when I write a piece, it's usually at one go.

  5. Ball pens cannot recreate the charm of filling your fountainpens with blue blood every night.They could not even then.

  6. Man,90s changed everything.Your posts make me so very nostalgic.And such is your skill,even a pencil on your blog is not spared of its vivid remembrance.I miss those days:(

  7. Catching up on your posts,Hilarious...I mean h..i..l..a..r..i..o..u..s.The journey from fountain pen to Archimedes to Chinese pens and what not,is an intriguing mind map.And for me ,it was my father's Pilot in the steel( less)almirah,only to taken out in the blistering sunlit world on special occasions.

  8. sorry...'to be taken out'-grammar error.Do forgive.

  9. Thanks for taking me back in time. Just bought my son a Wing Sung fountain pen and a Lily fountain pen.

  10. Did you miss that use and throw variety, or were you just prosperous than us, the lesser mortals? I always had pens that leaked ink and I used to proudly hold back those stains to prove my academic dedication.

    Don't you have any stores on pencil box varieties? And, geometry boxes? Those were the lone sources of serious class-discrimination for us back in school. Wars could be waged, that is. Lemon and orange smelling erasers came second. This later, however, was more restricted to womenkind alone. Guys never cared for the looks (or smells) of erasers, somehow.