Monday, May 17, 2010

The Fountain Pen and My Thoughts on Cultural Evolution

Fountain pens are fantastic, they’re my favourites. The one I have with me now is very simple, but it writes very smooth, and I have been using this for more than six years now. As it happened, the nib broke and I had to go in search of a new nib for it, suddenly the idea came to my mind that I shall gift a fountain pen to a friend of mine as a B’Day gift. Hence, in no moment I was at this local stationery shop. What I had to encounter in that shop was a revelation.

The shopkeeper was amused when he had the knowledge that I wanted to buy a fountain pen together with an inkpot. He was further shocked when he learnt that I was buying a pen not only for a gift but I still prefer to write with a fountain pen rather than a ball pen or a roller pen! His expression said it all. Following this, the shopkeeper gave me a lecture on why I should stop using a fountain pen and start using more ‘sophisticated’, ‘user-friendly’ and ‘smoother’ ball pans or the roller pens: “Technology has advanced and we should march ahead with time my friend…”…bla bla bla! I could not help but listen to him with patience. Although I was utterly irritated and was eager to leave the shop as early as possible, I realize, there comes such circumstances in life when you just can’t do what you want to. I felt like arguing and throw a lesson on fountain pens to that shopkeeper, but could not. I was more keen on getting that pen from the shop and just get back to my daily evening routine: cook food, watch tv for sometime and then prepare for a good night’s sleep.

The shopkeeper was, however, able to hold me stay put for half an hour, and at the end of it was able to gather the ‘priceless’ information that I was a student of archaeology and am still very interested in things related to history – ancient in his own language! There comes the greatest declaration from the man: “That’s what I was wondering man! There are only a few people these days who are interested in buying antique stuff.” Now for heaven’s sake, “don’t put the label of antique to the fountain pen my friend. These are still manufactured in large numbers and are marketed throughout the world, and there are people who still buy these pens rather than going for the more popular and use-and-throw stuff!” I wanted to tell him, but I knew that wouldn’t concur to him. Then he gave me a statistical figure of his business in pens over the last two decades, and concluded that I was the only person in the last six months who have actually genuinely showed interest in buying a good fountain pen. That truly, I must admit, explains the shocked expression he had when I first told him that I wanted to buy a fountain pen. In fact, I bought two – one for my friend and another for myself – and returned home.

I remember the Head Master of my primary school who never allowed us to use pens till we were promoted to the higher sections. I got my first pen in the 5th standard; it was a black Hero pen – a small pen. Goss, I still remember how carefully I used to put ink into it. It was a special pen. Father taught me how to properly hold a fountain pen and write along the straight rules. At first I would falter, but then I picked up gradually. Since then I have rarely used a ball pen, but never for writing an exam paper. The fountain pens that I have had bear emotional value; I have truly loved them.

A question has come to my mind ever since I got that statistical explanation from the shopkeeper. Has the time arrived when we can declare the death of the fountain pen? Has it already become an antique piece, as wondered by the shopkeeper? Well, I don’t intend to speak for or against using a fountain pen or a ball pen. To be honest, I don’t have a strong argument for asking everyone to use the fountain pen. I simply do not have a valid argument. But I have a strong belief that writing with a fountain pen is a much delightful experience – in fact the whole process of it; putting ink, writing and looking at the after you have finished writing. But it is only a belief, I can not guarantee that one will have very good handwriting if one writes with a fountain. After all good handwriting is an act of personal/individual brilliance. Although we can ignore the handwriting issue as rather trivial, can we really ignore the emotional and, more importantly, the cultural value that one can attach to a pen – a fountain pen for that matter? The pen has lost its power gradually. First with the coming of the typewriter and the computer, simultaneously with the growing popularity of the ‘use-and-throw’ ball pens, the importance of the pen and the paper has remarkably gone down.

I fear you will call me conservative. I am not. I completely understand that the cultural values, social needs, people’s attitudes, and above all people’s adaptation strategies change. Whatever I have observed above is also nothing but a similar sort of change – a change that is unstoppable, a change that is acceptable. The society is evolving. But should we not have the emotional element also in the new set of cultural values; otherwise what would become of a culture without emotions and ethics?

I also strongly argue that it is not yet the time we give a heritage status to the fountain pen – and the ‘Pen’ that it used to be – for that matter. It’s not dead yet.


Anupam Choudhury said...

Ah! The nostalgia of fountain pens! I have spent hundreds of hours writing with, putting in in, changing nibs, fixing the bodies of fountain pens. For me, fountain pens don't just hold aesthetic and cultural value, but also scientific value. I love the whole mechanism of a fountain pen. And I love the way pen lays layers of pigment suspended in water over thirsty paper. The scratching sound, the smell of ink, the random blot and the final flourish.. It's an experience! :)

Btw, thanks for the gift! :)

Chitra said...

One of the memories of my earliest use of fountain pens, in Class IV, was blue hands! We used to scrub our hands on the concrete walls at the school wash counter... as if we had some intense hatred towards our hands.
Ink used to drip everywhere. And we started using Hero pens much later. So, filling pens using the dropper was another adventure.
We did not require any hair dye or Ujala: our pens were enough!
Using a ballpoint pen gives me an informal feel. In school, I used it only during exams.
Certain kinds of writings do not give me satisfaction if written using ballpoint pens. My journal, my notebook...
A letter, for example, has a sense of formality, only if I write it using a fountain pen.
I pulled out my pen the other day to hand-write a letter. I found that the ink had gone dry. I had to wash it, refill it with ink, unfortunately run the nib on the paper a bit, and continue writing on a rough sheet, before I could properly start writing the letter.
I have at least two good fountain pens with me, but I fear for the lives of both.
Because, a letter hardly requires any pen today...only ink is enough- not for the pen, but for the cartridge of a printer!!

nikhimenon said...

i still remember that day when my dad gave me a brand new fountain pen....

Dipannita Das said...

Very well written Pranab Da. Fountain pens are the best to write. Still now I remember my first fountain pen gifted by my elder sister. Infact fountain pens used in my school days made my handwriting good. Fountain pens also reminds me all the precious moments spent with my family. Deta used to teach me how to fill ink in the pen without dropping a single drop of ink. My sis taught me how to use it, which side to hold it and stuffs. Really a nostalgic moment. Also reminds me of the yearn for collecting varied colours of fountain pens...maroon, green, blue and white. Till now those fountain pens of mine might be lying at my drawer.

aditisen said...

I have a great horror story on this subject, please remind me I have to tell you. Btw very well written Dr. Sarma!