I am talking of a fountain pen. A fountain pen! Many have no idea what it is. But it was a major innovation in its time. The legend is that a tenth-century Egyptian Caliph, tired of a dipping pen, ordered his men to devise something that did not soil his hands or clothes with ink. The fountain pen was born.
When filled with royal blue ink, of which my parents had generously bought an ample bottle, it wrote. And how! It wrote blithely, smoothly, copiously, for I kept wielding the instrument with untiring enthusiasm. I wrote snatches of poems I knew; I wrote smart aphorisms I had read; I wrote my name endless times. I had a precocious interest in fonts, and I thrilled to the egotistic artistry of writing my name in a thousand unusual ways.
It was a delight to hold its slick body in my fingers and an unspeakable pleasure to let it roll on paper. No longer the harsh scratch of a pencil on cheap paper, but the glissando movement of a magnificent tool across a sheet in ceaseless, soundless abandon. I did not share the venerable Caliph’s distaste for soiled fingers. I cared little when ink splattered my fingers as I used a clumsy dropper to fill the pen’s slender body with dark ink. We didn’t have soft-lead pencils earlier, so the contrasted bright lettering of a fountain pen was a joy to behold.
The truth was, despite my affection and tender care, the fragile plastic body of the pen cracked in a couple of years. Seeing my despair, a generous uncle bought me a new mottled-green pen. It was a second-generation pen, which did not need a dropper to fill it. It had a tube inside to hold the ink, and a clip outside that could be used to suck ink in the tube. Ramu, a rascal in my class, bought such a pen too and promptly developed the technique to squirt ink at the back of unwary classmates he resented for some obscure reason. Once caught, he was taken to the headmaster’s office and we never saw him again. Strangely, I missed Ramu’s perverse quirks.
Ballpoints have a point and rollerballs roll well, but frankly nothing can hold a candle to a fountain pen, if you care about writing. Pareshbabu, the soft-spoken septuagenarian who worked in Pen Hospital on Chowringhee and taught me all I know about pens, made me a world-class pen for thirty rupees: he spent the entire money on a superb nib and then fitted it on the body of an old pen. I still miss him and the pen.
I have affluent friends who swoon over Mont Blanc, but the costly pen I could crave is Faber-Castell’s 2015 Limited Edition pen that costs $5000. If I had money to burn, I would much rather go for the superb designs of the Italians, a Visconti or a Montegrappa.
Forget about luxe and design, a pen is for writing, and nothing writes better than a fountain pen. That is what Pareshbabu’s modest but matchless pen did for me. It inspired me to write. To fall in love with writing.
Last year, again on my birthday, Lina, who knows her father well, gave me the gift of a fountain pen. A somber, serious, get-to-work pen that my rebellious, playful heart cherishes.