‘Ink Pen’ Tales

This morning, VK gifted me a Hero pen out of the blue. He’d found it in CP yesterday, he said. It is brown, with a golden cap, and has ridges along the line where the ink barrel meets the grip. I was excited because I can’t remember the last time I saw this kind of a Hero pen – and yes, I have another kind.

My silver-coloured Hero pen is known to those who’ve known me well over the last two decades. I got the pen in 2000, and then it was a silver-grey ‘special’ Hero pen, with thin, Chinese designs in red and black paint. My father, a pen fanatic, got it for me. That year, if I remember correctly, most of my cousins in school were gifted this pen by my father, but I wonder if the pen meant anything to them as close to what it means to me.

The pen went with me through my biggest stages in life. I got through class 10 with flying colours. I struggled through class 11 and sputtered through class 12. As the board exam neared, my parents took me to a mass prayer session organised by the Kanchi math, in Vani Mahal in Chennai. I got a black, fat fountain pen that was ‘blessed’ by the seers. I used that pen for two of my exams, sticking to my beloved Hero pen for the rest. When the results came, I’d scored well in three exams, and less so in two – and you guessed it, those two were the ones I’d written using the ‘blessed’ pen.

That’s it. The role of the Hero pen in my life was cemented.

Hero went with me to my university entrance exams, after writing which I was so confident about making it that I bungled up the Indian engineering entrance exams. And get through to that university I did, and the pen went with me to Singapore.

As I navigated a new country, being alone for the first time and figuring out making friends with people who were different from me, the pen gave me solace. I used it for long letters to parents; journal entries that dripped with confusion and confidence, and even lecture notes, much to the amusement of some Singaporean classmates who used gel pens in a variety of colours to take their notes. Once, I left the pen in a friend’s room and realised it much later in the night, and spent an anxious night before I woke up and texted her to know that it was there, alright.

The pen journeyed with me through graduation, my initial years of working, and my Master’s. VK came into the picture, and was introduced to it too. Along the way, friends got to know about the pen and my attachment to it, and a friend from school could even tell that I’d written my card wishing her on her wedding using this pen!

I’ve spent many harrowed days believing I’ve lost the pen, only to see it turn up later (I almost feel like I’m jinxing it by saying this). Most recently, it went missing in my new house, and this time I resigned myself to my fate, saying I was pushing my luck too far. It was gone for nearly two weeks. And one day I moved a mattress and ta-da! There it was, my faithful friend.

So this morning I excitedly filled the new Hero pen with ink. With a lot of anticipation, I pulled out my journal to write my first few words with it. And…it was rough. And it smudged. The scratchy feel of this pen was starkly different from the way my silver Hero pen glides on paper. VK wondered if the pen was original at all. I said that fountain pens need to be broken into; I distinctly remember that the silver pen took some time to turn soft.

We then talked about our lives with fountain pens growing up, until gel pens and ballpoint pens took over. As children switching from pencils to pens, we were not allowed to use ballpoint pens, and so I remember that blue ink on our selves was a standard feature of most of us class 4 kids. We remembered blue-stained white shirts and skirts, blue streaks on our nails, and the ‘ink cloth’ that faithfully rested within our pencil cases to be called to duty in a moment’s notice to deal with an ink-based emergency. Those pens would need to be filled with ink; only fancy kids got pens which had suction-based ink holders or cartridges. Ink fillers were a necessity for the rest of us.

Fountain pens no longer feature in the lives of school-going kids, I’m sure. They hardly feature in the lives of most adults too, unless it’s a Montblanc or a Waterman. Yet, there’s something pleasing about using a fountain pen when you want to write in a journal or take notes in a meeting. There’s something meditative about filling ink – I’ve never been one for cartridges – and wiping out any leaks and testing the pen after the process. A friend recently told me how joyous it was to put together an ink pen in a quaint shop in Bombay – for all of forty rupees – and how she writes her journal entries using it now, and how happy it makes her.

A recurring theme in my recent writing has been about slowing down or being mindful of what I pack into my day. A fountain pen could be a part of the process, don’t you think? By harking back to an old concept, from a time where things were not as frantic, and a past that’s mine but also shared with generations before mine?

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