Monday, August 22, 2016

Visit to Gem & Co, Chennai, makers of Gama Fountain Pens and one of the oldest pen makers in India … Part 2

Though I had spoken with Mr Pratap over the phone, this was the first time I would be meeting him.  I introduced myself to one of the assistants who had approached me and he then called Mr Pratap over.  I spoke to him about our tele-conversation and correspondence and he seemed to remember.  Based on our conversation some 4 years back, Mr Pratap had given me rare fountain pens made by Gem & Co., with gold nibs – Gama Royal and Gama Manifold.  He had taken them out of the Gem archival stock and given them to me.  Those pens are a treasured part of my collection of Indian fountain pens. 

The gray pen in the middle is the Gama Manifold, and the steel cap and gold cap ones on either side are Gama Royal fountain pens

The 14 CT Gold Nibs
Mahesh and Shubha had acted as my liaison in Chennai then, and I introduced my brother too to Mr Pratap.  I have also been using their Gama ebonite fountain pens, and especially their recent ebonite range has been extremely pleasing to the eye and wonderful to write.  ( &

I was there for more than an hour and we talked about the old Gama gold nib pens, the new ebonite range, nibs in general, availability of raw material, travails of making silver filigree body fountain pens, and also about those pens they have stopped making.  Since Hari is our common link to Gem & Co., Mr Pratap had enquired after him.  He showed me their recent experiments with vibrant acrylic.  Of course, those jumbo ebonites were there too on the shelf.  He then brought out a box and showed me ‘work in progress’ silver filigree pens.  He said the difficult part, in the Indian context, was to bring the two different sensibilities of the jeweller-artisan, who makes the silver casing, and the pen-maker, who designs the pen, together and make each other understand what one wants and what the other can do.  And since it is the pen-maker’s call, the jeweller has to be cajoled, sweet-talked, etc., into making the silver filigree casing according to the pen-maker’s requirements.  All this takes a lot of time, Mr Pratap said, and most of the times we are talking on the phone without seeing the actual thing, and trying to make each other understand only through descriptions.  But still, the results are good so far, and I have to find buyers now, he said.       

The silver filigree casings for pens
And all this while, people were walking in, some for getting a nib fixed, some for getting their pens filled, some came for ball pens, and refills.  The two elderly gentlemen in the shop catered to the needs of the customers while Mr Pratap and I were having a chinwag.  Most of the times Mr Pratap himself handles all repairs and fixes nibs with his hands.  For all these nib settings and tweakings, Mr Pratap doesn’t charge anything.  If you are lucky, he just smiles or ‘smirks,’ as one fountain pen geek put it on FPN, if you ask ‘how much?’  If he really likes you and your enthusiasm for fountain pens, he would gently admonish you for not using your pen properly and would advise you to take care of your pen, wash it, clean it regularly, etc.   

The other thing you’d notice inside the glass cases, apart from the pens, is the feature length articles on Gem & Co., that appeared in newspapers … the meticulous manner in which they arranged gives the interested reader an unhindered view of the each article, in case one wishes to read them … this also shows the obvious pride with which Mr Pratap showcases his legacy, his skill, and also foregrounds the fountain pen …    

Time to buy pens and Mr Pratap showed me the Gama Ivory, one of their recent fountain pens.  I liked the ivory colour, very unusual actually.  It is a bit like creamy white.  Very clean lines and very little metal.  I liked it and I also liked the Gama ‘Demonstrator.’  I never had a full fountain pen made of transparent material.  I wanted to buy one, but Mahesh told me to take both, and that one would be his gift to me.  What more does one need when you have a younger brother who indulges you!! Thanks Mahesh … I will write in detail about these two pens in later posts, but for now, here is how they look …          

And before we left, I thought it wise to mark the occasion by taking a photograph with Mr Pratap ... 

As we come out of Gem & Co., it is already dark … and the lights have come on … I look back and see that the name board of Gem & Co., is illuminated … 

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