I am writing this with a Gama fountain pen (eyedropper filler; made by Gem & Co., Chennai) filled with Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue ink. When I wrote this initially as a first draft, I was aware of all the details about my fountain pen; also the fact that I filled it with ink the previous day. When this piece appears on this space all these ‘facts’ would become irrelevant. But that is beside the point. What is or was relevant is the fact that, since the pen is a demonstrator model (i. e., transparent cap, section, and barrel), I could ‘see’ the flow of ink as it courses through the feeder and seeps out of the nib and transforms itself into words on the page. I can also feel the ever so slight toothiness of the nib as it gives me the perfect grip and release as the nib glides over the page. I make changes as I write – adding a word or phrase, scratching out another, arrow marks indicating movement, circled words that need a better alternative, or a question mark expressing uncertainty.
This experience of writing with a fountain pen is what most fountain-pen-lovers treasure. There is progress and technological development, and that has made life easier. And you don’t get ink on your hands!! Fountain pens, which were once the only ink-based writing instruments, have now become niche. When I use my fountain pen in public, there are varied reactions – Oh, these are still around! How do you write with these? Do you get inks for these?
What is the hook on which we fountain pen nuts hang this fondness or this obsession for fountain pens? Is this just a sort of ‘retro’ thing? Then I think of my other ‘fad’ – HMT mechanical/automatic watches. Fountain pen users and collectors are also usually watch enthusiasts too. Though I began with fountain pens, HMT mechanical watches followed soon enough. And for most of us in India, both are ‘retro.’
I began to think of other things that ‘fad’ me. I sport a beard, so I only do some facial landscaping around the edges when required. But I realized I was/am partial to the safety razor, not the cartridge ones. I took this ‘fad’ a bit further when I started looking for a cutthroat razor. When I saw that the prices were prohibitive, I settled for a couple of shavettes – very close in looks and similar experience, but not the same as a cutthroat razor. I followed these clues and saw that I instinctively favoured lace-up shoes over pumps. A liking for lace-up shoes is surely not retro, is it? What about those LP records from my father-in-law’s ‘give away’ collection that I had salvaged and conserved in the hope of playing them on my own record player in the future?
This became an interesting topic for discussion one Sunday morning at Abids with my book-hunting friends. Vinod and I are fountain pen geeks, but Vinod is not excited about watches; while Umashankar is a HMT watch fan, he is not a fountain pen nut. I was the only one with both fads, plus some more. One Sunday, when Umashankar was talking about watches, Vinod wondered why people collect watches as you don’t do anything ‘with’ them, you only ‘wear’ them, but with a fountain pen, one could write, use different inks, use different nib widths, etc.
Now, this was tricky. I had to defend the watch people and also make sure that I stayed with the fountain pen community. I had to think of an argument that masked the ‘use’ factor, and one that went beyond ‘use.’ A liking for ‘retro’ was a good argument, but didn’t seem a convincing one. At that time the word ‘ritual’ came to mind. I told my friends that there is a certain ‘ritual’ or ‘ceremony,’ if you like, involved in the use of these things. If you own a mechanical watch, you wind it up every morning before you strap it on to your wrist; if you use a fountain pen, the filling of ink, wiping, once-a-fortnight flushing and cleaning, drying, all are steps in a ritual; those who use a cutthroat razor know that the stropping of the blade, the quality of the strop, the angle of the blade, are all vital if you don’t want to slice your throat; the tying of shoelaces every morning is itself a mini ritual.
Something that binds all these ‘fads’ that I have is not only a liking for the ‘old things,’ but something that is redolent of the ‘old’ – like ‘old times,’ a little bit of leisure, a little less stress, not so much ‘what,’ but ‘how,’ a little bit of care and attention and a little bit of love for the simple day-to-day things that one does.