Saturday, January 06, 2007

Of fountain pens.

When in Mysore last week, I saw my grandfather's fountain pen. And I found myself picking it up and admiring it and gushing about how no one uses fountain pens these days and how long it was since I had even set eyes on one.

And that, as usual, took me back to school. How precious fountain pens were! Especially as we had just left "childish" pencils behind, and now were considered old enough to actually write with pens! Though some of us thought that ball point pens were better, we were told to use only fountain pens until our handwriting "gets set".

I remember that mine had a black body and a gold cap, and the nib was a small, elegant, one, not one of those "atrocious" large ones. I took great pleasure in taking upon myself the responsibility of filling ink carefully into the pen, with an ink filler. I loved the colour of the ink in the ink bottle. Rich, dark, blue - Royal Blue, said the name on the bottle - truly royal it was. Of course, I hated the same ink just as much when it got onto my fingers.

A little later, I got a new pen, which did not need an ink filler. It had a mechanism built into the pen itself - you depress the little button at the side, dip the pen into the ink bottle, and let go - and the pen "drank up" the ink. This pen even had a tiny window that told me when the ink in the pen was getting over, and it was time to fill up. In spite of all this, I very often forgot to refill my pen and discovered the slip only after going to school. And then it was time to take the help of the adroit fingers of a friend who would share some of the ink from her pen, by pouring it directly into my pen. For you see, you couldn't borrow fountain pens, because "the nibs took the shape of the inclination of the owner's writing, and if anybody else used it, the nib would split".

When the topic of fountain pens came up, my parents talked about ink wells and blotting papers, both of which were alien to us. Blotting paper, at least, I have laid eyes on some time in my life, but ink wells? Those were ancient! To think they actually had to keep dipping their pens into a bottle of ink to write! [A piece of chalk in our boxes absorbed any accidental leakage of ink from our pens - we had no need for blotting paper].

Fountain pens had lots of other uses too. We had a game in class, where we took a sheet of paper, drew a broad, curved path from point A to point B, and rubbed a piece of candle wax along the path. We then let loose a drop of ink from our pens on the path at point B, and by turning and twisting the paper, we had to bring the drop of ink to point B, without it smudging the paper. The narrower the path, the greater your skill. Needless to say, I was pretty hopeless at it. My expert friends had to get new rough books every week, they tore that many sheets to play this game!

Fountain pens were great weapons too, against unsuspecting classmates and detested teachers. A surreptitious flick of the wrist, and drops of ink settle on the target's back - and the perpetrator could virtually go undetected, because the target doesn't discover the misdeed until much later, unless, of course, someone squealed (and squealers were so quick to be ostracized, that this was a remote possibility).

When we were given permission to graduate to ball point pens, fountain pens were forgotten... I don't even remember where mine went.... but have you noticed, the handwriting is never quite as good as in a dot pen as in a fountain pen.

Now of course, pens themselves seem to be getting outdated - the last time I used a pen was to perhaps sign a cheque or a credit card statement (that might give you an impression that I am very rich, but that would be wrong). Just as I say, "Ink wells? Wasn't that messy?", my grandchildren might ask me, "You actually held something in your fingers and wrote with it? How painful!"....... Who knows?


Viky said...

Navigation Alert :"...let loose at point A ..."

Comment is in the making, will follow soon.

Viky said...

I'm surprised you didn't remember the name - Hero Pens? All the more expensive if they were original!!! Meaning, they had Mandarin scribblings on the outer cover. If they didn't then your pen was a cheap replica. Ink was always Camel or Chelpark, because Chelpark gave you free labels to stick on your notebook. And if you forgot filling it, your friend who used Chelpark (because Camel ink would lead to coagulation, yes,I know!!! Don't give me that look) would drop a blob of it on the desk, and your pen, with its upturned nib would suck it.

The remainder of the ink was either blotted out with a paper or by rolling a chalk over it. The girls of you would diligently bring chalk in your "pencil-boxes" - how tacky, all your boxes would be whitened and powdery. We guys conveniently rubbed it onto the hair of one of you girls, who was our "best friend", because you would oil it the other day!!! :O And how we hated a nib which broke. The new nibs never "wrote" as smoothly as the others - they were too sharp. And so the last pages of books were rigorously scratched into, to smoothen out the nib. But they never attained it, did they?

And somewhere, while getting busy, we forgot to write, didn't we? I sent across some documents to dad last week, and I wrote out the instructions for filing them. It was mainly because my dad does not have an email, else I would have mailed them to him. Really, come to think of it, if the concept of cell-phone wallets catches up, we might not have any use for pens at all.

Anonymous said...

wah!!! great it took me to my scholl back my high school days wonderful. One more thing I notice shruthi I am not finding a big diffence between your school days and mine may be even though it must be pretty 2 decades earlier how is that? so there was no such big generation gap then appears so? I think that is the reason I am fitting here
wonderful writing and carrying all minute details
yes Hero Pen great!!!
It was a prestige to have one in our days I bought one from the then Bombay (now mumbai)thanks for competing the missed name

Anonymous said...

wah!!! great it took me to my scholl back my high school days wonderful. One more thing I notices shruthi I am not finding a big diffence between your school days and mine may be even though it must be pretty 2 decades earlier how is that? so there was no such big generation gap then appears so? I think that is the reason I am fitting here
wonderful writing and carrying all minute details yes Hero Pen great!!!
It was a prestige to have one in our days I bought one from the then Bombay (now mumbai)

Anonymous said...

In the future i think no one need to write..just dictate.ur PDA will understand and save scripts are like gone are the days...(in the future)....did i say future...even now also i am not able to write something in my mother tongue as i studied from my childhood..shame on me..right?? :-((

Anonymous said...

Shruthi, I managed to use fountain pens right untilI finished college, and had to face funny stares and ridicule from classmates who felt I was a wierdo to be still using the "uncool" fountain pens.

But for a good handwriting, fountain pens are the best.

Shruthi said...

viky, Rule for spellchecker: You should let me know the alternative too!
And yes, if I talk about everything in the post, what will you comment on? That is why I didn't talk about the brand of the pen (That and the fact, that believe it or not, I had truly forgotten what brands we used to have).
And wasn't the ink Bril? Just a few days ago, I attended a concert that was sponsored by Bril, and I thought, "wow, these guys are still in business!" ;)

Praneshachar, yes, I am surprised that we had so much in common! I guess the change between our generation and the present has been so drastic, that we cannot imagine that our generation and yours could have so much in common!

Thenraj, I do hope it doesn't ever go out of fashion :O And yes I know lots of people who don't read/write in their mother tongue any longer - this post might tell you what you are missing :)

Vani, Wow!! And "uncool"?? I would say cool! That much patience!

Prashanth M said...

Another nice post Shruthi. Me too used fountain pens till my +2 - Hero pen and Bril ink combo :)
And guess there are 1 or 2 old pens lying around unused. Planning to start using one after reading this post :)

Anonymous said...

Mindblowing! I never knew a fountain pen could make me so's an amazing post. At times, I do sit and think about the fountain pens, pencil boxes, the graduation from four line notebooks to two lines...little things which have been long forgotten...once again, terrific post.

Shruthi said...

Prashanth, thank you! :) Great, do use your pens and let me know - but what will you write, though? ;)

Bleddy Blogger, Oh, thanks a lot! :) In that case you might enjoy this post too!

Unknown said...

You made me recollect my school days where i first wrote with an "ink pen" ( As it is know in villages than "fountain pen").

We used to compare each of our pens with our classmates n neighbours! I had got a Flair pen ( Fat one! Just like me! Haha! I was teased so! ).

One more interesting thing i recollected was we had a girl in our class whose sister( 1 year senior to me, in the same school). She was drinking ink! All the ink she used to get would be emptied n she used to ask other people for more ink( to drink n to write!)

You may think this is weird n impossible but thats true!

Thanks for makin me recollect them! ;-)

Shammi said...

Shruthi, I know I keep saying this for practically every post of yours - but it's like you're using MY memories! :) I love fountain pens, I used the exact same type of pen you describe, we did exactly the same mischief in school... such an eerie echo of my life although you're way younger than me!

PS. I use a fountain pen on the rare occasions that I actually write to anyone on actual paper! Although not a Hero nowadays... it's a Cross that I received as a gift.

Viky said...

It was a navigational alert, "...We then let loose a drop of ink from our pens on the path at point B, and by turning and twisting the paper, we had to bring the drop of ink to point B, without it smudging the paper..." Why do you have to twist and turn to bring from B to B? Yeah?

Rules for the spellchecker :O Aa? Suryange torchu? Saraswatige tuitionnu?

And yes, do you sign credit card statements? I thought "charge slip" was more like it.

Anonymous said...

Too good! Reading this was like seeing a replay of my school days. I had 3 hero pens and I was a huge pen freak then. And chelpark was my favorite ink (I never used bril and camel!) Somehow by college time, the pen craze had died down and I had settled for a couple of reynolds jettor (black ink, I never used blue!) Feeling a bit sad thinking about the transition from hero pens to verdana font!

Anonymous said...


That post was good, Its all about reading, i can read the script of my mother tongue..thats not the problem for me.only the writing, that means i am not able to write..if i write something in tamil, and if any people really live for tamil he will die instantly..even now also i read newspaper of tamil and some books which are made digitally(thanks to the technology)..Anyway as there are many languages in usage..and one is considered as premium(English), others have to give their way..

Shruthi said...

Sandesh, glad you liked it :) Yes, though I haven't seen it myself, I have also heard of people drinking ink and having blue mouths... so I believe you! :)

Shyam, wow, that is a lot of similarity :) And am I glad to hear that people still do use fountain pens! Maybe I should buy one too :)

Viky, ah! Haago! Ok ok thanks :) And yes, "charge slip" it is.. :) "Saraswatige tuitionna" keLirlilla :)

Bit hawk, yeah I know.. :(.. and btw, I also have a liking for black ink!

Thenraj, yeah I do understand what you mean :) But really, other languages do not have to give way... in fact, they should be used all the more, after all it is your own language! :)

chitra said...

True, i enjoyed the chelpark ink and how I used to change the nib if it was broken for a mere 25 paise. Parker pens : too expensive but was a treasure to have.

now, even parker dont seem to be making nib pens. my son has just started using pens and he needs Gel pens. and he needs a white tape!!!

BTW, may i have your email id. mine is Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Good take Viky...How about those nibs? My parents spent a fortune replacing them... and testing the pens against the school walls..

ALL the walls had ink on them (sometime the guy in front of you as well)

Anyone remember the orange colored President pen?

Anonymous said...

Remember Calligraphy pens!!

We used to cut the nibs on the tip and they would write just like the real calligraphy pens! (well, success rate was low :( )

And i also liked the way we used to refill the inks from other pens(using the tips)


Anonymous said...

i guess i was an intermediate generation. i have never used or seen an "ink well" but i did get to use blotting paper :-).

btw, in my opinion, there is no royal blue like "chelpark royal blue." i used to like it so very much - it was my favourite ink.

later, i then graduated to the chinese (?) pointy pens (these were ink pens, but not the ones that you could refill, and definitely not ballpens - do you know what i mean?).

- s.b.

Anonymous said...

are you next going to write on carbon paper? :-)

- s.b.

Shruthi said...

Chitra, ah, I was actually wondering what the present trend is, thanks! :)

Vijay, I don't remember nib replacement at all... perhaps I was a very careful kid, compared to you..? ;)

Vedu Joshi, you seem to have tried out some interesting things - how did you do that? :O

S.B, are you talking about what they call felt pens?

Anonymous said...

i don't think that mine was a felt pen, but ... let me do some more research on a felt pen and i will let you know whether it was or not.

- s.b.

Anonymous said...

nope, the pen i was talking about does not look like any of these ...

- s.b.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, they did wonders to ones handwriting. Even today I try writing something every once in a way with a fountain pen from a bygone era - just for the heck of it.
Very nice post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Shruthi said...

S.B., Ok, I think I know what you are talking about - somewhat like the Gel pens we have now... but with a long pointed tip... right?

Usha, Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Shruthi

Enjoyed reading your post...brought back memories from school days. We used to compare our pens to each other & the all time favourite were the Parker Pens.:-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Shruti,

Here in the United States, fountain pens today are considered luxury items for either the intellectual crowd (in universities) or business leaders in corporate America. They are easily available but very expensive. Any good pen store ( and, amongst others) will have a large selection of fountain pens that cost anywhere from a low $20 to a mid-price range of $100-500 to far more expensive ones, up to tens of thousands of dollars.

They are seen often, and people are beginning to notice and use them more than a few years ago. People are seeming to notice how they write much better and smoother than ball points.

Nice post!

Anonymous said...


"S.B., Ok, I think I know what you are talking about - somewhat like the Gel pens we have now... but with a long pointed tip... right?"

finally, i figured out my favourite pen.

- s.b.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting post!
I am a collector of vintage and antique fountain pens.
I thin k the pointy pen mentioned is called a "stylograph". You may be suprised of the value that some of your older pens have. Especially from the 20s,30s,40,s and 50s.

Anonymous said...

The following was posted by Richard Binder on the Pentrace discussion board (September 13, 2005):

"The pleasure of using a fountain pen must be experienced to be understood. It is important as part of the experience to understand that fountain pens, unlike all ballpoint-type pens (ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens), should not be grasped firmly or pressed against the paper. (except in the special circumstances of a flex nib). A fountain pen glides across the paper on a thin lubricating film of liquid, exactly as an ice skate glides across the ice on a thin lubricating film of water melted by the pressure of the skate blade. Cradle a fountain pen in your hand, don't grasp it. When I was taught penmanship in elementary school, the teacher would walk around the classroom while the students were practicing their exercise. The teacher would suddenly lean over a student's shoulder and snatch the student's pen backward. if the pen did not come out of the student's had with no meaningful resistance, the student was grasping the pen too tightly. Using a fountain pen in the proper manner is a sensual experience; you can feel the paper the way a sports car driver feels the road. Ballpoints are like army tanks on the road."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. I think that you should wash your face at least 3 to 4 times a day. You’ll be surprised how much better your face will look.


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