Tuesday, July 1, 2008


The recent Vodafone ad featuring two schoolchildren with fountain pens is definitely anachronistic, since today’s children have never seen, let alone used, a fountain pen. But it brings a nostalgic smile to us thirty-somethings, because the fountain pen was such an important part of our growing-up years.

It marked a rite of passage. You passed out of Standard 4 (nearing the end of primary school) and you were handed a fountain pen to write with. No more pencils. No more sharpeners. No more erasers, and the dirty mark they would invariably leave despite ruthless scrubbing! (Now don’t be a spoilsport and remind me that we still needed pencils for science diagrams and maths graphs). We could all be grown-up and proudly clip our pens to our pockets.

I remember having two Artex fountain pens, one green and one maroon (I was an ardent fan of Mohunbagan – the football team in maroon and green). Every week, I would take a dropper and carefully fill them with royal blue ink from Camlin or Chelpark bottles. I can still smell the faint mouri/saunf/aniseed smell which seemed to emanate from Chelpark ink-bottles. ‘Carefully’ – is the operative word (though not always the ‘operational’ word), because we had to be wary of spills and smudges, while filling and while writing. It was this very carefulness which was supposed to have an improving effect on our haywire-handwriting, unlike the more modern, use-and-throw ball-point pens, which spoilt our cursive abilities (or so the fountains of wisdom said).

Being magpie-minded, I preferred gleaming-golden nibs to the staid-steel of my Artex pens. I had a maroon (the pre-neon gel pen manufacturers were rather colour-challenged, weren’t they?) Wilson pen, with a shiny golden cap and a shinier golden nib, ‘made in China’ (when that label still meant exclusivity). It had an in-built ink-filler, so I could just dip the nib and fill it, without any spilling. The precious-pen was gifted to me by a very dear friend and was used only on special occasions and only with extra-special black ink.

One of these special occasions was my tenth standard board exams. After that, in my higher secondary years in college, I switched to ball-point pens with indelible inks (we were pressed for time, and scared that ‘our answers might wash away if it rained and if we wrote with fountain pens, if the examiners left the answersripts out in the open’ – weird logic, but exams were a superstitious time!).

And so ended my association with fountain pens.



Anonymous said...

O another of your lovely wonderful nostalgic post...somehow you are beautifully reliving our golden childhood days & yes fountain pens indeed marked a rite of passage....we used to be envious of our friends who used to bring the costly ones...I think the wilson pens...they looked good & were a bit costly too & then the immortal shaking of the pens when the ink would reduce & suddenly a gobble of ink hushed through the nip to stain the clothes especially the white school uniforms...we also used to smell the ink & yeah, the association ended with our board exams when our parents and teachers were also convinced that we have to write faster during those times & there was no other alternative...wonderfully written post!

sukku said...

Oh what memories...I remember my first pen was "hero" made in China and after that I bought a "Pilot" from Japan. Even I like the smell of the ink but in my case it was parker ink, which still makes me smell it before I fill up the pen.

What a pity, my boys they don't even want me to gift them a fountain pen, they are so pampered with the gel pens, use and throw away...

I remember when I did my MBA, I bought myself a Parker fountain pen and how I loved doing my exams with it and I believe in superstition and good luck, so I used the same pen for all my exams in my MBA module...the sad thing though..the pen is damaged...but it is still lying somewhere in the house...now I have replaced that with a gold plated Sheaffer.....

Thanks for sharing this lovely post..God Bless You

ugich konitari said...

Sucharita, what a wonderful write up. Takes me back to my school days. We didn't go straight from pencils to pens. We had a "penholder" stage. We had these little enclosures in our desk surfaces where they used to pour ink , and we had to use pen holders with replaceable nibs . The class even had a spare supply of nibs which we kept breaking often.

In class 9, we suddenly graduated to fountain pens. Suddenly, inkstained school blouses and rubbing ink fingers in the hair (remember that ?) , were a thing of the past.

Our school severely frowned upon ball point pens and these were confiscated with a lot of glee.

Went through college , all 4 years of it with the same Parker pen, which my mother gifted me after finishing my "matric" with good marks.

Its been so long ago (40 years) , that I don't really know how and when I slid into using ball points and stuff. My children are not even interested in fountain pens any more....

Lazyani said...

This time you have hit on a weak point of mine:). I remember that we were not allowed to use anything else but a fountain pen filled with black ink for our ICSE exams.

The forced discipline created a passion and i am a collector of exquisite fountain pens these days(of course,only the ones I can afford). I have Waterman, Parker,Sailor, Cross and Sheaffer pens in my collection. But my old Black and Gold Wing Sun still remains my favourite.

Aleta said...

I remember going from pencil to pen (though now I find myself craving the feel fo the pencil and ability to erase. Lol)

My favorite pen as a child was a wide pen, almost difficult to fit in my small hand, but I loved it, because you could click on the center and move it to a different color - red, blue, purple, green, black, yellow, orange ~ whatever color mood you were in ~ what fun!

Thank you for another trip down memory lane. When I first read your post, I thought, "Ahhh, I don't have a pen memory to share" and then that delightful colorful pen came to mind and made me smile!

sidhubaba said...

I had almost forgotten about this rite of passage. Ah, the magical day when the concept of ink and pen came into my life, gone were the innocent pencil days! My de-pen-dence ended on the day of my first board exam. The fountain pen betrayed me and I felt as Beowulf must have felt when Hrunting failed him (thanks to my father I had already read the story of Beowulf in Bengali). The board supplied scripts had roughish paper, and the fountain pen could not run smoothly. To this day I blame the poorer marks in that exam to the pen (not quite honestly as you must be thinking!). The very next day began my tryst with ball-points. Life has this way of teaching you the importance of things!

Sage said...

I must be odd as I still write long-hand in pencil when writing stories but do a more professional write up/finished article with a fountain pen. My main reason for doing so is that draft you can erase and change what you are doing but by the time that you have the finished article you have made all the changes you need (well that is the principle anyway).. I enjoy the satisfaction of using a fountain pen still.

Sucharita Sarkar said...


Thanks everybody for 'penning' down your memories.

Peter Rozovsky said...

My own school years were marked by a similar transition to cartridge pens. I remember making messes with the ink. I also recall that we were enjoined to use black or blue ink but that I, contrary by disposition, loved peacock green.

In recent years I have returned to the luxury of writing with a fountain pen, though, in the settled ways of adulthood, I now use blue or, more often, black ink. My long-ago teachers would no doubt be glad to know this.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

tina said...

to me, fountain pens have always evoked a sense of class: the polished metallic sheen of the nib and the pocket-clip; the delicacy involved with screwing and unscrewing the cap, as opposed to the hasty yanking required for the caps of ballpoint pens; the deep, almost meditative blackness of the ink that comes in tightly-sealed, important-looking little bottles; the textured plastic cushions with a special pen-shaped hollow in the middle that keep the pen in place when it is stowed away in its box of clear hard plastic. fountain pens are quite expensive in the philippines; a fountain pen clipped to the pocket of a well-pressed, long-sleeved shirt means an educated manager or executive who has taste, and a famous pen brand means money, lots of it.

i think the ceremony of switching to pens (ie, ballpoint pens) happens at grade 4, when most filipino children have reached 10 years of age. the teachers announce, in a somewhat formal manner, that everyone shall be required to use ink instead of pencil lead; the ceremony is lost on many children, who are already used to writing with ballpoints outside school. for kids like me who followed the rules to the letter, i took the whole idea of inscribing my thoughts and whatnot using an indelible medium with utter seriousness. a pen was a "grown-up" article, a sign that, at 10 years of age, i had overgrown the uncertain scrawls of childhood; i would be writing everything with a pen, like my teachers, my parents, my elder brothers, the students in the upper grades, and all other mature people. i never dreamed of writing with a fountain pen, though; i was always uncomfortable with the tendency of fountain pens to blot when one's hand is unsteady and hesitant, and still am. ^^