OF INKS, PENS AND THE LIKE..
(And I haven’t even mentioned blotting papers, yet!)
IN THE BEGINNING, during my grandfather’s time when I was just learning to write with pencils, my elders used ink tablets that had to be dissolved in an inkpot.
These were used mostly by dip-dip wooden pens that were sold even in grocery stores in our childhood. .
Then came the fountain pen era – and Sulekha came along with it ( – in variations like Royal Blue, Blue Black, Black, Green and Red )
There also were Parker, Chelpark and Quink. There was another one – probably Pilot (that came in a unique plastic encased container and the color of ink was violet only )
Later on in the North East during my college days I found an extremely popular fake known to the world as Surekha. In packaging it was a carbon copy of the famous Sulekha and it sold all over Assam and Meghalaya side by side with other fakes like Light Boy soap, Bala shoes, Jip torch, Britamica biscuits etc..
One thing didn’t change though. The consumption of the blue coloured ink erasers continued as long as we remained students.. 😊
Then arrived the dot pens, now renamed ball points, and gradually they started being officially allowed in schools, colleges and in the universities, and later also for writing of exams .
That was the first death knell for the fountain pens and their many hued inks…
The most common fountain pens those days were the two or three varieties of the mass produced Writers, of which the fat nearly completely cylindrical shaped orange pens with black ringed tops and bottoms was the most expensive.
The common Writers pens came in all possible kinds of colours and they used to leak like mad, frequently ruining the white shirt fronts of our school uniforms.
( Under compulsion I learned the various methods of stopping the pens from leaking. And when I reached class 9, I was taught by the Chemistry teacher how to remove these ink stains with white Oxalic acid crystals available at the lab) .
Then followed the India made Pilot pen and a few of the others whose names I can’t readily recall. But Writers continued to be the most popular pen till the end.
After all pens became standardised, the smart and mostly foreign manufacturers started adding differentiators, generally around the most vulnerable and sensitive issue of the ink filling system.
Moving away from the ultra fragile and messy droppers made of cheap glass and cheaper plastic, they started making in built filling systems. Some were made exactly like built in injection syringes, some had cheap metal guards around the filling rubber tube inside, and some companies made opening up of the pen redundant by adding a small external lever that operated the internal rubber filling tube from outside.
But the real breakthrough came with the invention of pre filled cartridges..
The fortunate few or the better off people used the smuggled WingSung, Japanese Pilot, Sheaffer, imported Parker, Waterman and the like, usually purchased from one of the many holes-in-the-wall smugglers’ shops that lined up the whole of Metro Gully in Kolkata, right up to Shaws Bar and up to the crossing of Dharmatala Street .
Alternatively, these smuggled pens were also sold by shady looking characters that sidled up to you without warning in the crowded streets around Esplanade, Metro Cinema, Dalhousie, New Market, Park Street etc areas.
I cannot totally describe these transactions due to my limited vocabulary, but generally speaking, they involved the shoddily dressed man partially opening his fist to give you just a glimpse of a glint of the gold cap of an expensive imported pen. Out of sheer curiosity you would ask for the price of the gem and you would be quoted
outrageous asking prices in the opening gambits. And after longish negotiations during which you kept on walking kind of faster and faster towards your destination hoping to somehow lose or shake off the guy with your pace, a bit of very difficult task in those thickly crowded areas, you finally fell to his charms and parted with whatever money you could pretend that you could afford.
As far as I can remember a deal could usually be struck at a little less than one third of the original asking price, depending on your patience, cunning and deadpan expression indicating a total disinterest in the pen being offered for sale.
(This experience would then go on to form a major anecdote in your repertoire for the days, months and years to come, along with such other stories as your experiences of buying a pair of leather soled shoes from one the Chinese shops with weird names like “At Hat” ,“Sen Fo” , “An An” or “John Hing”…at Bentink Street ..)
The ownership of imported pens also denoted exalted social status till the seventies and the eighties, just the way Mercedes /BMW etc cars and iPhones do now a days…
PS. Many friends have written to me by way of comments herein below or in my Facebook page with many more tiny details and anecdotes concerning , or connected with, pens and inks that I had omitted to mention in the first edition ( !!) due to inadvertence or even otherwise. I have no intention to take credit for these inputs and thus have refrained from including them in subsequent editions of this piece. Curious readers will please have to take the trouble of scrolling down the comments below and/or also look into my Facebook page. Thank you.