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An ode to the fountain pen

Find a fountain pen and a quirky ecosystem of collectors will find you soon enough, says Rahul Jain

Rahul Jain | Published 18.10.21, 02:06 PM

By the time this monologue is printed, my Arial font would have been converted into either a Times new roman or a sans serif font like Helvetica or the likes (the irony of ‘typing’ out an article on inks and fountain pens is not lost on me).

Any printed medium is in essence, therefore, making ‘deep fake’ copies of peoples’ writings and their words, converting them into a dull and drab homogenised font that essentially strips off the layers of character that a person's handwriting reflects.

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But, today I will abandon my grouses against the typed word and focus on the larger good and the (un)real world of pens and inks and papers. There are only a few things in this world that can match the tactile feel of a really ‘wet’ fountain pen nib scratch that negotiates and carves and tunnels a meandering path on a sheet of thirsty off-white or ivory vellum paper.

Few things can match the tactile feel of a really ‘wet’ fountain pen nib scratch that tunnels a meandering path on a sheet of thirsty off-white or ivory vellum paper.

Few things can match the tactile feel of a really ‘wet’ fountain pen nib scratch that tunnels a meandering path on a sheet of thirsty off-white or ivory vellum paper.

As you watch the small rivulets of sheening ink dry on the virgin flat surface of part-cellulose and part-lignin paper, putting your thoughts on paper feels really effortless.

Fountain pens are higher-dimensional than the standard ballpoint, rollerball or gel pens. They convey more substance and individuality to the written word than any factory-made 0.5 mm ballpoint nib ever can. I love using stub nibs and medium nibs that can add panache to your writing, which can otherwise be a drab exercise. A warning for the uninitiated — the experience can get quite addictive — be it fine, medium, broad nibs, stub nibs or anything in between. 

Using a fountain pen to fill the pages of a leather-bound journal after a hectic day at work is like chancing upon an oasis in the desert.

Your inks take you on a journey in which there are no reservations, no itineraries and no fixed travel plans, so you can forge your own path. Pick a fountain pen today, whether a Lamy, Twisbee or a Mont Blanc, pair it with a Sulekha royal blue or sepia and gold Caroube de Chypre or a Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo.

Fountain pens can be demanding and inconsistent like an icy Persian cat; they have little regard for their owners, they can leak ink on your new tattersall checked shirt or your expensive houndstooth tweed jacket. Like formula-fed little babies they often ‘burp’ while writing which can mess up official documents and cheque books. They can smudge and can leave little puddles of ink pooled at any random part of a sentence. They often leave a ghosting effect at the back of the paper rather like a leaky baby diaper!

They are high maintenance, need to be fed ink regularly, need to be washed and cleaned and handled with care. And on good days, they will love you back like a happy, tail-wagging beagle. 

Men being men are always game for a little temptation, but there will always be the more practical among us who will prefer predictable picks that are less challenging. Our world offers many standardised options for the cautious and the discerning. Some good examples are A4 paper, USB and USB type C connectors, Swiss chronographs, powder masalas which are more accurate, predictable and precise.

For the adventurers and novelty seekers, there is always the fountain pen. A humble and lowly roadside dhaba makes delicious food largely because they rely on khara masalas or whole spices. Mortar and pestle are used to crush the cloves of garlic, tear the fibres of cilantro and smash the smithereens out of the turmeric rhizomes into a heady paste. Who can forget the aromatic layers of a sizzling dal tadka from one of these roadside vendors? 

A pre-packaged spice mix can’t be expected to fetch those spicy whiffs. The question is what do you prefer in life? It comes down to your philosophy.

Your inks take you on a journey in which there are no reservations, no itineraries and no fixed travel plans, so you can forge your own path. Pick a fountain pen today, whether a Lamy, Twisbee or a Mont Blanc, pair it with a Sulekha royal blue or sepia and gold Caroube de Chypre or a Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo. You will discover that there exist many quirky and maverick fountain pen lovers like you; a quirky, nondescript society of fountain pen loyalists will find you soon enough. 

Going down the rabbit hole, you will find many characters along the way. Nib meisters who grind pens into left-footed obliques or any other custom grind like architects nibs, stationery ‘peddlers’ who keep supplying you with pen or paper or ink. Then there are the calligraphy enthusiasts who keep finding new ways to write a simple alphabet. Businessmen, media professionals, chartered accountants, lawyers, doctors, engineers united by a common denominator - the love for fountain pens.

In 2021, things have naturally moved on to WhatsApp and Telegram. Before long you will find words like railroading, drying time and grams per square metre in your vocabulary. Some inks can be purchased through Amazon, eBay or the local pen shops in the many non-descript lanes in north Calcutta. There are entire websites dedicated to supplying stationery items such as gouletpen.com

A Conklin fountain pen from www.gouletpen.com. 

A Conklin fountain pen from www.gouletpen.com. 

There is a whole ecosystem of quality papers available out there like Clairefontaine, Rhodia or Japanese fine papers. Some inks are so luscious and sinful that they deserve their own Instagram pages. Take for example the Emerald of Chivor which has an iridescent palette of teal, gold, orange and red. Some inks are muted and sober while others are exuberant, ostentatious and flamboyant. Rushdie, Marquez and Murakami are widely considered the masters of Magical Realism. Take a leaf out of their book, make your ordinary writing tasks a little magical. Start with writing your grocery lists or to-do lists with a fountain pen today, chances are you will not regret it! 

Happy writing.

 

Rahul Jain is a physician with varied interests. A diehard hobbyist and collector, he has a keen eye for things like antique furniture, vintage cufflinks, Indian heritage, quirky collectibles and fountain pens.

Last updated on 18.10.21, 02:11 PM
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