Penning a two page letter to a dear friend explaining how I went from being a lover of American football to virtually completely avoiding it. How the statistics on violent injuries and how it has affected players’ lives after they are done playing is too mind numbing for me. This is while Super Bowl is going on right now…
Used a new pen that I got a couple of months back from China.
Sat down to write a letter to an old teacher of mine who helped me with Bengali in 1984 (I was not good at it). Made a valiant attempt to write the whole letter in Bengali. Landed up using a couple of English words…But writing with a fountain pen to a Bengali teacher in Bengali – that is as 1984 as it gets for me!!
This pen has a long history with my mom. It was the source of the fountain of all my fascination towards fountain pens. Way back when, mom had taken up a job as a teacher to supplement our family income. Back then, when you joined as a teacher, you went thru something akin to a probationary period – you were called a “casual” teacher. After that you became a “permanent” teacher.
It was 1972. I was six years old. One fine day, I came back from my kinder garten school (Carmel Convent School – which was a girls’ school but that is a story for another day) and noticed some general elevation of mood in the house. Dad and mom were extra happy and mom was cooking special food in the oven. (When I say oven, I mean an old style, coal burning, mobile oven).
I did not know what “casual” or “permanent” meant. But I was plenty happy with the special fritters being made at home. Perhaps wondering when would mom become “permanent” again!
But the crowning glory was the next day. It was a Saturday. I remember because I did not have school but mom did. (She had half day school on Saturdays). She used to carry a small black handbag with her. Not sure why we called it “vanity bag” then.
In any case, she came back home and showed dad something from her “vanity” bag. It was a shining pen. Jet black lacquer body with golden cap. (I was silly enough to jump to the conclusion that it was made of gold). Apparently, mom’s colleagues had gifted her with that pen upon becoming “permanent” to welcome her to their fold.
That was a very special pen for her. She used to guard it like a hawk. Initially, she even kept it in the locker of our almirah (safe). Much later in life, I had seen her bring it out for regular day to day use.
In any case, what fascinated me about that pen was the nib. It is called a hooded nib. Of course, I did not know all of this at that time – but this is something Parker had come up with to slow down the evaporation thru the breathing hole and the slit of the nib. To me, at that time, it looked like no other fountain pen nib I had seen and I was completely taken in by that.
Dad declared that it was a Pilot pen and very expensive. (I suspect that is why it sat in the locker for so long). I am not entirely sure why this pen was called a Pilot pen those days in India. If you are familiar with fountain pens, you will recognize it as a Parker 51.
Much later in life, I had tried to get a pen like mom had. Three years back (three years and one week today), I had found myself in a small fountain pen shop in Kolkata (near Maidan Metro) station and managed to get myself one. It had a classic 1946 nib!!
After my mom’s death, I amped up the search for a pen just like hers. (the one from Kolkata was of different color). After some extensive search up and down the world, located a guy in China who had some vintage Parker pens. A few weeks of patient wait later, it is here!!! Identical copy of what my mom had!!!
My mom’s favorite ink color was blue (she used Sulekha brand). I think I will stick to that color for this pen.
Ah! Those indelible marks moms leave upon you!!! You might even call them “permanent” !!!
Sometimes it is sitting down to write a letter with a fountain pen!! There is something about the way a fountain pen’s nib glides over paper that just cannot be replicated by a ballpoint pen or a pencil. There is enough friction to slow you down but not too much to make it jerky irritating. Sometimes though, the flow of ink can be a problem. This is mainly due to the paper quality (and sometimes the brand of ink). There are very few brands of paper I have found in the US that have the right texture to neither bleed nor blot. If you know of any that you have been happy with, do let me know.
Meanwhile, if you are stuck at home with Covid, have you thought of giving going retro a shot? Like paper, pen and ink writing. The good old way? No auto-correct though. You have to scratch it over!!
This started in 1983. August of 1983 to be precise. My first letter that I wrote to my best friend – Avijit Bose. I had moved to a residential school for my last two years of High School and he had stayed back in our home town of Durgapur.
Now we are a bit further apart. He is in the Southern Hemisphere, I am in the Northern. He is in the Eastern Hemisphere, I am in the Western. He is in Perth, Australia. I am in Atlanta, USA.
If you notice the picture very carefully and zoom in, you will notice that both of us are writing with fountain pens. In fact, that is how the whole thing got a restart. Early July, Avijit had posted in Facebook about the three new fountain pens he had bought. I had suggested that it might be a good reason to get back to our practice from thirty seven years back.
So, towards the end of July, I wrote a hand written letter (you see the picture) to Avijit. Admittedly, thirty seven years back, I did not have a glass of martini next to me. That letter took three weeks to reach him in Australia. Fortunately, his response took only two weeks to reach me. Those days, he did not have an iPhone to take a selfie that would make him look like a southpaw either 🙂
So, why this rigmarole of communicating in a way that takes multiple weeks to reach (and daily checking on Whatsapp if it has reached 🙂 )?
Because tradition is not the worship of ashes… it is the preservation of fire!