All dressed but nowhere to go: that's the situaton I find myself in very often these days, especially since I bought the laptop over a year ago. A fairly decent collection of fountain pens, a few bottles of ink (black, blue, blue-black and green) and several handful of ink cartridges (Reynolds, Cross and Waterman). But nothing to write.
The nature of my job in Chennai gives me ample time, unlike my Delhi days when you had to rush out to the spot, rush back to office and type out your story, and then rush out again. Even since I came here five and half years ago, till I acquired the laptop, I used to handwrite every story before typing it out in the office. The handwriting would be careful in the beginning, with the opening paras being written and rewritten several times. The style would have to match the ideas: that's when the alcohol was yet to have its effect. With the first kick of the booze, the thought process would get uninhibited and I would start taking liberties with the style: the handwriting would not matter much. After the third drink, the style or the handwriting would not matter at all -- only ideas. They kept coming, I kept jotting. The next morning, I would rewrite most of the stuff while typing on the computer and turn out a rather decent story. No longer. Today I go more by the appearance of a sentence on the screen.
Pablo Neruda once said that writing needs to be done with minimum tools at your disposal. Just a pen and a piece of paper would do. One cannot agree more. When all you have is a pen and a piece of paper, your mind works the most. When you type on, say, Microsoft Word, distractions are plenty -- from the spellchecker to the word counter. You get so caught in technology that you forget to push your mind hard. A stray thought, which could have been immensely useful, risks being blocked like a pop-up just because you are so focussed on the screen.
Back to pens. Fountains pen have always fascinated me. Nothing like the ink flowing smoothly through a thick nib. As a child I mainly used a pen called Usha. It had a transparent body, which kept showing you how much ink is left. It cost, if I remember correctly, Rs 2 or Rs 3. Occasionally, I would be treated to a Camlin, or the Chinese-made Hero. I wrote my class 12 exams with a fountain pen whose brand I can't even recall: it was local-made and must have cost not more than Rs 10 at the time.
By then Reynolds had come, and so did pens with jotter refills. I don't remember when exactly and why I switched loyalties, but for a long period starting from college I used ball pens. Maybe at that point other things mattered more than pens. Then, in 1991, we went to attend my uncle's wedding in Bengal. I carried a camera and took pictures. And elderly relative, who we had never met before, wanted some of the pictures to be sent to him. To write down his address, he took out a fountain pen: a cheap one, but well taken care of. The way the ink flowed made me salivate -- yes, salivate. I returned to my first love.
There are two things I don't like about ball pens. One, the ink-flow becomes uneven after a point. Two, it leaves an obnoxious impression on the back of the page. Roller-balls are fine, but then, you can't beat the bottled ink.
While working in Delhi, the first expensive fountain pen I bought was a Flair President. It had cost me Rs 450 in 1995 (Parker hadn't come yet). That was the best pen I ever possessed: I wrote countless letters and articles with that. (It is still lying somewhere in my cupboard, broken). Then I started buying Parkers. By now I realised that I was not the only one with a passion for fountain pens, and that a good fountain pen was also a statement of style. M.J. Akbar, one of my editors in Delhi, always carried a Mont Blanc in his pocket -- the white star on the cap signifying the superior status of the owner. Whenever he was travelling, he would write out his column, Byline, in longhand and fax it to the office: flawless pieces with no words or sentences struck out.
Mont Blanc, at that point, was out of reach for me: Rs 10,000 in 1996 or 1997. But I kept buying other stuff. I got pens as gifts too, from the dearest ones. Today, my collection is fairly decent: several Parkers, two Hertig, one Lamy, one Cross, two Waterman, one Camlin (for Rs 50, bought in Trivandrum), one Pierre Cardin, and now, one Mont Blanc (a wedding gift by my wife). Another Mont Blanc is on the way, thanks to a very special friend. Isn't life wonderful?
All I need to do now is justify the possession of so many pens by switching off the computer and grabbing a piece of paper. Neruda was right, after all.