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Embracing the Ink Pen Again

Vidya Pinto ( is a Chennai-based writer and communications mentor.

A daughter rediscovers her love for ink pens as she honours her father’s memories and hopes for a plastic-free future.

When I was growing up, the top ink pen brand was “Hero.” The nib (thin and small) and the different mechanism for filling ink (by placing the nib inside an inkpot and pressing the refill tube) in those fountain pens used to make my jaw drop. But, I had to struggle with my eyedropper pen (in which the ink is filled in the barrel using an eyedropper) until my dad decided to buy me a Hero pen. I sat behind him on his cycle as he pedalled off to Chitra Agencies in Luz, in Chennai. Holding the Hero pen with its golden coloured cap, opening and closing my pencil box a hundred times that evening to see it, all these memories are still fresh in my mind. (It’s a different thing that the pen didn’t fetch me more marks or improve my handwriting.)

When I look back, the true “hero” was my dad. The memories of the trips to buy stationery with him are visually etched on my mind. He took me to both big and small shops, and sometimes even got me rare items. When mechanical pencils were the rage and everyone had a 0.5 mm easily breakable lead pencil, I got a 2 mm lead pencil from a tiny shop in Sivaswamy Salai in the Mylapore area during one of our trips. Swaminathan Stores and Stella Stationers were our other local hangouts. Every day there would be a new need to go stationery shopping. One day for a world map, another day for a protractor, another for chart paper, and so on.

My dad was also sort of a pen expert. Before the advent of the Hero pen, in the time of only the eyedropper fountain pens, my dad was my pen serviceman. He used to remove the nib, clean the pens, and fill fresh ink regularly. And, every time I dropped the pen and split its nib, he would have the nib replaced (repair and replace are old-world virtues). And, there were times when all was fine, but the pen would still not write. My dad used to take his “Topaz” blade and perform a clean incision with surgical precision on the partition at the nib point. This was to remove any blocks in the ink’s passage, he would say. I always found that my pen wrote better and thicker after the surgery.

Seventeen winters ago—when I lost him—I had no inkling that one day a pen would remind me of him. In my bid to reduce plastic usage, I had decided recently to switch to ink pens from the use-and-throw gel pens that I was using. I wanted an eyedropper pen, and not the ones with the one-time use plastic cartridges. Additionally, I wanted a pen with a thick nib that would look and feel like my 1 mm gel pen. The Pilots, Parkers, and Camlins out there were all fine-tipped and the maximum nib size was 0.6 mm. It was not good enough for me. I checked out online stores and hunted for it in most of the stationery shops in town, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. Some imported Korean pens were a little better, but had small-capacity refillable cartridges. Calligraphic stub nib pens all had plastic cartridges or were very expensive.

I had almost given up hope when I decided to go back again to Chitra Agencies in Luz. This time around, the owner was there and, during our conversation, he suggested, “Why don’t you try Taj Pens and get a custom-made 1 mm nib done.” I couldn’t believe that it had not struck me earlier. Taj Pens is a pen service shop in Luz and my dad had taken me there many times to change my pen nibs. I immediately went there and got 1 mm nibs made for four of my pens, and got an Oliver pen that had a transparent ink-level indicator (also with a custom-made 1 mm nib), all of which cost me ₹ 120.

My favourite gel pen is now history. You will not be able to make out the difference between a 1 mm gel pen and my adorable new ink pens.

Appa, in your fond memory, with a deep concern for a plastic-free future for your grandkids and a penchant for pens, I have embraced fountain pens again.


Updated On : 22nd Feb, 2019


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