(Originally Written For & Published In Tamarind Rice)
From what I can remember of being 10 years old, and mind that my memory is elephantine, I particularly recall looking forward to Std V, term 3, with the same excitement most kids that age associated with getting free ice cream.
You see, the third term of fifth standard was when we could start using pens to write. Pens! Those magical instruments that glided on paper in a wondrous shade of blue, and not those shabby, eternally breaking sticks that we called pencils. In case it didn’t seem obvious already, when I was 10, pens were as alien to me as humans were to Martians. I had been given crayons and pencils of all shades growing up, and even the odd sketch pen, but it was during one of my many Treasure Hunter (an extraordinarily entertaining game for one which basically involves raiding your parents’ dresser drawers) games the previous year that I first truly discovered these magical things.
It was a very heavy ink pen, and I remember thinking how ugly it looked, but the moment I let the coppery-gold nib touch paper it became a thing of beauty, of perfection. I had never seen anything like it before! It didn’t break like my pencils, or become coarse. It was just continuously smooth. The pen wrote in the shade of midnight, a blue which made even my doodle look like carefully thought out art. I scrawled until all the ink in the pen had been transferred to my paper, my hands, my clothes and my face. I ended up getting a dressing down from my mother that day for colouring myself beyond recognition.
But it was worth it.
Discovering the pen that day had changed my life, and while I waited for term 3, I started smuggling all the pens in the household. The more I wrote with them, the more I fell in love with the instrument. I wrote quickest with the ball point pen, but the interrupted flow of ink was something that I found annoying. I really liked the lighter, more turquoise ink of the gel pen and adored the smooth white shell of the “Pilot” pens.
My absolute favourite though, remained the ink pen. The steel nib with the miniscule engravings, the little compartment for the ink, the heaviness of a newly filled pen, the odd leak which flowed on to your hands as you wrote – for me, the ink pen was an instrument of joy. My first ink pen for school had been a Camlin, a maroon pen with steel accents and a wide barrel. It was hideous, but in the most glorious way possible. Every day I’d come back home from school with blue fingers (and some times, a blue nose) and spots on my uniform, but despite the inconveniences it gave my mother I adored my maroon Camlin. It was the only pen I carried that year. Eventually, I ended up losing the pen and predictably, moved on to it’s gel ink cousins for the sake of convenience and a stain free uniform. I did occasionally buy ink pens, but they stayed in my bag as remembrances of my former obsession with them as opposed to a functional writing instrument.
I’ve always believed that writing with a new ink pen is much like making a new friend. There are some pens with which you form a connection instantly, those pens where you just know exactly what it takes to bring out its best side the moment you come in contact with them. Those pens will last to be your favourites, the ones that you conveniently ‘lose’ in the depths of your bag every time anyone asks to borrow it, the ones that you’ll take time to clean every weekend in hot water, and the ones that will write out your most important exams, and your greatest secrets. There are some other pens that will take a little longer for you to like. They misbehave most of the time but occasionally show a good side so that you don’t give up on them; they teach you patience. And finally, those ink pens which, no matter how much time you spend on them, will never yield to you and like difficult people, are best left alone.
The last time I had used an ink pen was roughly seven years ago. I had stopped using them because they were very difficult when you were writing harshly timed exams. I became fully dependent on the keyboard and stopped using pens altogether when I cleared my Chartered Accountancy exams a year ago. Yesterday, I found an old ink pen while cleaning out my drawers – it was one of those relatively fuss free ink pens that operated on cartridges, and this one’s particular cartridge had been half full. I couldn’t help but try writing with it again – Half hour later, I had a paper filled with illegible squiggles that once used to be my beautiful handwriting, odd splats of ink, blue fingers and a blue nose.
But it was worth it.