Monday, May 30, 2011

The Broken Nib

The Broken Nib

The ink-pens which were once considered to be mightier than the swords are not mightier anymore! Animated able alternative competitors have appeared and have taken positions. The contest for innovation has robbed the established glory of many.

Like any equipment which is in continuous functioning, the ink-pens that are put to constant use suffer from wear and tear. Once a nib is broken, the user can move from place to place for its replacement. The user is no luckier these days to find a shop that would be ready to provide a replacement! Let me narrate my own experience:

I have been a staunch user of ink-pens for decades. Somehow, the old instruments that I possess have impressed me so much that I love to look at the spread of the ink as I write something on a piece of writing paper to express or to respond to expressions of routine. I keep watching with delight the inking process on the writing materials as I progress in my thoughts and keep expressing those.

As is anticipated and is quite usual, very recently one day one of my possessions got its nib damaged beyond repair. Therefore, I had to replace it with a new one. I went to pen shops in my locality in Delhi where presently besides good ball pens some ink-pens of different manufacturers are also sold. The Parker brand is in wide use. But the shopkeepers were unable to assist me for the nib replacement. They argued candidly why I should not look for this spare part anymore and why I should buy a brand new one, which shall not only be of better glitter but which would also be of better utility. I could not be convinced. Therefore, when I insisted on whether they knew someone who might be doing such jobs of nib replacement, one of them who knew me well gave a dead blow answer! He responded softly in a low voice by saying, “Sir, who would be engaged in such jobs anymore when a minimum earning is not assured from such skills and labor?” In Delhi, everything is money!

I thought this metropolitan city was not the right place for the ink-pen lovers. The branded ink-pens that were presently sold in Delhi were usually used to gift someone young or scholarly after the results of annual examination were declared. These were also gifted on occasions of birthday or any special-day celebrations. I made such judgment on the basis of my general observations that young or elderly people in offices or in banks, where I find the use of writing instruments most profoundly, they make use of different kinds of dot pens or ball pens; I think, I have not seen even one possessor of an ink-pen during the last couple of years in those places, where I often make a visit for obvious reasons and purposes.

It occurred to me that I should try the city of Kolkata, where like me there could be old people who would still be cherishing writing with ink-pens. These senior citizens would be generating some demand and therefore, some skillful pen shops would still be in existence.

A couple of months were spent for an occasion to arise to enable me to travel to Kolkata. When an event drove me to the City of Joy, I took along with my many belongings the damaged ink-pen that I like very much. It was a simple fountain pen. But its nib would enable writing very smoothly. While using this pen I felt that the instrument ran faster than my expressions!

The nib of my fountain pen got permanently damaged when once it fell from a height vertically down and hit on the concrete floor. We do not have the floors carpeted everywhere in our houses.

In Kolkata, I was very glad to move as I knew most of the pen shops around my locality. But when one day I went out at about 11’o clock in the morning, being the right time for beginning transactions in the city, I found several new shops of pen that had come up. This delighted me as the probability of solving my problem increased for sure.

But when I went to one shopkeeper, he said that nibs were not sold now-a-days anymore! When I went to a second one with some depression in my mind , he got a bit annoyed and made in an impolite but not-quite-audible-voice that I came in the morning hours with a problem that was useless to him and to everyone of his trade. His annoyance, he murmured was for the reason that he had not yet made any sale and he came across a customer like me. A third one, a middle aged shopkeeper looked at my pen and remarked that this possession was a very old one. He could not assist to repair the nib, but stated that I could buy a new Parker pen costing about Rs. 250 and the new pen would perform extremely well. As I was adamant to make the repair, the shopkeeper directed me to another shop, which was long known as the “Pen Shop” in the locality. I suddenly remembered that I also knew the shop at one time.

I rushed to the “Pen Shop” and found the expansion of the establishment. This delighted me from the core. As I alighted before the entrance, I was welcomed by a middle-aged shopkeeper who at once enquired in a sweet tone about what kind of writing goods I was looking for. I took out my ink-pen and asked for a repair of the broke nib. He looked at me and after a full breath mentioned that those pens were in use some 30 years back; presently none use them anymore. Much better performing writing instruments, according to him had come up thereafter and very good ball pens had replaced all those old timers with performance, ease and prices. On my request once again to get the replacement of the broken nib of my pen, the person tried to remember something and raised his face towards the sky with closed eyes. He then lowered his neck to normalize his posture and opened his eyelids. He seemed to me to be like a skilled fish-catcher in shallow waters. His new appearance made me to believe that got something that he wished to share with me as does the fish-catchers when a scale-less fish gets caught within the palm of the catcher beneath the mud in shallow waters and the catcher smiles with pride to show his catch! The shopkeeper said that some 8-10 years ago when there was occasional enquiry for a problem like the one that I brought before him, he used to visit the footpath close to the Dalhousie Square on the right side of the Writer’s Building; the directions were for an onlooker of the Writer’s Building from the Dalhousie Square. He further stated that I should look for the road that cracks and houses in its middle an ancient Church. I remembered that there was a Church on a road that he mentioned and indeed the Church was standing as a divider of the stated road. He assertively stated that many footpath vendors existed at that time with all kinds of nibs and spare parts of fountain pen. If some of them existed at the present time also, then that was the place where I could go to make an attempt to solve my problem. I got at last some light at the end of my dark long tunnel!

When I mentioned to some passers-by about my intention to visit my new destination, many would not even entertain. But one old man I met listened to me for a minute and directed me to take a bus for Dalhousie Square and to further enquire. I had that knowledge even without enquiring. So I insisted, if I could take the Metro for convenience, to which he said that I could do so as well. But he advised that from the spot where I was, I had to travel first to Rashbihari Avenue and then catch the Metro that moved towards Dumdum, alight at the “Central Station”, walk up to the Tea-Board office by taking the left footpath and then turn to the left after crossing the Tea-Board office to reach a main street. If I walked for about 100-200 meters on the footpath of that main street towards the Dalhousie Square, I would find my destination. I thanked the fellow passer-by for his patience while praising for his precise knowledge about the streets of Kolkata.

It did not take me much time to reach the destination. I walked forward all along on the left footpath after alighting from the Metro at the Central Station. Once I crossed the Tea-Board office on my right, I soon arrived at the T-junction of a busy street! I understood for sure that I was at the right destination.

I started walking on the footpath which was to my left. After about a while, I started discovering different kinds of Hawker’s shops almost all of which were of the dismantling types. All these could be erected within a couple of minutes once appliances were unloaded either from a cycle or from a petrol-driven two-wheeler or at best from an old three-wheeler run by petrol with low efficiency. Most of these shops were erected anew almost daily habitually on the edges of the main road, covering considerable portions of the walk-ways. The influential ones among these were under the shades of the planted trees that were standing on the footpath for ages to provide shade to the users of the walk-ways.

I had not discovered any pen shop yet; closest to the skills, I found some shops selling wrist watches, small locks, kinds of mobile phone holders and the like. I gathered courage and asked one such shop owner where could I find the pen shop? Prompt came the response. I was asked to walk forward with assurance that those were further down the direction I was already moving in.

Soon I found the first one on the main street with his shop displayed on two wooden boxes where on a plastic stool he sat and held another empty for his prospective customers. As I enquired about my fountain pen, he first asked me to take a seat on the empty stool and then requested me to show him the pen. I thought I had got the right man at one chance. I took out the ink pen from my office bag, which I was carrying. The shop-keeper in his early 50s seemed to me to be an upcountry Indian, who was making a living in the large city of Kolkata by selling and servicing writing appliances. To me he did not seem to be adequately educated. His Bengali pronunciation had those clinks of Bihar and UP although he spoke at a stretch with me without having to wait to search for the right Bengali words.

After watching my fountain pen he said, “Sir, you have been using this pen for 20-30 years I suppose.” When I answered in the affirmative, he said with regret that I would not find a replacement of the nib as those materials were not available anymore. Moreover, such customers like me visited his shop may be once in a year. The services were no more paying for a living. He showed some ink pens too that were being used some 50-70 years ago. He sold them to the antique collectors and thought that those were not used by any regular users these days. He felt that there was no regular customer anymore for such nibs and holders and the glass inkpots except some customers who cherished in antiques. I was not quite interested in his antiques. Therefore, I reminded him that I was looking for the replacement of my broken nib in my fountain pen and not in the antiques. I also said that I was not an antique pen collector. I would actually use my pen if the nib was repaired. I would pay more than the reasonable price for the new nib. I wished to bring the discussion back on the track. I wanted to bring home the point that I had yet profound love for the ink pens. I had no regrets that the refilling operations were laborious. I was aware that often these operations could even stain the hands and the fingers and sometimes even the clothes if I was not so cautious during the filling operations. Yet I liked using the ink-pens.

The shopkeeper was impressed with my “a bit lengthy” explanation. He watched my passion for an ink pen and particularly for my concern for bringing back the glory of my fountain pen that had its nib damaged beyond repair. We became intimated at more-than-the-normal speed of spread of closeness among people of our age and culture.

The shopkeeper said that he was Abdul Rashid. He came to Kolkata some thirty years back in search of a living. Although he did not have much formal education, he could read and write in Hindi. He had a desire to be educated. His dreams could not materialize however. He picked up the profession of dealing with pens of different kinds as his job gave him satisfaction mostly because according to him, he met people who were educated. He liked his clients. Abdul had seen much of the changes in this industry through the passage of time. He lamented that people were no more using ink-pens. According to him, even though alternative technologies were in place yet he liked to repair old ink- pens and in the process he met many elderly people earlier who visited him as I did today. He said with tenderness that such customers did not come to him anymore. He had therefore changed his skills from dealing with fountain pen repairs alone to the sell of full complete fountain pens along with all kinds of dot pens and ball pens with refills. According to him, the new technology of ball pens provided much better earning for him than the sale of complete fountain pens although he was aware that the ball pen technology, according to him was not as reliable or of as good a grade as that of a fountain pen. I became curious and asked why he thought that the ball pen technology was not better in every respect to the fountain pen technology. He made a straight answer saying that for the price he charged he could not guarantee when the refill of the ball pens would stop functioning. He took no responsibility to any refill material sold by him except their performance on the counter just when this was being sold or shown to the customers to perform. He elaborated that if durable refilling materials were to be used then those would cost not less than Rs. 150 per piece and could cost even more if they were to perform excellently well for a long time. I was quite happy from his admissions as I was also of the same impression. Mine was based on actual user experience. Nevertheless, after searching his commercial bag in vain, Abdul started looking at my pen again. He opened the nib from a place, raised it above his eyes and carefully watched it for a while. He then asked his neighboring shopkeeper who was also dealing with different kinds of writing instruments. After consultation, Abdul said that the nib could not be replaced by anymore from that street. He returned the fountain pen after fixing the broken nib at its original place.

Thereafter, watching my helpless facial appearance, he picked up his commercial bag once again and from its bottom he took out a brand new fountain pen and presented it to me saying that this was a small gift from his side to me. When I asked for its price, he humbly said “Sir, I am very pleased to find your attachment to ink pens. I am therefore presenting you with this small gift for which you need not have to pay”. He smiled and added, “I shall be glad if you would write using this ink pen”. I was very much astonished but impressed too. I took a look of the pen which he gifted and kept it in my possession. But I could not end my transaction there. I asked Abdul to show me some of his complete ink pens that he would like to sell. He showed me his stocks of the entire range. I choose one from them in gratitude although I had no intention to buy. It was a Chinese ink pen not very expensive but it had an impressive antique touch which I liked. I purchased that and returned home partly satisfied that I had met a man who was different. I was impressed by the emotions shown by Abdul, a footpath seller, on the point that even though he had limited income yet he nurtured the noble feelings of gifting for a cause.

Good thoughts and noble qualities are conceived and nurtured as fertile eggs in the wombs of all human minds for years. In the small time of the twinkling of eyelids of a couple of times, the feelings sometimes mature to burst into chicks that were waiting for long to find an environment to hatch. The hatched chicks come out into the world with their qualities that we adore. They do not get lost but get into dormancy again in another mind that is exposed to their greatness. They are indeed infectious. The process continues. Whenever we come across those rare moments, we wonder with joy the greatness of the Creator who cogently nourishes such good seeds in the hearts of all people without resorting to caste, creed, education or social background. Greatness prevails everywhere. It can sprout from any heart given the conditions and the environment that it requires.


  1. very lucid description of thoughts in story format which has very humane content and message.In a world of fast developing technology - faster than the thoughts or the smoothest ink pen, the glory and fascination of old remains. Much more for those who take it as passion and can go across length and breadth of time, place and streets to search for it and savor it.

  2. Sir I am very impressed to read this articles.
    Please write more for our entertainment.

  3. Sir you are a real telepathic person, Charismatic and articulate....reading such real short stories makes me wonder of your ability to express your feelings in beautiful words ...while i was reading this short story i felt as if i was with you walking along to repair your golden pen...i was carried away...

  4. The Great Secret of Life is the law of attraction that says like attracts like, so when you think a thought, you are also attracting like thoughts to you.

  5. Dear Dr. Ghosh,
    This was an incredible read! Thanks for writing about something which I think we all miss a lot! I came to know about your blog from your linkedin profile.
    This was really great!
    Thanks and Regards