A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands

Chawm Ganguly

Fountain Pen lovers of the world unite …  

Okay. So, I vented my heart out. Pointed at all those things that I felt were wrong with the Indian Fountain Pen Industry. And, the responses that I got was overwhelming – though understandably, many did not wish to be named as they were sceptical about voicing their dissatisfaction openly.

The one response that had me really thinking was from a fountain pen collector who is highly regarded in the “write” circles and is known for his fierce apathy for the limelight. He, while acknowledging my concerns, suggested that I also write about the possible ways out of the “quagmire”, to show the light at the end of the tunnel.

Your wish is my command, Sir, and here is my charter of demands (sic) to the industry. The Ten Commandments they certainly are not – neither is this the Mount of Sinai, nor is the device you are reading this, a clay tablet:

Give us an “genuine” all-Indian Fountain Pen:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall make the perfect pen

Make a decent pen. One that writes, does not leak or burp and is attractive to look at. We don’t give a damn as to whether you buy the turning kit or whether you turn it in your friend’s garage, or even why pens from all you guys have the same clips for that matter. Just make sure its quality is impeccable. As in, one we can ink and write. And call it our daily use pen.

A Fountain Pen that all can buy and use:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall make the pen affordable

Make the pen affordable. Don’t restrict yourself to turning garish and unnaturally expensive pens for a few “collectors” who will post the pictures in the social media and carry them in wrap-around cases to pen meets. Cater to them by all means but understand that these collectors are literally just a handful who will soon be tired of your monotonous outpouring and move on. So please, also make pens that everyone can use – pens that are priced aggressively enough to be affordable, to students and daily users. “Actual users” as opposed to idle “accessory hobbyists”.

Besides, (I know this one is debatable, still) – sooner than later, most collectors realise that their collections, however rare and priceless they may be to themselves, have very little resale value. Few have heirs who share the passion which forces “rethinks” especially when they come in terms with the dynamics of a “seller’s” market. Spare them the ordeal, shall we?   

(Yes, we also want a quality, mid-tier pen. But I guess that will be another story. As for the top-notch pens that cost a fortune, ask yourself, what will induce one to spend serious money to buy a virtually unknown and untested product in a segment dominated by the European, American and Japanese cult pen manufacturers, that too with proven track records? If you still want to do it, are you ready to put the money where your sac is and invest in building a brand?)

A Fountain pen from an entity where Customer Service is a delight:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall treat the customer as the king

Learn to live by the basic dictum the “Customer is the king”. Address complaints. Resolve them. Not taking calls from irate customers, however small, is not the answer. Be prepared to replace or refund in case of complaints – even secure in the knowledge that some customers will use your goodness to get old and used products exchanged for free. Remember, it takes all kinds to make the world. Because, old habits, you know, die hard.

A Fountain Pen that is backed by strong R&D:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s …. designs!

Keep a certain sum aside – from every pen you sell – for R&D. Experiment, with designs, with materials, nibs and feeds, with embellishments. Build experimentation into your production process as opposed to paying only lip service to it, or even to take refuge in it as an afterthought. What your grandfather learnt as a lad five decades ago has brought you here – pay reverence to the legacy, his legacy, by creating something equally good for your grandchildren. And yes, that can certainly be a long forgotten Indian design that you help revive? Just abhor rusting in your laurels, keep moving. Remember, stagnant inks, even in sealed bottles, are soon evaporated.

A Fountain pen that values the Customer’s time:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall value the customer’s business

Don’t take orders that you cannot meet within a foreseeable future. Some manufacturers are notorious about taking orders (and payments upfront) that they just don’t have the logistics to fill within reasonable time. Repeated enquiries are replied with silence, if not with downright ludicrous excuses. Be a sport, don’t be greedy, accept only what you can honour.

The other extreme, where some seek to create an artificial scarcity to jack up demand is also there, but that is less prevalent. Either way, like they say, turn your barrel according to your blank.     

A Fountain Pen that represents Indian family values:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall collaborate

Collaborate with other Indian manufacturers. Join hands. Use our homegrown nibs (and yes, you do know how good they are). Work on each other’s strengths. Even a second-grade, all-Indian pen is more patriotic than one with a Chinese made copy with a German name as its nib and converter. And yes, have the guts to refute me in public if you think what I am saying is bunkum. But please don’t talk Nationalism with your forked tongue (flex nib?) while you cut corners with fake imports.

A Fountain Pen that co-opts the hobbyists:

Invite hobby turners to your facility twice a year for a day each, to teach them your tricks of trade. More competition, if you can call them that, will only expand the market and not eat into yours. Besides, they are the ones who will ensure that your name live on forever once “you” are discontinued.

A Fountain Pen that induces Children to write better:

A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall make the children happy

Encourage children to pursue good handwriting. Encourage people to take up calligraphy as an art form, as a hobby. Encourage people to write with fountain pens. Go to one school once every year and hold a workshop about the advantages of a fountain pen, about their sustainability. Isn’t a class with a hundred students, also a new market with a hundred potential customers?

  • A Fountain Pen that has a strong web presence:
A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands to the Industry
Thou shall straddle the net

Maintain a working website. One with actual pictures, product details and specifications. Your village is no longer your only market – the world is, and the website is your visiting card in the world wide web. Keep the website updated, get a professional to make it (the right, quality content in words and pictures separates the men from the boys and your phone, however expensive, cannot match professionally snapped pictures. Nor can you write SE Optimised content. Trust me you can Perish the thought). Get dedicated guys to maintain your web presence. Make sure you reply to all the mails before you call it a day. And for heaven’s sake – don’t use the Whatsapp to strike sales – use the Mail.

A Fountain Pen that respects the elders:

This is for the beginners. The barest minimum that we fountain pen lovers expect from “our” manufacturers. If you want to take things forward, beyond the rudimentary, let me suggest that you create a “body of elders” from within our ranks who will be available on call for all manufacturers to approach, to seek their guidance and expertise. Look around, there are many well respected achievers from different fields who not only have espoused your cause but are able and willing to help. All you have to do is ask. (And no, I am not suggesting that you add me among these legends).

Disclaimer. There is nothing personal about the points I have made. Call it the ramblings of a raconteur if you may or the pipe dreams of a pen pest, a penophile with a penchant for the puerile. I am a genuine buyer, have no “arrangement” with any seller whatsoever and am writing from experience. I may be wrong, and I realise that your experience may well have been different from mine, which only underscores the point that the experience of buying a fountain pen from an Indian manufacturer / seller is not a uniform one. Do write in. It is for the greater good, after all.      

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8 Replies to “A Fountain Pen Aficionado’s Charter of Demands”

  1. Perfect follow-up to the previous article. Agree with all of the points.

    Now, only if the Indian pen-makers actually read this and try to follow it, all our problems would be solved : )

    We have the talent, we have the technology, all that’s needed is the will to act in the right direction.

    Thanks for writing this, which obviously required a lot of thought on your part, even though it seems like a simple list to read.

     
  2. Well the protest with a worthy solution came through.. this points are simple to follow if fountain pen sellers and well known manufacturers actually want to stay in demand in all the corners of the country and the world. If they are honest to bring this art to its glory not within the rich but to all the classes. It is supposed to happen as many would prefer to write regular work through fountain pens not to show off for certain people. Some good and reasonable priced pens are found in the market but they are rare to find which is not a good sign. The ink here also a problem,many stationary shops refused to sell them as i told earlier here they took it as a product of bygone era. For regular writing some rich good products must be available in the market which have the caliber to produce colour to enhance the writing. There is lot to do indeed and kudos you have put the first stone to it. Now let us hope these problems reach the ears to the makers and collectors..thank you

     
  3. Dear Sh. Ganguly,
    I have gone through your write up which is generally in order except the avoidable bias against collectors which is unjustified to the extent of being becoming personal not against them but their next generation also . Let collectors coexist with segment of first level fountain pen user and users of next levels of fountain pens. Collection of high end pens or limited editions are in fact patronage of creativity/art/ protection of art and perservation of heritage. Rome was not built in a day.
    It was a collector or patron of art within some persons who built such magnificent museums at Hydrabad,Kolkata etc.and majestic palaces, forts,temples, churches,structures in India and abroad.
    So please consider to tone down your sarcasm against collectors and high end pens and their makers which include the artists who create such novelities which are never aimed at frequent use. Rather such pieces of art are never used. Have you ever seen a person regularly using a Maki e or chinkin pen or bejewelled pen worth several lakhs or or may be a few crores if made for Royal Coule for wedding ceremony ? Answer is obviously ‘no’.
    There is another dimension of special edition donation pens named after writers and artists ,part of earnings of which goes to the family of the deceased artists/writers.
    For your information a genuine real collector though keeps its collection uninked but never sells collection unless a bad phase in life hots hard but still would like that his collection goes in the hands of pen lovers or collectors. Any number of used pens is not treated as collection eve for the purpose of insurance .
    You may be aware that pens are not good investment nor any collector will collect for this purpose . No one would trade his love. There is a difference in breeder of puppies and a dog lover who adopts a puppy and takes care as his child till the dog breathes his last.
    Hope aforesaid will help to better understand need for collection and collector’s mind and heart.
    With warm regards.
    Sukhdev Garg.
    A faceless collector of pens who’s collection is his introduction.

     
  4. Hi Chawm
    I read it fully. There are already companies who are doing what you suggest. Following are my inputs:

    Genuine all Indian pen:
    Meaning every component in the pen is Indian. Here are some examples.
    o Ratnamson gold nib pens
    o Guider with Guider steel nib pens. Nibs made for guider by ambitious.
    o Any Deccan pen with ambitious nibs.
    o Any Gama pen with friction fit nib.
    o All WALITY airmail pens.
    o Camlin fountain pens made by Indian oems.
    Make the pen affordable for students:
    o WALITY pens, Camlin elegante and 47.
    o Even companies like Parker Luxor with their beta and vector are fully made in India and prices are really competitive.
    Research and Development:
    o Fosfor is doing just that. Innovating. Trying out new things.
    o But research costs money and if it has to be funded by pen sales, pens will have to become costly. So the first two goals are at loggerheads with this third one.
    Dont bite off more than you can chew:
    o Fully agreed.
    Cooperate, use domestic nibs:
    o Almost every pen maker I know offers an Indian nib option. Some offer only Indian nibs.
    o Are you suggesting that some pen components are being palmed off as German when they are actually Chinese? Pls elaborate.
    Coopt hobbyists:
    o How many are really interested in pen making or even curious? How many have actually even attempted to visit the pen makers/factories within their geographical reach? I have found that enthusiasts are always welcomed by the manufacturers.
    Encourage children:
    o I consider it a fallacy that FPs alone somehow yield good handwriting. Actually it’s care and attention by parents, mentors, teachers and then later as the child grows up, a sense of pride in one’s written work.
    o Workshops are always a good thing.
    Websites:
    o Some pen makers really do not want to do that. It costs them money and it is beyond their technical capacity to do it themselves and they lose control of the website when done by a third party. Then there is the language barrier. In fact I have concluded so many transactions with guider and Ratnamson through handwritten letters sent by post and the message section in the older money order forms.
    o I think we should allow an artist to conduct business in the fashion he deems fit.
    o If people want AR Rahman’s music, he only composes at night. We can’t ask him to work normal hours, no?
    Involve elders:
    o Again leave it to the individual. Respect after all must be commanded, cannot be demanded.

    Pls do let me know about the fake German import issue.

    Best
    Hari

     
  5. There is lot of legends in this fountain pen bandwagon who commented for a noble cause and noble issue which is tormenting the fountain pen society so there is not much to say as a simple pen lover like me. But Let me put this in one way,that is i as a pen lover cannot find good pens in an affordable price as i cant afford to burn a hole in my pocket just to collect pens. I use them, in regular basis, i even use them for rough works or calculating daily groceries account on some rough paper with fountain pens and every month i thrive to get some good affordable quality pens in the market,but alas brands either i cannot find in the market and online they are so highly priced i cannot get them. May be i am talking a lot about the price but there must be a balance in good pens and their price. My facebook is swarming with some pen sellers who want to push some sells through their account which are genuinely not good and highly priced. Some manufacturers even target the niche buyers who can buy them but not to us. I cannot find really affordable pens from them, they will not hear us, as we as lovers are not their buyers but we are treated as window shoppers. This is sad for me, anyways just put down my opinion and i hope the market will hear us from this article of Mr. Chawm Ganguly and some really great inputs from the greats of this art.

     
  6. Fountain pen lovers, enthusiasts and collectors of India needed this reality check. A round of applause for this amazing piece.
    Judging from the time we are living in where education boards and conductors of competitive examinations have banned the use of fountain pens, there is a lot of work for us, pen lovers, to do than merely collecting overpriced fountain pens. Mere collection would not make fountain pens popular among young generations and until and unless we can involve the gen next, this art will become extinct. For this, the manufacturers as well as the existing collectors and pen lovers would have to work together to popularise not only fountain pens but also the art of writing itself, which has diminished in the digital age.
    And talking about lack of originality of Indian pen manufacturers, I must point out that it’s expected. Just as Indian film industry and music industry has lost originality and only remaking old things, something very similar is happening for our Indian pen industry as well. We need originality and individuality. Indigenous products will definitely get more appreciation not only from our fellow countrymen but in global market as well. Reviving the fountain pen industry will also generate employment and will become a source of income. But we have to bring innovation on our own and will have to stop copying from others.

     
  7. Dear Chawm,
    First off all many congratulations to the readers and specially those who have taken time to post their valuable replies. The preceding article set the tone and now this article has stimulated people do some serious brain wracking which is very encouraging. This is one article which has made the serious readers pour out their true feelings through a serious catalyst in you.
    I have great regard and respect for the collectors and their passions with a burning desire to possess, but over 99% of them sadly do not have a true heirloom or a serious succession plan. I have met many collectors of not only pens but other objects too across the globe. They were in the 60 to 70 plus year old age group, they had gone through many turbulent times to collect and finally they were in a dilemma. Many had drawn the wrath of their families for having invested time, money and toil on such collections. Nobody in the family were interested in them. Now whom to trust to take care of their collections? and when they tried to sell them, they were further agonised to find that they were short-changed.
    Sadly after these collectors had left planet earth, their passionate collections fond their abode unscrupulously bundled off in the radhi – wallah/ragpickers den or chor bazaar! At the end it is such a shame for the passionate collections of the bygone collector, disrespectfully ending up in a disgraceful rickety grave! This made me think that there should be a Fountain Pen Bank Trust, who act as custodians where the collection is taken care of with the same passion and preserved for posterity in the name of the collector with reverence!
    So the Museum came up to become the trusted caretakers beyond many such collectors lives as well as add many more attractions for the next generations to come, see, enjoy and know the history and other fascinating details of writing and it’s corollaries. Once the younger generation is bitten by this bug they can fall in love with Handwriting, Lettering, Calligraphy, Fountain Pens and Inks etc., and this will live for posterity at least on planet earth!
    Many valid and salient points have been covered by you as well as the readers who have replied. It is high time that we take up these issues on a war footing! Initiatives to bring back handwriting with fountain pens in Schools should be the priority to encourage the next generations to keep the Indian fountain pen Industry alive and on their toes.
    There is a major threat for the existing Indian Pen Manufacturers from an innovative Backward Integrator who could become their Predator from an unexpected Corner! I hope to see a sea change in this industry or it would be sad see them engulfed by the sea of issues.
    The irony of life is,”Realization dawns late in life… for some. Lucky are those who have a new lease of life, but unfortunately for many… it never dawns!” I hope maturity prevails on them to realise… this reality of life! Looking forward to the re-engineering of Indian Pen Industry in every sense!

     

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