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Evolution of the Pen

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By Col JC Sindhwani (Retd)

The human mind is the fastest travelling entity one can think of. It takes you to any situation which happened anywhere, anytime in your life, in a jiffy. This is what we experience when we get together with old friends and travel back in time.

The other day some of us schoolmates got together at a regular pot luck meeting. And, as always, topics move back to earliest times spent together in school.

And then old dormant memories become alive one by one. They shift from class mischief to gimmicks, to giving each other nicknames, to teasing about who had a crush on whom and so on. That is the flexibility of mind I referred to above.

One of them recalled how we often landed up with ink smeared fingers, our shirt pockets too bore marks of leaked ink from pens, and the pencil box too had ink from leaking pens. Then some sobriety and philosophy stepped into the discussion. We moved back to discuss how in earliest days, people used bird feather tips dipped in coloured water to write. We often saw that in movies, too. Nearer home we recollected the times when some of us used “takhties” (wooden planks in the shape of kitchen chopping boards), on which we wrote with charcoal. Some of us even extracted carbon sticks from used battery cells to replace messy charcoal to write on the takhtie. These carbon sticks wrote better.

Then came the upgradation to writing on slates with ‘saletees’. This was faster and cleaner as one could rub and clean the written text with bare palms. (Sometimes using a bit of spit to clean the stubborn marks). At times, to sharpen the saletees to give them a pointed shape, one would bite off and chew the soft stone stick. Crazy times if you think back now. Next came sophistication and we switched to note books and pencils. Note books came in different categories like 32,64,100 pages, etc. Also, pencils came in different types of lead, hard, soft or very soft, ie., H, B or Hb types. Here the name of our stationery shop in Rama Market which met all our needs comes to mind, the famous ‘Sant Singh Suri and Sons’.

The 64 page copy had a picture of aircrafts in formation with Ack Ack guns firing on them on the last page which left a deep impression on my mind. Maybe it was an incentive for me to join the Army and Artillery Regiment, as a profession.

As we moved up in classes, we were upgraded to the use of Fountain Pens. The earliest pens were those which had a body to store ink and the nib assembly was screwed on to it. One could write on till the ink lasted. The frequent opening and closing of the nib and body resulted in leakages of ink which messed up whatever we touched. So, the next better pen was one with a small tube to hold ink. And the still better one came in next where the ink tube was housed in a metal casing to protect it from undue pressure and prevent leakages.

The pens too came by different names, some very common ones and some with then branded names like President, Blackbird Parker, etc. So, also, the ink bottles came by the name of Sulekha, Quink and Parker, etc. And many more brands of both. This category of ink-pens came under threat with the advent of the ball point pen.

But, as students, we were not allowed to use ball point pens for a long time.

In the meantime, the ball point pens progressed from ordinary to push button types, with different types of ball tips. Also, some came as 3-in-one types, which had 3 different colour ink refills that could be brought out to write with the press of a button as required. Next, one also saw the advent of gel-pens.

Like the progress in every other consumer item in the markets, the pens also followed the evolution pattern as mentioned. And the race to add more sophistication and branded quality names goes on.

Meantime, the evolution from Takhties, to Slates, to Paper and Pen has moved on to type writers, to computers, and more handy mobile phones, messaging, etc.

In this whole game of writing and reading, which had a personal touch to writing and the habit of book reading, the present generation has moved on to the digital culture in both… and the process of evolution all round moves on.

(Col JC Sindhwani, Retd is a resident of Dalanwala since Partition, whose family migrated from Sargodha. He was educated in SJA before joining the Army and retired in 1992)