An interesting writing instrument from the makers of the ‘Ratnam Pen'

This pen is an iconic instrument, and it has a legacy to live up to. And, meet the man behind it — K.V. Ramana Murthy, 68. He is seeking to gain for his diminutive but efficient writing tool, what he describes as the world's smallest fountain pen, a special status.

Made of Ebonite (hard rubber made by prolonged vulcanising of rubber, which then looks much like ebony), it is just 3.5 cm long and 1.7 gm in weight, with a 14 carat gold nib with a pen point, a clip and ring band. Mr. Murthy is hoping to secure a place for it in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The enterprise has an impressive pedigree. Ratnam Pens, which were known as ‘swadeshi' pens during the freedom movement, brought fame to Rajahmundry and the pen-maker, K.V. Ratnam. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, S. Kasturiranga Iyengar of The Hindu, Indira Gandhi, V.V. Giri, Ramnath Goenka of the Indian Express, and Archibald Nye, Governor of Madras, were known to have used them.

When Gandhiji gave a call to boycott foreign goods, Ratnam was involved in making lithographic blocks, methim, in 1921. Gandhiji advised him to make something that would be utilitarian and affordable to the common man.

Ratnam made a pen in Ebonite and sent it to Gandhiji. The Mahatma wrote to him on July 16, 1935from Wardha: “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen you sent me… I have needed it and [it] seems to be a good substitute to the foreign pen, once in the bazaar. Yours sincerely, M.K. Gandhi, 16.7.1935.”

When Congress leaders met in Kakinada in 1937, Nehru travelled to Rajahmundry to see Nyapathi Subba Rao Pantulu, one of the founders of The Hindu. Together they went to Ratnam Pens and bought a pen each.

‘Ratnam Pens' thus gained popularity across Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and even elsewhere in the country and the world.

A small, traditional house on Fort gate Street serves as the workshop today. Popularly known as the ‘Kotagummam' of Rajahmundry, the house has a sign board: “Pioneers of Pen Industry in India since 1932, K.V. Ratnam & Sons, Ratnam Ball Pen Works, Mfrs: Swadeshi ‘Ratnamson' pens, 14 CT-Gold Nibs.”

Mr. Murthy says each pen took two days to make.

There is a range made in gold, 4.2 cm long. It weighs 5.6 gm. Mr. Murthy uses 22-carat gold for the entire pen (with ebonite inside), a clip and 14 carat gold for the nib and its pen point, besides gems set in India's national tricolour.

The 22-carat gold pen takes three days to make. It is adorned with gold pen portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother India. The cap is embellished with the tricolour.

According to Mr. Murthy, the raw material to make Ebonite is available in India. Pure gold (24 carat) is converted into 14 carat to make the nib. The iridium pen point will last years of use, as it is ductile and has good resistance to ink. The pen points, very tiny balls, are imported from Germany.

What motivates him? “I wanted to do something special on the eve of the platinum jubilee of India's Independence. I want it to be recognised by all in India and abroad,” said Mr. Murthy, who is known by the sobriquet of ‘Swadeshi Ratnam.'

Will the uniqueness and tradition continue after him? Mr. Murthy smiles, and says his two sons entered the business at14 years of age. He is confident they would continue the pursuit.

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