Lavanya M. is dazzled by a former police chief's collection of fountain pens

Just mention the colour and the make, and former Director General of Police A.X. Alexander will narrate some fascinating story about each of his precious pens. While he has never really kept count of his collection, he knows when a pen goes missing. “I turn the house upside down,” laughs Alexander. The cases that enclose some of his prized possessions include Parker 51, Sheaffer, Cross, Waterman and S.T. Dupont — and they have all become an integral part of his life.

He was barely five when a Parker 51 sparked off his fascination for pens. “My father brought a pen from Colombo which I pulled and tried opening. I twisted it by mistake and immediately put it back out of sheer fear. My father found out and I received a sound thrashing,” he recalls. But it was this pen that accompanied him through examinations and when he entered the police service. “It was special to me,” says the 1970-batch topper, “but I lost the pen in 1977.”

In his hunt for a similar pen, he stumbled upon an 'unlettered boy' who taught him about the mechanisms and varieties of pens. The barrelled pen, piston-filler, twist-action pen, capillary filling system are some of the pen mechanisms that he learnt about.

Throughout his years of service, he ensured that he proudly clipped a shining piece from his cases. “It added esteem when I had to attend important meetings, especially when someone recognised the value of my possession.”

Despite Alexander's busy schedule now, when he shuttles between meetings, research and travels, he finds some personal time with the collection that has grown over the years. “I like to clean my pens at night, when all the others go to sleep. I don't like to be disturbed when I clean them. I rinse them in cold water and wipe them with a fine cloth,” he says, only to be interrupted by his wife: “I know that my husband was at work the previous night judging by the ink-stained kitchen vessels.”

There is one pen that he can say ‘belongs' to him — a silver custom-made Ratnam pen, which he ordered from Rajahmundry and which has his name etched on the nib. Is there a favourite? “No. I'd like to use the things I own. So I make sure that I regularly rotate and use the entire collection. Which one I use depends entirely on my frame of mind.”

The cases and its contents are more than mere writing tools to Alexander, who retired from service in 2006. “The pens are an extension of myself. My thoughts flow through them and I have recorded history for the 36 years I have been in the service.”

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